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Kilbar Church


(Cille Bharra, Cille-Bharra, Kilbarr Church, St Barr's Church)

An important Mediaeval religious site at Eoligarry in the NE of the island of Barra in the Outer Hebrides, Kilbar Church (Gael: Cille Bharra, also known as St. Barr's Church) is located on the northeastern slopes of Ben Eoligarry. The site comprises three buildings lying within Eoligarry burial ground; the principal chapel, dating from the 12th C., roofless by 1625 and now missing its gable ends, the south chapel (probably 12th C.) now reduced to a solitary gable, and the north chapel (16th C.) which was restored and re-roofed in the 1970s. Several round-arched openings pierce the walls of the main chapel, although internally these are formed into pointed arches. Its floor was once around 0.6m (2 feet) lower and there is a water-stoup next to the former entrance. A fourth chapel which once served as the parish church stood near the road but was demolished c.1830.

The complex is dedicated to St. Barr or Fionnbarr, a monk who came from Cork in Ireland in the 7th C. and who gave his name to the island of Barra. It is similar to the group of chapels at Howmore in South Uist and ranks in importance with St. Clement's Church at Rodel on South Harris.

The restored north chapel contains a replica of the Kilbar Stone (Gael: Clach Chille Bharra), an important late 10th / early 11th C. cross-slab discovered nearby in 1865 and now held by the Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh. This finely carved stone is unusual because it combines Norse runes with Christian symbols; the runic inscription on its reverse side translates as "This cross has been raised in memory of Thorgeth, daughter of Steinar". Also within the north chapel are four Late Mediaeval carved slabs, probably graveslabs of MacNeill chiefs. These feature swords and foliage, one bearing animals and a galley in relief. At least one of these can be attributed to the stone-carvers of Iona, while another is associated with the style produced by the carvers of Oronsay. Above the altar is a modern figure of St. Barr, whose image is locally venerated.

Also of interest in the burial ground is the grave of the author Sir Compton MacKenzie (1883 - 1972), which is marked by a simple cross.


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