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The island of Barra (Scottish Gaelic: Barraigh, Eilean Bharraigh, pronounced [ˈparˠaj, ˈelan ˈvarˠaj]) is a predominantly Gaelic-speaking island, and apart from the adjacent island of Vatersay, to which it is connected by a causeway, is the southernmost inhabited island of the Outer Hebrides (Na h-Eileanan Siar) in Scotland.



The 2001 census showed that the resident population was 1,078 (1,172 including Vatersay).[1] The area of Barra is roughly 60 square kilometres (23 sq mi), the main village being Castlebay (Bàgh a' Chaisteil).

The west of the island has white sandy beaches backed by shell-sand machair and the east has numerous rocky inlets.

Kisimul Castle at Castlebay is located on an island in the bay, so giving the village its name. The highest elevation on the island is Heaval, halfway up which is "Our Lady of the Sea" a prominent white marble statue of the Madonna and Child. Other places of interest on the island include a ruined church and museum at Cille Bharra, a number of Iron Age brochs such as those at Dùn Chuidhir and An Dùn Bàn and a range of other Iron Age and later structures which have recently been excavated and recorded.


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, or from St. Barr, the great-grandson of Niall of the Nine Hostages, the legendary 4th century king of Ireland.[4]

The motto of the Clan MacNeil of Barra in Latin is Vincere Vel Mori or in Gaelic Buaidh no Bàs which translated is "Victory or Death" or "Conquer or Die".

Alexander, Lord of the Isles granted the island to the MacNeill clan in 1427. The clan held the island until 1838, when Roderick MacNeil, the 40th Chief of the Clan, sold the island to Colonel Gordon of Cluny. 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. Barra was restored to MacNeill ownership in 1937 when the Barra estate, which encompassed most of the island, was bought by Robert MacNeil, an American architect, and 45th chief of the clan.[5]

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