Outer Hebridean Islands of Scotland
- Barra and Benbecula

Kiessimul Castle

To the southern end of the Outer Hebrides, Barra is only eight miles long by four miles wide but nevertheless supports a population of around 1300. Barra's name is derived from St Barr and there is a 12th century church as well as prehistoric brochs and cairns on the island. It also boasts Kiessimul Castle, the ancestral home of the McNeils of Barra. The castle was restored by the 45th McNeil chief in 1937 when he returned to the island from his home in America. The Gaelic language is still strong on the island. There is a road which circles the island which was the prototype for Compton McKenzie's "Little Todday" in his book "Whisky Galore" - the author settled on the island in 1928 and is buried on the island. The film of Whisky Galore (known as "Tight Little Island" in North America) was shot largely on Barra.

The main town on the island is Castlebay and on the neighbouring mountain of Heaval there is a prominent statue of the Virgin and Child carved from marble overlooking this strongly Catholic population. There is a ferry from Castlebay to Oban on the mainland and to Lochboisdale on South Uist. There is also an air service to Glasgow. The timetable for the air service is the only one in the UK which is "subject to weather and tides" as the airport runway is the tidal sands at Traigh Mhor.

There are a number of smaller islands around Barra, including Vatersay and Mingulay and the Bishop's Isles.

Benbecula (the stress is on the middle syllable) lies between North and South Uist and there is a causeway link to both islands. The name derives from the Gaelic "Beinn a'bhfaodhla" which means "mountain of the fords" even though the "mountain" is only 400 feet high. In the rest of the island there are many inland and sea lochs, bogs and quicksands. Gaelic is frequently used (though, as a result of Viking conquest over a 1,000 years ago, many of the place names are of Norse origin). The island was dominated by the Macdonalds of Clanranald for 500 years but it was sold to pay off debts. The island then suffered from the Clearances and many were forced to emigrate.

After his defeat at the Battle of Culloden in 1746, the fugitive Bonnie Prince Charlie reached Benbecula and it was from there that he sailed Over the Sea to Skye with Flora MacDonald.

The population of around 1300 has been swelled by the missile testing range on the island. There is an air link to Glasgow (and an amazing shop selling Harris tweed and woollen goods nearby). In 1988 a secondary school and community centre with a swimming pool was built at Liniclate on the island. Sunday opening of the community centre is still a hotly debated subject as the northern part of the island has many strict Presbyterians.

Next page Berneray and Eriskay > Page Index, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6.

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