While we were on the Isle of Barra in The Outer Hebrides, I read about a little hill top church, and so we went off to find it, which we did, but also found a coach full of tourists. It was really strange, as we seem to have had the Island to ourselves apart from the cyclists, which seem to be a long unrelentless stream, so it was strange to find tourists on-mass. Nothing wrong with tourists, myself included, if they were see-through, which they were not. But I have got very good at dodging the bodies, although sometimes I do miss a good shot because I want it to be bodiless. So back to this ancient church and some of its history.
We found the church Cille Bharra located north off the A888 near the village of Eoligarry (Eòlaigearraidh) and about one mile north of the Traig Mhor Airfield, near the northern tip of the Isle of Barra, just incase you ever want to visit.
Cille Bharra is the remains of a 12th century church dedicated to St Barr. The site is thought to have been used for Christian worship since the 600’s when there was a chapel here dedicated to St Barr – probably the same saint as St Finbarr of Cork. The roofed building is the 15th century north chapel and houses some wonderful grave slabs. The south chapel is just a pile of stones and there is more of the main church in the centre, some walls and windows remain.
Inside the chapel you will find a copy of a 10th century stone cross ‘The Kilbar Cross’ The cross is carved from local stone and is 1.36m high. The stone is unusual in combining both Christian and Nordic symbols and a runic inscription on the reverse reads: ‘This cross has been raised in memory of Thorgeth, daughter of Steinar’ The Kilbar stone was found here, but the original is now in the National Museum of Scotland, although efforts to return to Cille Bharra have been under way since 1980 ‘the centenary year of its abduction’ Its a good copy, but theres nothing like the real thing in its rightful place.
The North Chapel also contains four grave slabs belonging to the MacNeill Chiefs. These stones were carved by men from Iona and Oronsay and are similar in style to those found all along the west coast of Scotland.
One last point of interest at Cille Bharra, is the grave of noted writer Sir Compton MacKenzie. Mackenzie, author of the humourous novel Whisky Galore, is buried beneath a simple stone cross in the upper graveyard.