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Gaelic name About this sound Eilean Bharraigh 
Flag of Barra.svg
Barra is located in Outer Hebrides
Barra shown within the Outer Hebrides
OS grid reference NF687004
Coordinates 56°59′00″N 7°28′00″W / 56.9833°N 7.4667°W / 56.9833; -7.4667
Physical geography
Island group Uists and Barra
Area 5,875 hectares (22.7 sq mi)
Area rank 20 [1]
Highest elevation Heaval, 383 metres (1,257 ft)
Sovereign state United Kingdom
Country Scotland
Council area Na h-Eileanan Siar
Population 1,174[2]
Population rank 13 [1]
Population density 19.98 people/km2[2][3]
Largest settlement Castlebay
References [3][4]

Barra (Scottish Gaelic: Barraigh, Eilean Bharraigh, pronounced [ˈparˠaj, ˈelan ˈvarˠaj]) is an island in the Outer Hebrides in Scotland. Barra is the second southernmost inhabited island of the Outer Hebrides, after the adjacent island of Vatersay, to which it is connected by a short causeway. In 2011 the population was 1,174,[2] compared to 1,078 in 2001.[5]


According to the 2011 Census, there are 761 Gaelic speakers (62%) on Barra.[6]


Satellite photo of Barra, Vatersay and surrounding islands

The area of Barra is roughly 60 square kilometres (23 sq mi). The main village is Castlebay (Bàgh a' Chaisteil).

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

Kisimul Castle at Castlebay is located on a rock in the bay, giving the village its name. A smaller medieval tower house, Dun Mhic Leoid, can be found in the middle of Loch St Clare on the west side of the island at Tangasdale.[7]

The highest elevation on the island is Heaval, halfway up which is a prominent white marble statue of the Madonna and Child, called "Our Lady of the Sea", which was erected during the Marian year of 1954. The predominant faith on the island is Catholicism and the Catholic church dedicated to Our Lady of the Sea is immediately apparent to all who arrive at Castlebay.[8]

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.[citation needed]


Barra has an oceanic climate, with mild temperatures year round.

Climate data for Barra (Traigh Mhòr Airport, averages 1981–2010)
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Average high °C (°F) 8.3
Average low °C (°F) 4.3
Average rainfall mm (inches) 144.4
Average rainy days (≥ 1 mm) 21.4 18.2 20.7 11.8 12.0 11.1 12.8 17.2 14.6 16.6 20.0 20.7 197.1
Mean monthly sunshine hours 27.4 61.3 97.6 157.0 209.6 172.6 149.7 156.8 122.6 85.5 41.4 19.5 1,300.9
Source: [9]


The island's name is derived from two elements: Barr and Old Norse ey ("island"). Barr may represent the Gaelic personal name Finnbarr. Or it could represent the Old Norse elements berr or barr ("bare" or "rough"), or perhaps the Celtic element *barr ("top" or "peak").[10]

Barra once formed part of the Kingdom of the Isles. In the mid-12th century, this realm was partitioned between the Crovan dynasty and Clann Somhairle, and it is uncertain which family then controlled the island. In 1293, years after the collapse of the realm and its incorporation into the Kingdom of Scotland, the island formed part of the Sheriffdom of Skye, which could indicate that it had indeed formed part of the territories previously controlled by the Crovan dynasty like other parts of the sheriffdom. By then the island appears to have formed part of the extensive Clann Ruaidhrí lordship. Early in the reign of Robert I, King of Scotland, the island was included in the king's confirmation of Clann Ruaidhrí territories to Ruaidhrí Mac Ruaidhrí. Later in 1343, Barra is again recorded in a royal charter to Raghnall Mac Ruaidhrí. After his assassination in 1346, the Clann Ruaidhrí territories passed into the possession of Eóin Mac Domhnaill, and formed part of the Clann Domhnaill Lordship of the Isles.[11]

In 1427, Alexander, Lord of the Isles granted the island to Giolla Adhamhnáin Mac Néill, a member of Clan MacNeil.[11] The clan held the island until 1838, when Roderick MacNeil sold the island to Colonel Gordon of Cluny. Gordon expelled most of the inhabitants to make way for sheep farming. The displaced islanders variously went to the Scottish mainland, Australia, New Zealand, the United States and Canada. Barra was restored to MacNeil ownership in 1937 when the Barra estate, which encompassed most of the island, was bought by Robert Lister Macneil.

In 2003, the ownership of the Barra Estate was passed by the owner, Ian Roderick Macneil, to the Scottish Government. The estate can be transferred to the inhabitants in the future, at their request. Macneil had previously transferred Kisimul Castle to Historic Scotland in 2000.[12]

In May 2007 Channel 4's Time Team came to the hamlet of Allasdale to investigate the exposed remains of Bronze Age burials and Iron Age roundhouses in sand dunes that had been uncovered by storms. The programme was broadcast on 20 January 2008.[13]

The Dualchas Heritage and Cultural Centre is located in Castlebay, next to Castlebay Community School. It has various exhibitions each year, and is open throughout the year.[14]


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.[3][15][16] The sequel movie Rockets Galore! was also filmed in and around the island.[17]

In the sitcom Dad's Army, Private Frazer claims to be from Barra, which he often describes as "a wild and lonely place".[18]

Barra was also featured in the 2006 Channel 5 documentary Extraordinary people: The Boy Who Lived Before, where a young boy named Cameron, who lived in Glasgow, claimed to have memories of a past life on the island.[19] The island was the location for the fifth and sixth series of the BBC Two documentary An Island Parish.[20] and is regularly featured in various television programmes on the new Gaelic channel BBC Alba.

In 2008 the Barra RNLI Life Boat, Edna Windsor was featured on a series of stamps.[21] The first class stamp shows the 17 metres (56 ft) Severn class lifeboat in action in the Sound of Berneray 20 kilometres (12 mi) south west of Barra in 3.5 metres (11 ft) swell with 30 kilometres per hour (16 kn) of wind.[22]


Barra hosts an annual half-marathon called the Barrathon,[23] 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 also an annual hill race, in which participants run up Heaval (383 m) before returning to Castlebay Square.[citation needed] The fastest recorded time, set in 1987, is 26.25 minutes.[citation needed]

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

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.[24][25]


Barra's tiny airport, near Northbay, uses the beach called An Tràigh Mhòr (English: "The Great Beach") as a runway. Planes can land and take off only at low tide, so the timetable varies. Voted the world's most stunning landing spot,[26] Barra's airport is claimed to be the only airport in the world to have scheduled flights landing on a beach.[27] The aircraft currently[when?] in operation on Barra is the de Havilland Canada DHC-6 Twin Otter, flown by Loganair to/from 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.[28] 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.

Industry and tourism[edit]

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.[29]

Tourism provides the main income for the majority of islanders; the high season lasts 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.[30] Boat trips to the neighbouring island of Mingulay are available during the summer season, and island-hopping plane trips are also available.

A distillery is planned[when?] to be built in Borve,[31] on the west side of the island. The Isle of Barra Distillery[32] (trading as Uisge Beatha nan Eilean Ltd) has now[when?] installed four Proven[clarification needed] 6 kW wind turbines[33] next to the reservoir Loch Uisge, which originally supplied the drinking water to Castlebay. It is proposed that as much as possible of the necessary resources[clarification needed] to produce the whisky should come from Barra or the surrounding islands, with only the bare minimum necessary being imported from outside the island's economy.

Coimhearsachd Bharraigh agus Bhatarsaigh[edit]

Coimhearsachd Bharraidh agus Bhatarsaidh (Barra and Vatersay Community) Ltd is a community-owned company whose aim is to support community development on Barra and Vatersay. The company is managed by a volunteer board of directors drawn from the membership. Membership is open to residents of the two islands whose names appear on the voting register.[34]

The company's latest project is a 900 kW Enercon E-44 wind turbine being installed at Gòb Sgùrabhal, at the most north-westerly point of the island, and early indications are[when?] that the wind resource will make this one of the most productive 900 kW turbines in Western Europe.[35]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Area and population ranks: there are c. 300 islands over 20 ha in extent and 93 permanently inhabited islands were listed in the 2011 census.
  2. ^ a b c 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". Retrieved 17 August 2013.
  3. ^ a b c Haswell-Smith, Hamish (2004). The Scottish Islands. Edinburgh: Canongate. pp. 218–222. ISBN 978-1-84195-454-7. 
  4. ^ Ordnance Survey. "Sheet 34, Barra – Ordnance Survey One-inch to the mile maps of Great Britain, Seventh Series, 1952–1961". National Library of Scotland. National Library of Scotland. Retrieved 23 January 2016. 
  5. ^ General Register Office for Scotland (28 November 2003) Scotland's Census 2001 – Occasional Paper No 10: Statistics for Inhabited Islands. Retrieved 26 February 2012.
  6. ^ Census 2011 stats BBC News. Retrieved 20 April 2014.
  7. ^ "Barra, Dun Mhic Leoid | Canmore". Retrieved 2017-01-20. 
  8. ^ Undiscovered Scotland
  9. ^ "Barra (Traigh Mhòr) Airport climate". Met Office. Retrieved 17 October 2015. 
  10. ^ Abrams, L (2007). "Conversion and the Church in the Hebrides in the Viking Age". In Smith, BB; Taylor, S; Williams, G. West Over Sea: Studies in Scandinavian Sea-Borne Expansion and Settlement Before 1300. The Northern World: North Europe and the Baltic c. 400–1700 AD. Peoples, Economics and Cultures (series vol. 31). Leiden: Brill. pp. 169–193. ISBN 978 90 04 15893 1. ISSN 1569-1462. 
  11. ^ a b Raven, JA (2005). Medieval Landscapes and Lordship in South Uist (PhD thesis). Vol. 1. University of Glasgow – via Glasgow Theses Service. 
  12. ^ Ross, John (6 September 2003). "A gift to Scotland – the isle of Barra". The Scotsman. Retrieved 4 November 2007. 
  13. ^ "Barra, Western Isles". Time Team. Archived from the original on 23 January 2008. Retrieved 21 January 2008. 
  14. ^ "Dualchas". Comunn Eachdraidh Bharraidh agus Bhatarsaidh. Retrieved 29 March 2008. 
  15. ^ "Whisky Galore!". Retrieved 29 March 2008. 
  16. ^ "Grave of Compton MacKenzie, Eolaigearraidh, Barra" Photograph NF 7007. Geograph. Retrieved 4 April 2010.
  17. ^ Rockets Galore! on Internet Movie Database Retrieved 4 April 2010.
  18. ^ "Main Characters". Dad's Army Appreciation Society. Retrieved 7 August 2013.
  19. ^ An Island Parish (Series 5) « Tiger Aspect Archived 9 June 2011 at the Wayback Machine.
  20. ^ BBC – BBC Two Programmes – An Island Parish, Series 5, Getting to Know You
  21. ^ "Set of stamps honours the courage of Britain’s lifeboatmen and coastguards". London: The Times. 13 March 2008. Retrieved 26 December 2008. 
  22. ^ "Royal Mail Stamps 'Mayday – Rescue at Sea'". Retrieved 26 December 2008. 
  23. ^ "Barrathon". Retrieved 21 October 2014. 
  24. ^ Madden, Richard (24 March 2009). "Kayaking in the Outer Hebrides". The Telegraph. 
  25. ^ Joly, Dom (18 January 2010). "The shocking truth about golf on Barra". The Independent. 
  26. ^ "Barra airport is world's most scenic". BBC News. 
  27. ^ "Barra Airport". Highlands and Islands Airports Limited. Archived from the original on 22 March 2009. Retrieved 6 April 2009. 
  28. ^ "Barra". Caledonian MacBrayne. Archived from the original on 26 November 2009. Retrieved 15 October 2009. 
  29. ^ Cramb, Auslan (5 December 2008). "What makes Barra the best village in Britain?". The Independent. 
  30. ^
  31. ^ "Isle of Barra Distillery Location". Retrieved 24 March 2013. 
  32. ^ "Isle of Barra Distillery". Retrieved 24 March 2013. 
  33. ^ "Isle of Barra Distillery Wind Turbines Installed on Site". Archived from the original on 29 July 2013. Retrieved 24 March 2013. 
  34. ^ "Coimhearsachd Bharraigh agus Bhatarsaigh". Isle of Barra. Retrieved 17 November 2013. 
  35. ^ "Community Wind Turbine for Barra". Stornoway Gazette. 21 October 2013. 

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 56°59′N 7°28′W / 56.983°N 7.467°W / 56.983; -7.467