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Kisimul Castle, Castlebay, Barra

A Scheduled Monument in Barraigh, Bhatarsaigh, Eirisgeigh agus Uibhist a Deas, Na h-Eileanan Siar

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Latitude: 56.9521 / 56°57'7"N

Longitude: -7.4874 / 7°29'14"W

OS Eastings: 66522

OS Northings: 797944

OS Grid: NL665979

Mapcode National: GBR 7BXB.TJX

Mapcode Global: WGV56.YJR9

Entry Name: Kisimul Castle, Castlebay, Barra

Scheduled Date: 17 January 2001

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Source ID: SM90347

Schedule Class: Cultural

Category: Secular: castle

Location: Barra

County: Na h-Eileanan Siar

Electoral Ward: Barraigh, Bhatarsaigh, Eirisgeigh agus Uibhist a Deas

Traditional County: Inverness-shire


The monument is Kisimul Castle, which stands on a rock in Castle Bay, at the south end of Barra. Its form is similar to that of other West Highland castles of the period with a rectangular tower-house set to one side of an irregular enclosure containing other buildings. The following description is based on available evidence, largely a RCAHMS survey and adopts Macneil buildings terminology for ease of reference. Forthcoming buildings analysis commissioned by HS is likely to supersede these.

The original entrance, with presumed portcullis, was on the east but it was moved closer to the tower when the so-called watchman's house was enlarged. Just outside the gate lie the remains of the building that may have housed the crew who rowed the lord's galley, as well as a presumed fish trap, or perhaps a galley berth.

The tower, standing at the south end, was the first element of the castle to be built (although some dispute this). It rises three storeys high. There is some debate as to the original arrangement of the basement and first floor, and which of these levels the door reached by an external stair gave access to; any internal access to it would only have been possible through a trap in the first floor.

The external staircase continued in timber and/or stone up to the adjacent curtain wall-walk, from which another timber stair, cantilevered from the face of the tower, can be presumed to have given access to the main door, 5.5m above ground level. Inside, a mural stair led from here up to the second floor and down to the first. All the floors were originally of timber, as was the roof. However, in the 1956-70 restoration concrete floors were cast in situ at first-floor level.

The first and second floors were evidently domestic in purpose, both being well lit and having latrine closets within their walls. Both apparently also had timber galleries at their north ends, that above the second floor being in effect within the garret. From the second floor, another mural stair leads from the right-hand side of the north window up to the wall-head.

The crenellated parapet encloses a latrine in the south-west corner, and shows signs of later heightening. This and other later work, possibly of around 1500, included a box-machicolation projecting directly above the tower's entrance. On the south and east a timber wall-walk was carried on beams which ran through the parapet to support projecting external timber hoarding (or brattices), designed to protect the tower's exposed outer faces in the same way.

The curtain wall that abuts the tower was built later, though possibly by not very much (again, some dispute this). Its parapet, like that of the tower, was also subsequently heightened and provided with a timber wall-walk (possibly also with projecting hoarding) and with a box-machicolation above the outer gate. The obtuse north angle was occupied by a rounded internal tower, standing apparently no higher than the wall and containing a pit-prison with latrine below a guard room. Against the north-west wall stood the so-called hall, the development of which is poorly understood.

An additional building (sometimes called 'Marion's addition') was joined to the south-west end of the hall and the hall was provided with an upper storey, probably in the seventeenth century, when it quite possibly replaced the tower as the principal residence. When the hall was restored in 1958-60, the wall facing the courtyard was largely rebuilt and a concrete upper floor inserted inside.

New stone steps to a small balcony were built at the south-west of the hall, from where access was also created to 'Marion's addition.' In the latter concrete stairs were built from the ground floor and on to the second floor, which is slightly higher than the first floor above the hall.

The latter floor was divided into three rooms by reinforced concrete walls forming bridges holding up the concrete floor, accessed from a covered corridor in the position of the wall walk. To the west of the 'Marion's addition' is a well and postern gate. Another building, presumed fifteenth-century, now roofed in timber which is of questionable historical authenticity, lies against the north-east wall and serves as a mortuary chapel.

The other buildings constructed against the inside face of the curtain wall appear to be of a later period, perhaps sixteenth-century. They include, in the south, a kitchen range of two storeys adjoining the tower, now re-roofed; in the west corner, the Tanist' s (or heir's) house, rebuilt in 1956-7 from its foundations and inhabited seasonally until recently; and on the east, beside the entrance gate, the unrestored foundations of the house of the Gokman, or watchman.

The monument was first scheduled in 1934, but as an occupied building from the late 1950s, also listed, it was descheduled in 1986 to faciliate the owner's application for Historic Buildings Repair Grant. Historic Scotland entered into a 1000 year lease agreement on 31 March 2000, and since the Castle is only inhabited on an occasional basis by Macneil, it is now appropriate to reschedule it.

The area to be scheduled is irregular on plan with maximum dimensions of about 82m Nw-SE by 78m transversely, to include the Castle, its external features and an area around in which associated remains may survive, as marked on the accompanying map extract. All clearly identifiable 20th century fabric is specifically excluded from the scheduling.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Statement of Scheduling

The castle is of national importance as a good example of a West Highland castle surviving relatively intact and with much original detail, particularly that relating to lost timber work, still apparent. Although its character has been compromised by recent restoration work carried out by Robert Lister Macneil between 1938 and 1970, that work was at least conservative in the sense that it consisted largely of additions to existing fabric, as opposed to removals or alterations.

What sets Kisimul apart from other castles of its type, however, is its location. It is the only surviving castle of any size in the Western Isles. Its siting on a rock in the middle of Castle Bay is also spectacularly evocative. The castle is also of local, national and international significance as the official seat of the chief of Clan Macneil.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland



RCAHMS records the monument as NL 69 NE 3.
Historic Environment Scotland Properties
Kisimul Castle
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Related Designations

Designation TypeListed Building (A)StatusDesignated

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

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