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Barra location.jpg
Kisimul Castle, Barra

Gaelic name: Eilean Bharraigh

Norse name: Barr-oy

Meaning of name: Barr's island, after St Barr

Area: 5,875 hectares (22.7 sq mi)

Area rank: 20

Highest elevation: Heaval, 383 metres (1,257 ft)

Population: 1,174

Pop. density: 19.98 people/km

Main settlement: Castlebay

The island of Barra (Scottish Gaelic: Barraigh, Eilean Bharraigh) is a predominantly Gaelic-speaking island. Apart from the adjacent island of Vatersay, to which it is connected by a causeway, Barra is the southernmost inhabited island of the Outer Hebrides (Na h-Eileanan Siar) in Scotland. In 2011 the population was 1,174, almost 100 higher than the 1,078 residents counted at the time of the 2001 census.<ref> National Records of Scotland (15 August 2013) (pdf) Statistical Bulletin: 2011 Census: First Results on Population and Household Estimates for Scotland - Release 1C (Part Two). "Appendix 2: Population and households on Scotland’s inhabited islands". (accessed 11th July 2014)</ref>


See also: Clan MacNeil

The Clan MacNeil has strong ties to the Isle of Barra and claims descent from the O'Neills of Ulster. The name Barra is thought to take its name either from Saint Finbarr, the founder of Cork in Ireland, or from Saint Barr, the great-grandson of Niall of the Nine Hostages, the legendary 4th-century king of Ireland.<ref> (accessed 11th July 2014)</ref>

Alexander, Lord of the Isles granted the island to the MacNeil clan in 1427. The clan held the island until 1838, when Roderick MacNeil, the 40th Chief of the Clan, went bankrupt and sold the island to Colonel Gordon of Cluny.<ref>Angus and Patricia Macdonald, The Hebrides, An Aerial View of a Cultural Landscape (Edinburgh, Birlinn 2010) 283</ref>Gordon of Cluny has been described as a caricature of an archetypal Scot, the mean Aberdonian.<ref>Macdonald, Hebrides, 283</ref> Gordon expelled most of the inhabitants in order to make way for sheep farming. The displaced islanders variously went to the Scottish mainland, Australia, New Zealand, the United States of America and Canada. Hundreds of Cluny's tenants ended up destitute on the streets of Glasgow, Edinburgh and Inverness.<ref>Macdonald, Hebrides, 284</ref>

Barra was restored to MacNeil ownership in 1937 when the Barra estate, which encompassed most of the island, was bought by Robert MacNeil, a U.S. architect, and 45th chief of the clan.<ref> (accessed 11th July 2014)</ref> In 2003, the ownership of the Barra Estate was passed by the owner, Ian MacNeil, to the Scottish Government. The estate can be transferred to the inhabitants in the future, at their request. MacNeil, the 46th chief of the clan, who died in early 2010, had previously transferred Kisimul Castle to Historic Scotland in 2000.<ref> (accessed 11th July 2014)</ref>

The Dualchas Heritage and Cultural Centre is located in Castlebay, next to Castlebay Community School. It has various exhibitions annually, and is open throughout the year.<ref> (accessed 11th July 2014)</ref>

Fèis Bharraigh & Barrafest – Air an Oir

Castlebay, Barra

Fèis Bharraigh began in 1981 when an idea was spawned to promote, encourage, foster and develop the practice and study of the Gaelic language, literature, music, drama and culture in the Islands of Barra and Vatersay. Since its inception in 1981 it has gone on to become a movement, now with 42 other feisean taking place every year throughout Scotland.

Following on from the success, and subsequent end of BarraLive; In 2007, Fèis Bharraigh launched Barrafest – Air on Oir, a two-day festival of traditional and modern Scottish music held on Tangasdale machair, literally on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean.

Barrafest generally takes place on the last full weekend of July. Barrafest 2014 will take place on the 26th and 27th of July. <ref> (accessed 11th July)</ref>


The 1949 Ealing Studios comedy Whisky Galore! was filmed on Barra. The film is based on the novel Whisky Galore by Sir Compton Mackenzie, itself a fictionalised telling of the story of the SS Politician, which ran aground with a cargo of some 50,000 cases of whisky on board in 1941. Mackenzie, who lived near the airport and died in 1972, is buried in a grave marked by a simple cross at Cille Bharra cemetery, which is situated a little way up the hillside overlooking Eoligarry jetty.<ref>Haswell-Smith, Hamish (2004). The Scottish Islands. (Edinburgh: Canongate) 218–222</ref>

In the sitcom Dad's Army, Private Frazer claims to be from Barra, which he often describes as "a wild and lonely place".<ref>"Main Characters". Dad's Army Appreciation Society</ref> The island is regularly featured in various television programmes on the new Gaelic channel BBC Alba.


Barra hosts an annual half-marathon called the Barrathon<ref></ref>which is part of the Western Isles Half Marathon series. This is accompanied by a shorter fun-run for families, and younger children. A number of fund-raising events are held around this, including ceilidhs and dances. There is an annual hill race, where participants run up Heaval (383 m) before returning to Castlebay Square. The fastest recorded time, set in 1987, is 26.25 minutes.

The Barra community holds an annual games on the island. The island golf club, Comunn Goilf Bharraidh, has a 9-hole course that is claimed to be the furthest west in the United Kingdom. However, this title may in fact be held by one of the courses near Enniskillen in Northern Ireland.

Tourists can also go sea kayaking or power kiting, and ample opportunities are available for keen anglers. Pony trekking is also an option, on the rare, native Eriskay Ponies.<ref></ref>


Take off at Barra Airport

Barra's tiny airport, near Northbay, uses the beach called An Tràigh Mhòr (English: The Big Beach) as a runway. Planes can only land and take off at low tide meaning that the timetable varies. Voted the world's most stunning landing spot<ref></ref>Barra's airport is the only airport in the world to have scheduled flights landing on a beach.<ref></ref> The aircraft currently in operation on Barra is the de Havilland Canada DHC-6 Twin Otter, flown by Loganair on services to Glasgow. There are usually flights every day of the week in the summer. The beach is also a source of cockles.

Ferries to Oban, Lochboisdale, Tiree and Eriskay are run by Caledonian MacBrayne. Castlebay is the main port from which ferries sail to Oban on the Scottish mainland, Tiree and Lochboisdale (Loch Baghasdail) in South Uist. The mainland crossing takes about 5 hours. A vehicular ferry travels between Ardmore (An Àird Mhòr) and Ceann a' Gharaidh in Eriskay (Èirisgeigh). The crossing takes around 40 minutes.


The fish factory, Barratlantic, in Northbay is a major contributor to the island's economy and the Hebridean Toffee Factory in Castlebay is one of the few manufacturers on Barra.<ref></ref>

Tourism provides the main income for the majority of islanders, the high season lasting from May to September. Thousands of people visit the island every year, the busiest times being during Fèis Bharraigh & BarraFest in July. In 2010 camping on the machair at the airport was banned due to erosion, this prompted crofters to provide areas on their crofts for visiting tourists.<ref></ref>

Boat trips to the neighbouring island of Mingulay are available during the summer season and island hopping plane trips are also available. There is a planned Distillery to be built in Borve, on the west side of the island. The Isle of Barra Distillery<ref></ref>(trading as Uisge Betha nan Eilean Ltd) has now installed two Proven 6 kW wind turbines next to the reservoir Loch Uisge which originally supplied the drinking water to Castlebay. It is proposed that as much of the necessary resources to produce the whisky should come from the Barra or the surrounding islands, with only the bare minimum necessary being imported from outside the islands economy.<ref></ref>