47th and present Chief

Rory Macneil of Barra

and his family,

Wife Sau Ming,

and sons Seumas (right) and Ruari (left).

Past Chiefs of Barra

38th Chief: Robert Dhu, Baron of Barra. Married to Isabelle MacLeod. Died 1715

39th Chief: Roderick  ‘Dove of the West’ Married to Alice MacLeod. Died 1736

40th Chief: Roderick “The Gentile” Married Jean Cameron. Died 1822

41st Chief: Roderick “The General” Baron of Barra, lost the Barony and the  Estate of Barra in 1838. Married to  Isabella  Brownlow. Died 1863 (when the Chief died, the chieftainship passed to a cousin, descendant of Gilleionan, who had emigrated to Canada in 1802)

42nd Chief: Donald McGougan MacNeil, Baron of Barra. Died 1880

43rd Chief: Ian MacNeil, Baron of Barra. Died 1893

44th Chief: Roderick Ambrose MacNeil, Baron of Barra. Bequeathed the title of chief upon a second son Robert Lister. Died 1914

45th Chief:  Robert Lister MacNeil, Baron of Barra, an American who bought the Barra Estate in 1937 and restored the Castle. Died 1970

46th Chief: Ian Roderick MacNeil, Baron of Barra. Born in the USA, he was a Harvard educated Professor of Law. He gifted Kisimul Castle to Historic Scotland for 1000 years in 2001, and gifted the Estate of Barra to the Scottish Ministers in 2004. Married Nancy Wilson of Ottawa, Canada. Died 2010.


If you have genealogical ties to the surname Macneil or any of Clan Macneil’s Sept family names (listed below), you were born into the Clan Macneil.  If you are not a member at present, our Association would be delighted to have you join us as a member by clicking on Membership Application above.  If you are a current member who needs to renew his/her membership, click on Membership Renewal above.

Alphabetical listing of Sept Names for Clan MacNeil

Macneal Macneill McKneill Neal
MacNeal MacNeill McNeal Neale
Macnealage Macneillage Mcneale Nealey
MacNealage MacNeille McNeale Neall
Macneale MacNelly McNealedge Nealle
MacNeale Macnial McNeall Nealy
Macneall MacNial McNealle Neel
MacNeall MacNialage Mcneel Neele
Macneallage Macniall McNeel Nelley
MacNeallage MacNiall Mcneelage Neell
Macnealle MacNiallage Mcneeley Neely
MacNealle Macniel Mcneely Neil
MacNeally MacNiel McNeely Neill
Macneel Macnielage McNeil Neille
MacNeel MacNielage McNeilege Neilsen
Macneelage Macniell McNeill Neilson
MacNeelage Macniell McNeille Nelson
Macneele MacNiell McNeilly Niel
MacNeele MacNiellage Mcneily Niell
MacNeeley MacNielle McNelly Nielle
MacNeely McCrillis Mcnial Nilson
Macneil McGougan McNial O’Neail
MacNeil Mcgrail McNiall O’Neal
Macneilage McGrail McNiel O’Neil
MacNeilage McGugan McNeill O’Neill
Macneile Mcguigan McNeille
MacNeile McGuigan

The Clans Heraldry



Macneil of Barra                                                                 McNeill of Colonsay


Macneil of Barra Modern Macneil of Barra Ancient Macneil of Colonsay Modern Macneil of Colonsay Ancient


The island’s place name is derived from two elements: Barr and Old Norse ey (“island”). It is possible that Barr represents the Gaelic personal name Finnbarr. Other possibilities are that it instead represents the Old Norse elements berr or barr (“bare” or “rough”), or perhaps the Celtic element *barr (“top” or “peak”).[9]

Barra once formed part of the Kingdom of the Isles. In the middle part of the twelfth century, this realm was partitioned between the Crovan dynasty and Clann Somhairle, and it is uncertain which family controlled the island during this period. 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 be evidence that it had indeed formed part of the territories previously controlled by the Crovan dynasty like other parts of the sheriffdom. By this period 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. Following the latter’s 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.[10]

In 1427, Alexander, Lord of the Isles granted the island to Giolla Adhamhnáin Mac Néill, a member of Clan MacNeil.[10] The clan held the island until 1838, when Roderick MacNeil, 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 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.[11]

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 previously uncovered by storms. The programme was broadcast on 20 January 2008.[12]

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.[13]

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: [8]
Satellite photo of Barra, Vatersay and surrounding islands

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 a rock in the bay, so giving the village its name. A smaller castle can be found in the middle of Loch St Clare on the west side of the Island in Tangasdale.[citation needed]

The highest elevation on the island is Heaval, halfway up which is located 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 into Castlebay.[7]

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]

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