The island of Barra (Barraigh) is a predominantly Gaelic-speaking island, and apart from the adjacent island of Vatersay, to which it is connected by a causeway, it is the southernmost inhabited island of the Outer Hebrides in Scotland. The area of Barra is roughly 60 sqkm (23 sq miles), 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. The highest point on the island is Heaval, halfway up which is "Our Lady of the Sea" a prominent white marble statue of the Madonna and Child erected in 1956. 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. Uniquely in Europe, Barra's tiny airport, near Northbay, uses the beach called An Tràigh Mhor (The Big Beach) as a runway. Planes can only land and take off at low tide meaning that the timetable varies.
Alexander, Lord of the Isles granted the island to the MacNeil 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 was bought by Robert MacNeil, an American architect, and 45th chief of the clan. In 2003, ownership was passed to the Scottish Government.
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