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      Barra & Vatersay News

Barra’s iconic Kisimul Castle is set for remedial works to begin after Historic Environment Scotland announced it had secured a £350,000 funding package.

It is planned to begin survey work and a tendering process as soon as possible to provide a better visitor experience for the 2024 tourist season, last night’s public meeting (Thursday, November 30) was told.

However, the government body indicated this would extend only to boat trips and not access to the castle.

Further details of the proposals are to be published by Historic Environment Scotland shortly.

The public meeting was called after the castle’s custodians, Historic Environment Scotland, have been on the receiving end of sharp criticism about the current state of the historic castle.

It has been closed to the public since before 2022 and is a long-running bone of contention with locals and visitors alike. But it came into focus again this summer after it became clear the castle would not be accessible in time for the Homecoming celebrations.

After a previous meeting with Historic Environment Scotland in May, Isles MP Angus MacNeil accused the government body of “monumental failure” and expressed anger at the lack of progress or urgency in refurbishing the Castlebay landmark.

The castle is reputed to have been the stronghold of the Clan MacNeil since the 11th century.

Its first recorded mention, however, dates from the mid-16th century, when Dean Monro provided a written description of the monument in 1549.

Kisimul was abandoned in 1838 when the island was sold, and the castle’s condition subsequently deteriorated. Some of its stone was used as ballast for fishing vessels, and some even ended up as paving in Glasgow. 

The remains of the castle, along with most of the island of Barra, were purchased in 1937 by Robert Lister MacNeil, the then chief of Clan MacNeil, who made efforts at restoration which have been officially criticised in recent times for failing to correctly represent the original structures.