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Updated 05/22/2013

 


The Hills of Bara
Pete Heineman

Barra, anciently spelt Baro, is an agricultural parish in East Lothian, Scotland, which adjoins the parish of Garvald to the east, and Lauder across the Lammermuir Hills.  Barra is an irregularly-shaped island measuring some eight miles by five: it's tempting to think of it as resembling a giant turtle, swimming north east.

The island was granted to Gilleonan MacNeil in 1427 by Alexander MacDonald, Lord of the Isles, and was to stay in the MacNeil family for over 400 years, largely thanks to the impregnability of the clan seat of Kisimul Castle, in Castle Bay.

What other Clans had failed to take from the MacNeils by force was lost in 1838 when the 40th Chief of the Clan, Roderick MacNeil became bankrupt and was forced to sell Barra to Colonel Gordon of Cluny for 38,050. Colonel Gordon then proceeded to clear much of the island of its tenants to make way for sheep. In 1851 most of Barra's residents were forced to board ships bound for North America, all their belongings confiscated as they left. 

In 1937 the American architect Robert MacNeil, who had been recognized as the 45th Clan Chief of the MacNeils, visited Barra soon after the opening of the airport on the island. He purchased most of the Barra estate lost to the family in 1838, including Kisimul Castle.