The Gaelic name for Kisimul Castle is Caisteal Chiosmuil, which loosely translates as ‘castle of the rock of the small bay’, which pretty well describes this scenic medieval fortress, perched on a rocky islet at the entrance to Castle Bay, Isle of Barra. The name Kisimul is pronounced with an 'sh', giving something vaguely like 'Kishmule'. Kisimul was the seat of the chief of the Macneils of Barra.
According to tradition, the first Macneils came to Barra in the 11th century, but the first historical record of a clan chief here comes from 1427, when Gilleonan Macneil was granted the island by Lord Alexander MacDonald, Lord of the Isles. It was probably he who built Kisimul on the rocky island, with a small crew house beside the castle for his personal crew and galley.
The Macneils retained Barra until 1838 when they were forced to sell the lordship to repay heavy debts. In 1937 a descendant of the Macneils of Barra, Robert Lister Macneil, the 45th Chief, purchased the estates once more and set to work restoring the castle. In 2000 Kisimul passed into the hands of Historic Scotland, who maintain the site today.
Most of the castle dates to the 15th century. It is built as a three-storey tower house surrounded by a curtain wall. Within the wall is a courtyard enclosing secondary buildings including a chapel, feasting hall, watchman's house, and heir's house (called a 'tanist').
Near a postern gate is a small well fed by an underground stream. The foundations of the 15th-century crew house can be seen beside the landing place. This was occupied by the sailors who served on the chief's galley.
Kisimul is open during Spring and Summer months, with access from via a small boat from Castlebay. This is a 5 five minute trip, weather permitting.
This has to be one of the most enjoyable historic sites to visit in all of Britain. The location in the middle of the bay is just stunning. There is regular boat service to the castle from the jetty, and you can purchase tickets from the nearby tourist information centre or at the castle after you've made the boat trip.