ISLE OF BARRA
Cille Bharra
© Siar Media 2012
Prehistoric Barra The name Barra belongs properly to a whole group of islands, of which Barra itself is the chief. The names of these other lesser islands have a musical sound: to the north lie Fiaray, Fuday, Orosay, Gighay, Hellisay, Flodday, Fuiay; to the south are Vatersay, Sandray, Flodday, Pabbay, Mingulay, Berneray. These names are a reminder of the times when Barra was a haven for Viking pirates, who launched fierce plundering raids in all directions from these islands. But the Vikings were not the earliest inhabitants of these islands, nor is it their culture which has left the deepest impression.   The oldest man-made habitable structures on the Barra islands are a group of iron-age hill forts, for which the Gaelic name is dun. Some of these are of the type known as brochs, of which the best pre­served examples are in the Orkney and Shetland Islands; the brochs of Barra have left relatively slight traces. They and the simpler hill-forts indicate a considerable prehistoric population in the Barra group, pos­sibly in the late iron-age. There are certain or probable brochs at Dun Cuier (Allasdale, Barra), Dun a'Chaolais (Vatersay), Duman Ruadh (Fuday), Sandray, Pabbay and at Loch an Duin, Dim Ban at Tangusdale and Dun Chlif at Cliad (all on Barra); other duns are at Dun Scurrival at Eoligarry on Barra, Berneray, Vatersay, Mingulay, and at several locations on Barra itself. In addition, there are in the Barra group a number. of cairns and standing stones, indicative of early population?   It is uncertain who the prehistoric inhabitants of Barra were. Very probably Barra was occupied before the coming of Celtic peoples to the British Isles in the first millenium BC; but there is much contro¬versy over who were the builders of brochs and duns. The northern Hebrides do not really emerge into the pages of history until the coming of Christianity to the Hebrides in the sixth century AD. Saint Columba, who was active in Scotland from 563 to. 597, is said to have met a native of Skye, with whom he conversed through an interpreter, and who bore the Celtic name Artbranan. This man therefore must have been a non-Gaelic-speaking Celt, and was probably a Pict. Pictish carved stones bearing enigmatic symbols have been found on Skye and Raasay, seeming to confirm that the inner most of the northern Hebrides were once occupied by Pictish people. It would be a reason¬able deduction that the outer Hebrides were also occupied by Picts at one time. A Pictish stone has been discovered in North Uist; and, more significantly, a stone bearing both Pictish symbols and the Christ¬ian cross stands at Bagh Ban, Pabbay, in the Barra group.4 This suggests that the Barra Isles were occupied by Picts before and during the period of the coming of Christianity, in the sixth and seventh centuries, The Coming of Christianity The Christian faith had spread widely throughout the southern parts of Great Britain during the last century of Roman occupation (up to c. 410 AD). It may have been common in all areas south of the Antonin Wall, at the Forth-Clyde isthmus, since the British kings of Strathclyde, ruling from their fortress at Dumbarton Rock on the Clyde, were nominally Christian in the fifth and sixth centuries. It was from sub-Roman Britain that Christianity was carried to Ireland by the great British missionary. Saint Patrick in the second half of the fifth century. But even as Saint Patrick was carrying the gospel across the Irish Sea, his own people were facing an increasing threat from the pagan Angles and Saxons who were settling on the eastern coasts of England in increasing numbers., The British churches of the west and north sank into obscurity by the sixth century, while the seeds of Christianity sown in Ireland by Saint Patrick blossomed into the light of day.   It was from Ireland that the Christian faith was carried back into Scotland in the sixth century by Saint Columba. He settled on the island of Iona in 563 AD or soon thereafter, and over the next thirty years travelled widely throughout the Hebrides and the Scottish main¬land as far as the Great Glen at Inverness. On Skye, he baptised one of the native aristocrats, and on other islands, including Thee and possibly Jura, as well as on Iona, he built monasteries .6 There is no evidence that Columba ever visited the outer Hebrides. It is more likely that these islands were evangelized by Columban monks during the half-century following the saint's death, as were the Pictish lands and the pagan Anglian kingdom of Northumbria?   Thus there are reasons to believe that Christianity first arrived in Barra in the first half of the seventh century. It is in this context that we must consider Barra's mysterious patron saint, Saint Finnbarr. Tradition equates Saint Finnbarr of Barra with Saint Finnbar of Cork, a sixth-century Irish saint. The only surviving Scottish life of Saint Finnbarr, however, asserts that he was Scottish, and he had con¬nections with Dornoch in Sutherland as well as with Barra. His feast day is celebrated on the same day, 27 September, in both places. Little is known of his life. The Scottish life of Saint Finnbarr describes how he was illegitimately conceived as the result of a romance between a young Sutherland nobleman and a young woman. When the king dis¬covered that the woman was pregnant, he ordered that both she and her lover should be burned at the stake; but before the fire could be successfully kindled, the unborn child miraculously spoke from his mother's womb, warning the king against the cruel deed which he was contemplating. The child who was born soon after, so obviously the recipient of God's favour, later became a monk and hermit, and may have visited Barra and founded Cille Bharra.   Not the least of the problems which surround Saint Finnbarr is that of his name; as well as Finnbarr, he is also known as Saint Barr or  Barrfmn  Connected with this, of course, is the problem of the name of Barra itself. Various suggestions have been put forward as to the origin and meaning of the name Barra. Like neighbouring island¬names, Uist, Lewis and Skye, it appears to be pre-Norse, though in the case of Barra the Norse suffix - ey (island) has been added to an earlier name Barr;  Norse Barrey (modern Gaelic Barraidh, Barraigh) may mean 'Barr's Island'. The earliest mention of the name Barrey for Barra comes in Norse sagas referring to ninth-century events, though written down much later; so that provides little information as to the origin of the name. The site of Saint Finnbarr's church on Barra was probably at Cille Bharra, where the ruins of the medieval church still stand. As recently as the mid-nineteenth century, this site was the scene of horseracing, shinty and other festivities on Saint Barr's feast day.  A mile to the south, on the hillside just north of Traigh Mhbr, where the modern airstrip is located, was tobar Bharra, Saint Barr's well. Beside this there is said to have been another chapel (perhaps used as a bap¬tistry) but it has now disappeared.   Some Celtic saints, in addition to their main church where public worship was performed, also had a hermitage on a neighbouring island to which they would withdraw periodically for periods of con¬templation and spiritual communion. The most famous example is Saint Cuthbert of Lindisfarne, who occasionally retreated to the tiny Farne Island in the Lindisfarne group to escape the importunities of the laity." Saint Finnbarr and his successors on Barra may well have done so too, for one of the islands of the Barra group is called Pabbay, from the Norse Papa-ey, `hermit's isle'. On Pabbay there are the fragmentary remains of a very ancient chapel at l3agh Ban. Beside the chapel is the Pictish-Christian stone mentioned above, and three other stones incised with crosses; these were probably grave-markers, as there is evidence that there was a cemetery at the site  This cannot be taken as evidence that there was ever a Celtic monastery on Barra with a hermitage on Pabbay; but it is likely that the chapel on the `hermit's isle' was a cell of Cille Bharra, and the same is probably true of the chapels shown on the map on Sandray, Mingulay and Berneray, and of the burial ground on Vatersay.   It is impossible to build up a more complete picture of early Celtic Christianity on Barra. Our conclusions, which must remain tentative, are that Saint Finnbarr was probably a Gaelic Scot who settled on Barra in the early seventh century and built his church at Cille Bharra. He, or possibly his successors, may well have maintained a hermitage on Pabbay, and possibly other chapels on islands of the Barra group.   Near Borve Point, on the west coast of Barra, stand the ruins of an ancient chapel dedicated to Saint Brendan, This may be another relic of Christianity on Barra before the Viking age, and is perhaps a reminder that Barra lay on the sea route taken by Irish mariners to the Faroes, Iceland and beyond. The activities of these sailors are com¬memorated in the `Voyage of Saint Brendan', a ninth-century Irish text describing earlier Atlantic voyaging. Saint Brendan was the patron saint of Irish mariners, and the existence of a chapel dedicated to him on Barra may be an indication of Barra's position on early, pre-Viking, sea routes The Vikings on Barra Writing around 825 AD, an Irish monk named Dicuil described the Scottish Hebrides in these words: `Some of these islands are small; nearly all alike are separated by narrow channels; and in them for nearly a hundred years hermits have dwelt, sailing from our Scotia   Now,. because of these robbers the Northmen, they are empty of anchorites.'  The earliest Viking raid on the Hebrides is recorded in 794, when Iona was pillaged and burned; thereafter Viking raids on the Western Isles were carried out at frequent intervals throughout the ninth century. As time went on, the Norsemen settled in areas which they had earlier plundered, and the North Hebrides became a Viking archipelago in the, ninth and tenth centuries. Once-peaceful Barra was involved in this process, and during the Viking age became a haven for the dark pirates of the North.   The historian has three sources of evidence for the Vikings' activities on Barra: they are place-name evidence, the evidence of the Norse sagas; and archaeological finds. Taken together, they help form a picture of Barra during the Viking period. The ancient place-names of Barra are almost entirely Norse in origin. Many of these names refer to natural features. Most of the islands of the Barra group have names ending in the Norse termination -ey, including Barra itself. .Mingulay is Norse Mikel-ey, big island, and Pabbay, mentioned above, is Papa-ey, hermit's isle. Examples of other names of natural features in Barra place-names are: -nes, a headland, in Bruernish, Leenish, Ardveenish; -fjall, a hill (cf. north English fell), in Heaval, Tangavall, Scurrival; and -lair, a valley (English dale), in Tangusdale and Allasdale. Very few Norse place-names on Barra refer to types of human settlement; a rare example is a group of names ending in Norse -erg (a word originally borrowed from Gaelic airigh), meaning a pastoral settlement or shelling: Eoligarry, Skallary and Gunnery 15 From this we can deduce that the Norse settled all through the Barra group of islands; that, to begin with at least, their main activity in Barra was plundering rather than settlement, since they have left very few names indicative of settlement; and that such settlements as they made were predominantly pastoral. The name Pabbay indicates that the Viking period overlapped with that of the Celtic hermits.   Turning to the Norse sagas, they provide information which is much more vivid, but less trustworthy. According to one Norse saga, the first Viking to come to Barra was Onund Wooden-leg; he came from Norway with five ships in 871 and fought in the Barra Isles against King Kiarval (a Norse form of the Gaelic name Cerball). After he had driven out Kiarval, Onund stayed in Barra for three years, plundering in Scotland and Ireland, before returning to Norway. In 874 he fought against Harold Fairhair, king of Norway, at the great sea-battle of Hafrsfjordr, where he was defeated and lost one of his legs; he then returned to Barra and resumed his plundering career in about 875. `They went on warfare in the summers, but were in the Barra Isles in the winters', recounts the saga. Later in his life Onund went to Iceland. While he was there, perhaps around 900 AD, he arranged a marriage between his young kinsman Olaf Feilan and a lady called Alfdis the Barra-woman, whose family seem to have been established in the Hebrides for two or three generations. Her father Konal may have been the Viking ruler of Barra after Onund Wooden-leg went to Iceland."' In the tenth century, Barra was the home of a Norse poet and saga writer, Orm of Barra. None of his poems have survived intact, but fragments of his work are believed to lie embedded in the great Icelandic saga- collections of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. All of the circumstantial details of the Norse sagas cannot be accepted as history. For example, the king Kiarval whom Onund is said to have driven out of Barra in 871 is probably meant to represent Cerball king of Ossory in Ireland, who campaigned vigorously against the Norse of Dublin in the mid-ninth century; but he is unlikely to have had any factual connection with Barra. He may have been intro­duced as a stock character in saga, with his name used generically for any Celtic ruler. But we may well credit the main thrust of the story, that mid- ninth-century Vikings drove out the local Celtic rulers and used Barra as a plundering base, while maintaining contact with their Norse relatives in Norway and Iceland. In the tenth century, Barra was part of the mainstream of Norse culture.   The third type of evidence for Viking activity in Barra is archaeo­logical. A number of Viking graves have been discovered on the Barra Isles and on nearby Eriskay which contain grave-goods left in the grave for the use of the departed spirit; they are therefore evidence for con­tinuing paganism among the Norse settlers during the period in which they occur. There are both male and female graves, indicating that the Vikings brought their own women-folk with them when they settled in Barra. The occurrence of pagan graves `dries up in the tenth century', suggesting the resurgence of Christianity after little more than a century of pagan Norse occupation.   The most exciting piece of evidence for the acceptance of Christianity by the Norse settlers in Barra is in the form of a gravestone carved with a Celtic cross on one side, but with Norse runes forming an inscription on the other. This stone, which is totally unique, was dis­covered at Cille Bharra in 1865 and later transferred to the National Museum of Antiquities in Edinburgh. The meaning of its runic inscrip­tions appears to be 'After Thorgerth, Steiner's daughter, this cross was raised". The runes can be transliterated as follows -   [ ... ] TIR THUR KIRTHU S[ ... I IN [ ... ] R/ [ ,.. ] R IS KURS SIA RISTA / [ ... ] A   In curious contrast with the harsh gutturals of the Norse words on the front of the stone is the delicate spiral and interlace pattern woven in and round the Celtic cross on the reverse This dramatic juxtaposition of cultures aptly symbolises the acceptance by the conquerors of the religion of the conquered. The runic stone also proves, importantly, that Cille Bharra was in continuous use as a place of Christian worship and a burial ground all through the Viking period. Taken together with the evidence of place-names like Pabbay, and the name Cille Bharra itself, this stone shows that the Christian faith established by Saint Finnbarr survived on Barra through the darkest days of the Viking pirates. The Middle Ages By the year 1100 AD, the days of the Viking raiders were past, and their descendants in the Western Isles had settled to a more stable existence as part of the Norse `kingdom of the Isles'. This kingdom stretched from the Isle of Man in the south to the Butt of Lewis, and included the inner and outer Hebrides and the islands of the Firth of Clyde; nominally it was subject to the kings of Norway, but in fact most of its kings ruled from the Isle of Man as independent princes. In the southern Hebrides, and possibly in the southern parts of Skye, Gaelic was widely spoken; in northern Skye and the outer Isles Norse seems to have been the predominant, if not the only, language.   In the twelfth and thirteenth centuries this situation was to change dramatically, bringing the Hebrides into a linguistic and polit¬ical relationship with mainland Scotland much more similar to the one we know today. The decisive factor was the rise .in the mid-twelfth century of a- new and successful Gaelic dynasty in Argyll, the family of Somerled mac Gille-Brigde. In a series of campaigns in the Isles in the 1150s Somerled expanded from his mainland territories of Morvern and Ardnamurchen in Argyll, and acquired Kintyre and the islands of the Firth of Clyde, Islay, Mull and the southern Hebrides, and Barra and the Uists in the north.20 These islands became part of the lordship of Somerled, and they were eventually passed on to his descendants, the Lords of the Isles. The final severance of the Norse connection in the Western Isles came in 1266, when the king of Norway ceded Man and the Hebrides to Scotland.   In some parts of the Hebrides, dynasties arose in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries descended from Gaelic chiefs who had fought alongside Somerled against the Norsemen in the 1150s. It is uncer¬tain whether the Macneills of Barra have such an ancestry. The clan claims to have a pedigree traceable to the fourth-century Irish king Niall Naigiallach; but in the fifteenth century a Macdonald seanchaidh or lore-master lumped Macneill of Barra in with `these fellows who have raised up their heads of late, and are upstarts, whose pedigree we know not, nor even [do] they themselves'.  Setting aside this insult, it remains true that the origins of the Macneills of Barra are very obscure. They do not appear in historical records earlier than the fifteenth cen¬tury; in 1427 Alexander of Islay, Lord of the Isles, granted the island of Barra and the lands of Boisdale in South Uist to Gill-Adhamnain on of Roderick Macneill, at an assembly of the chiefs of the Isles held at Finlaggan on Islay; later in the same century, Macneill of Barra was counted as one of the `thanes of less living and estate' who were en¬titled to sit on the assembly or Council of the Isles  The Macneill chiefs may also have had the right to be buried at Reilig Odhrain on Iona, the burial-place of the most noble of the island families. 'A late¬fourteenth- or early-fifteenth-century date for the Macneill's rise to prominence in Barra may be indicated by the fact that their ancestral home, Kisimul Castle in Castle Bay, seems to date from the fifteenth century   Before the rise of the Macneills, Barra pertained directly to the Lords of the Isles, and was confirmed to them by the crown in a series of charters.   As for Cille Bharra, the church appears to have had a continuous existence as a typical medieval parish church throughout the middle ages. Barra was part of the diocese of the Isles, ruled over by bishops dwelling in the Isle of Man until about 1330, and thereafter by a line of Scottish bishops of the Isles living in Skye until the end of the fifteenth century; the Isle of Man, ceded to Scotland by the Norse in 1266 along with the Hebrides, was seized and occupied by English pirates in about 1330, and the cathedral on the Isle of Man has been occupied by a line of English bishops of Man ever since. The history of the Scottish bishops of the Isles after 1330 is very obscure, but it seems that for part of the time at least they used the church of Snizort at Skeabost on Skye as a cathedral. Later, in 1499, the bishops ac¬quired the abbey church of Iona, and used it effectively as a cathedral of the Isles until after the Reformation?b   Cille Bharra fitted into this medieval organisation. The church as it stands today may have been built, or re- built, around the twelfth century, since the north door of Cille Bharra appears to date from that period. The church was served by a parson or rector, and was in lay patronage; in other words, its revenues were not `appropriated' to any other religious institution, and its parson was appointed and presented by a local nobleman. Probably before 1427 the lay patron was the Lord of the Isles, and thereafter the patronage of Cille Bharra passed along with the island to Macneill of Barra. Because of its close relationship with the lay patron, Cille Bharra was not the subject of much litigation among clergymen; only one petition to the Pope has so far been discovered relating to Cille Bharra. This document, there¬fore, has special interest. In it, the Pope (in fact Anti-Pope, Benedict XIII, 1394-1422) provided Gelisius Martini of the diocese of the Isles to the perpetual vicarage of the parish church of Barra, whose annual value did not exceed twenty merks sterling (£13 13s. 4d.), which was vacant because Martin de Servgrant held it for several years together with the parish church of Saint Peter in South Uist without having secured Papal dispensation to hold both together. The grant was made by the Pope at Avignon on 17 November 1402?$ The successful petitioner's name, Gelisius Martini, looks like a Latinisation of a Gaelic name, Gill-losa mac Gille-Martin; but neither he nor his opponent, Martin de Servgrant, is otherwise known. The document tells us what was the expected maximum annual income of the parish church of Barra, and states also that for periods it was held as a vicarage in con¬junction with the church of Kilpeder in South Uist.   Throughout most of the fifteenth century, the chiefs of the Macneills of Barra were probably buried on Iona; certainly most other major chiefs of the Lordship of the Isles were buried there at that time    After about 1500, however, there was a change in fashion as the in¬fluence of Iona as a centre of monumental sculpture declined, and the Lordship of the Isles itself was broken up; some chiefs preferred to be buried in their own locality. The most striking example of this in the outer Hebrides is the magnificent tomb of Alasdair Macleod of Dunvegan in the church of Saint Clement at Rodel, Harris, built in 1528.29 It has been stated that `In Skye and the Outer Hebrides ... the majority of [late medieval] carvings appear to belong to the period 1500-1560'.30 Probably this is true of three of the four late medieval carved stones at Cille Bharra, which are'now housed in the restored north chapel; they are likely to be tombstones of Macneill chiefs, or their close relatives, and to belong to the first half of the sixteenth century. They originally lay in the churchyard at Cille Bharra, which suggests that they belong to a period before the building of the north chapel; this building is now thought to be a post-Reformation burial aisle, presumably built by the Macneill chiefs.31 The fourth, sandstone, slab, bearing a weathered inscription, appears to be even later in date. Although Barra itself belonged to Macneill of Barra, he did not exercise unlimited control through all the Barra Isles. Some of them were the property of the bishop of the Isles, including Berneray, Mingulay, Pabbay, Lingay, Greanamul (Gigarun), Flodday, Sandray, Sgeir na Muice (Scarpnarnutt) and Vatersay. In the 1530s Macneill of Barra may have been detaining revenues from these islands which belonged to the bishop; if so, he never effectively wrested them away from the bishop, for in 1561 the `fyve Illis of Barray' (presumably Berneray, Mingulay, Pabbay, Sandray and Vatersay) were still entered in the bishop's rental as part of his property.   In the mid-sixteenth century, the momentous religious revolution known as the Reformation shook Scotland. There is no hint of its impending arrival in the outer Hebrides, or evidence that the old religion had sunk into decay. One of the last visitors to Barra before the Reformation was the archdeacon of the diocese of the Isles, who in 1549 wrote an account of his visitation of his diocese. On Barra he found nothing to cause him undue concern, and the church of Cille Bharra apparently functioning normally: 'Barray [is] ane fertile and frutfull Ile for corn, and abundance of fisching ... with ane paroche kirk callit Kilbaray'. It seemed like `business as usual". Reform and Counter-Reformation on Barra It has been suggested that the Protestant Reformation never made any impact on Barra at all, and that the islanders continued in their ancient Catholic faith oblivious to the momentous changes which were taking place all around them. This traditional view may be in need of some modification.   There is no evidence of a reformed minister being appointed to serve at Cille Bharra in the immediate post-Reformation period; and although Protestant bishops and superintendents of the Isles travelled in the Hebrides planting and visiting kirks of the reformed faith, we do not know of any such visit being made to Barra But on Barra, as elsewhere, the religion of the local nobleman would have been crucial in determining the religious regime of the locality; Macneill of Barra was the patron of Cille Bharra, and at least some of the post-Reforma¬tion Macneill chiefs were Protestant. In 1625 the chief of Clan Macneill rejected Catholic missionaries, and remained obdurate until 1632. Earlier, a group of Island chiefs, mostly from the southern Hebrides, but including Macdonald of Sleat (in Skye) and Macleod of Dunvegan and Harris, had in 1609 attended a synod on Iona convoked by Andrew Knox, the reformed bishop of the Isles, and subscribed to the `Statutes of Iona', which provided for the spread of reformed religion throughout the Isles and its support by the clan chiefs. Among 'other things, they promised to repair ruined churches and respect the ministers planted in them. 36   This respect was not always accorded to all ministers. Among charges brought against Macdonald of Benbecula, who was living a life of crime and brigandage, it was stated that `in the month of. June 1609 he came to the Yle of Barra and there most cruelly, etc., slew to the death umquhile [i.e., the late] Johnne Mcniell, persone and minister of Bara'. So at the time of the Statutes of Iona, Barra al¬ready had a Protestant pastor, who was probably related to, and almost certainly provided by, Macneill of Barra. But although Barra appears to have had the vestiges of a Protes - tant establishment between the Reformation and the second quarter of the seventeenth century, this is not the whole picture. The cult of Saint Finnbarr remained strong, in spite of reformed teaching about the cult of saints; the first Catholic missionaries on Barra (1625) found there that Cille Bharra was roofless, but contained a statue of the saint which was much venerated by the inhabitants. Evidently the parson John Macneill who was murdered in 1609 had not succeeded in sup¬pressing this example of folk-devotion. Although his murder seems to have had nothing to do with religious controversy, he may never have been replaced, and Cille Bharra may have been allowed to fall into ruin after his death. At the end of the day, without a vigorous minister supported by an enthusiastic local nobleman, the conversion of Barra to the reformed faith may have been no more than skin-deep.   This situation was ably exploited by Catholic missionaries who first arrived on Barra in 1625. In that year an Irish Franciscan landed on Barra to find the ruined church, apparently without any minister, and the cult of Saint Finnbarr flourishing. He baptised many of the inhabitants and reconciled them to the Catholic faith; and among his converts were members of Macneill of Barra's household, though the chief himself persisted in his Protestantism. He was the first Catholic priest to set foot on Barra after the Reformation.   He was the first of many; for, due largely to the success of the Irish missionaries, Barra has become and remained predominantly Roman Catholic ever since. The conversion of the Macneills of Barra was clearly crucial in this, and that was achieved in 1632, when the chief with his wife, family and household embraced Catholicism at the urging of an Irish Franciscan. Thereafter the work of the missionaries was always going to be easier. In 1654 Father Dugan,an Irish Lazarist priest, visited Barra and commented that the people were very devout and very desirous of learning and Catholic instruction. A visitor to the island in about 1695 went to Cille Bharra to see Saint Finnbarr's statue, but was disappointed, because the islanders had carried it away and hidden it from view, lest he mock their piety as other Protestants had previously done. After his departure, the statue was once again dis¬played on the ruined altar for the veneration of the inhabitants. He was also told about a foreign missionary priest who, arriving on the island on Saint Finnbarr's feast-day, offended the natives by refusing to preach to them about Saint Finnbarr, of whom he had never heard; they told him that he could not be a true priest, as even the Pope had heard of the great Saint Finnbarr. During this period, worship took place either in the open air among the ruins at Cille Bharra, or in private houses; the only building which remained roofed at Cille Bharra was the Macneill burial-aisle in the north chapel.   The eighteenth century saw the consolidation of Catholicism on Barra, and the missionaries replaced by a staff of native priests trained overseas. In 1720 a Protestant observer remarked that `There are some places where the Reformation never yet had a footing ... Bara belonging to Mcneil of Barra, a papist tho' an Episcopal minister has lived near 40 years in Southuist, yet he never had above 18 protestant hearers at once, these islands are served by old father Malcolm Mcphie, Mr. Currie & other priests, & besides them diverse others in orders, who have lately come from France and Ireland.' One of the longest serving priests on Barra was Father Neil Macphie, a native of South Uist who was or¬dained at Rome in 1726; he served as priest on Barra from 1738 until his death in 1774, although on two occasions, in 1750 and 1767, he was temporarily suspended. Throughout the eighteenth century Barra was served by him and other Highland-born priests.  The Macneills, and consequently the people of Barra, were fortunate not to get caught up in the 1745 Jacobite rebellion; Prince Charles Edward landed on Barra in 1745, but the chief was not at home at Kisimul at the time, so the prince sailed away to the mainland. Thereafter the position of the Macneills and the people of Barra in the '45 was sympathetic, but in¬active, and so they largely escaped persecution from the victorious Hanoverian/Protestant government, although the chief was for a time imprisoned in London. Barra in Recent Times In contrast to the dark ages. and the medieval period, where very little has been written about the history of Barra, the island's more recent history has been better served, especially by The Book of Barra edited by John Lorne Campbell. In a work such as this, devoted to ancient Cille Bharra, there is no need to do more than summarise more recent developments.   One of the most significant developments of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries on all the islands was a steady increase in population; Barra was no exception. The population rose from 1150 in 1755, to 1604 in 1794, to 1925 in 1801, and to a pre-famine peak of 2303 in 1821. The increase would have been greater but for emigra¬tion, mostly to North America and to the Clyde valley.43 The main reasons for the increase were changes in diet, most significantly the introduction of the potato as a staple item, and the success of the sea¬kelp industry in producing sodium products. But the price of kelp declined steadily after the Napoleonic Wars, and from 1845 onwards there was a series of drastic failures of the potato crop. Starvation, clearances, and voluntary emigration caused a dramatic decline in Barra's population. In 1839 Macneill of Barra was forced by poverty and debt to sell the island, and the way was left open for profiteering speculators; one of these, Colonel Gordon of Cluny, carried out savage evictions in the 1850s, shamefully assisted in this by a local Protestant minister who found the natives to be incorrigible Catholic   Barra's subsequent history has been happier. The last Macneill of Barra in the main line died abroad in 1863; in 1915 a cadet branch living in Canada successfully asserted its claim to the chiefship of Clan Macneill, and in 1937 the new chief, Robert Lister MacNeil, re-acquired the estate of Barra and began the restoration of Kisimul Castle  With the return of the Clan Macneill to Barra, the islanders appear now to have an assured future. Cille Bharra Today At Cille Bharra today, there is much left to suggest the vicissi¬tudes of a rich and ancient past. The main church itself, flanked to the east by its two `chapels', has lost its east and west gables, but the north and south walls rise to a height of up to eight feet in places. On the north side, the low door, which may be of twelfth- century date, appears to have been the main entrance to the building. The building appears originally to have terminated a few feet to the west of this door, and subsequently to have been extended westwards. A holy¬water stoup rests on the ground east of the doorway, but it is not clear that this was its original position. The base of the altar can still be seen at the east end; it was on this that Saint Finnbarr's wooden statue was displayed in the seventeenth century. To the north-east stands the sixteenth-century burial-aisle known as the `north chapel' or `Saint Mary's chapel'. It has recently been re-roofed by the Scottish Development Department to house the late-medieval carved tomb¬stones, which formerly lay in the churchyard. The runic stone, which also once stood in the churchyard at Cille Bharra, was long ago removed to the National Museum of Antiquities in Edinburgh for safekeeping; it is still, on display there, while a copy is displayed in the `north chapel' at Cille Bharra. The west gable of the `south chapel' is still standing, but little else remains of this building apart from foundations, and its exact age cannot now be determined. The burial-ground has been used to house the remains of many generations of Barra people; in it is buried the writer and novelist Compton MacKenzie: The buildings and churchyard are in the care of the Ancient Monuments division of the Scottish Development Department, and are tended by the parish priest of Northbay.   PRAYER FOR SAINT FINNBARR'S DAY The following is the `prayer for Saint Finnbarr's Day' (27th September) from the Aberdeen Breviary,   O GOD, Who chose Thy glorious servant FINNBARR from out of his mother's womb, and by the ministration of angels raised him up to the rank of the priesthood: grant that we, who are bowed down by the burden of our guilt, may by his merits be raised up to the path of virtue. Through Jesus Christ Our Lord. AMEN.   APPENDIX Translation of the Latin `Life of Saint Finnbarr' from the sixteenth¬century Aberdeen Breviary. This is the only Scottish life of Saint Finnbarr. It `may be derived from an original which is now lost'. (A. Boyle, `Notes on Scottish Saints', Innes Review, xxxii (1981), 59-82, at p. 74) The text is from Breviarium Aberdonense (Maitland Club, 1854), Est., cxv r-v. Saint Finnbarr the priest, who is held in great honour in Caithness,   Finnbarr drew his origins from a noble Scottish family, from the island of Caithness, which branches off to the west of Scotland; it has the province of Ross to the south and the Orkney Islands of the sea to the east, cut off from it on all sides by the waves of the sea. A certain local king called Tigernach,a who was of handsome rugged appearance, issued a public decree that no man should have pre-marital intercourse with any maiden. In spite of this a certain knight of the king's own family, by various means of persuasion, had carnal knowledge of a girl; and so she conceived a child and became pregnant. When the king knew that the maiden was pregnant, and that she had conceived a child by a knight who was related to himself, he burned with anger, and ordered the girl to be brought before him immediately. She was asked by whom she had -conceived, by the king and a court summoned to judge the crime, and she openly confessed that it was by a knight of his own family. When the king heard her confession, he most wrongly and cruelly sentenced her to be burned in fire and sulphur. When the fire was burning fiercely, he ordered the young girl, who was pregnant with Saint Finnbarr, to be bound hand and foot, and thrown into the fire by the onlookers to be burned. But divine grace came down upon the fire and prevented its operation, so that it could not act at all or perform its natural function. Thus the divine will came to be done by an event most worthy of memory and never heard of in any other age.   The child Finnbarr, still deep in his mother's womb, spoke thus to the tyrannous king and those with him, who shrank back in wonder to hear his words proceeding naturally: `An unjust king, if it were right to call you king at all; rather, I call you an impious tyrant. Why so cruelly do you condemn the innocent to the punishment that you have ordained for the delinquent, and have the just put to death along with the sinner?' The king was terrified and filled with wonder, and spoke prophetically: `What can be the meaning of this new miracle of one speaking from deep within his mother's womb, unless his virtues have been singled out by God before all the world? By his grace also his parents have been delivered from cruel punishment, and so they are worthy to be called parents.' Therefore he released the mother from her chains, and delivered her from death.   When the child was born, he was baptized and given the name Finnbarr.b Afterwards, having been instructed in the words of the gospel, he went to Rome, where after a short time he was ordained priest by -the most holy father Gregory. c Returning to Scotland, he converted many to the faith of Christ, and under his protection the reverend father Columba d long laboured in religion. A great many miracles occurred by his special grace.
ISLE OF BARRA