A historical perspective, drawn from the Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland: A Survey of Scottish Topography, Statistical, Biographical and Historical, edited by Francis H. Groome and originally published in parts by Thomas C. Jack, Grange Publishing Works, Edinburgh between 1882 and 1885.

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Barra or Barray, an island and an insular parish of the Outer Hebrides, Inverness-shire. The island, measuring at the nearest, lies 4¾ miles SSW of South Uist, 13 NNE of Barra Head in Bernera, 36 W of Rum, and 58 W by N of Arasaig. It has a post and telegraph office under Lochmaddy, in North Uist, 63 miles to the NNE; a ferry-boat, with the mails, plies twice a week from Polachar Inn, South Uist; and a weekly steamer calls at Bayherivagh and Castle. The island's length from N to S is about 8 miles, and its greatest breadth is 5; but its outline is exceedingly irregular, broken by headlands and inlets. The western coast includes two or three sandy bays, but elsewhere presents to the Atlantic a series of high rocky cliffs, torn with fissures and pierced with caves. The eastern coast also is both sandy and rocky, but includes several bays, which serve as good harbours. The surface comprises some low rich meadow land, and fertile vales and hollows, but mainly consists of highish hills, clothed to the top with good pasture. Springs of excellent fresh water are plentiful; and there are four freshwater lakes, none much exceeding ½ mile in length, and all stocked with small black trout and eels. The prevailing rock is coarse granite. Barra House, a commanding modern mansion, stands at Eoligary, in a sheltered situation, and is surrounded by highly improved lands. Kismull Castle, the ancient residence of the M`Neills of Barra, crowns a rocky islet, in the middle of a beautiful bay, at the southern end of the island, and is a structure some 60 feet high, with a square corner tower overtopping the rest of the wall. Numerous standing stones and Scandinavian ` duns, ' or watch towers, with several ruined pre-Reformation chapels, are on the island; but one stone Celtic monument found its way in 1880 to the Edinburgh Antiquarian Museum. This, 6 feet high, is sculptured with a cross, crozier-bearing figures of the four Evangelists, a lion, and two strange stork-like figures, who are pecking out the eyes of a human head. Pop. (1841) 1977, (1861) 1591, (1871) 1753, (1881) 1887.

The parish includes also the inhabited islands of Watersa, Sandera, Pabba, Mingala, Bernera, Helesa, Fladda, and Fuda, and upwards of twelve uninhabited islets. Comparatively compact, its islands and islets are separated from one another only by narrow sounds or straits; and it extends south-south-westward in the same direction as the main body of the Outer Hebrides, and looks on the map as if forming a tail to that great lizard-shaped group. Its greatest length, from the northern extremity of Fuda, a little N of Barra island to Barra Head, in Bernera, is 24 miles; its greatest breadth across Barra to adjacent islets is 8 miles; and its area is estimated at 22,073 acres. The property all belonged to the M`Neills, from time immemorial till December 1840; and was then sold to Colonel Gordon of Cluny for £38,050. About 3922 acres of the entire area are arable land, 1541 machir or sandy ground, 470¾ moss or meadow, and 16,139½ hill pasture. Fishing banks extend from the mouth of Loch Boisdale to Barra Head, and give a great yield of cod and ling. So many as about 80 boats, manned by 400 hands, belonging to the parish, are usually employed in the fishery. Limpets, mussels, cockles, whelks, clams, razor-fish, lobsters, and crabs also abound on the coasts, and are taken in great quantity. Cockles, in particular, have been taken off the sands at low water, to the amount of from 100 to 200 horse-loads every day of the spring tides in the months of May, June, July, and August; and have, in times of scarcity, formed no mean part of the subsistence of the inhabitants. Some of the straits or narrow sounds among the islands have capacity, depth, and shelter to serve as harbours of refuge for ships of any burden; and two of them, Ottirvore in the far N and Flodda a little more to the S, are much frequented by ships to and from the Baltic. Barra Head, in the extreme S, directs ships outward on the fair way to America; and is surmounted by a lighthouse, built in 1833 for £13,087 of a beautiful granite found close at hand. The lighthouse rises to an altitude of 680 feet above the level of high water; shows an intermittent light eclipsed during half a minute, bursting brightly into view, continuing in sight during 2½ minutes, and visible at the distance of 33 nautical miles; and, notwithstanding its great elevation, is overarched by seaspray during high westerly winds. Frequent communication is maintained by boats or small vessels with the Clyde. A cattle fair is held on the Friday before the third Wednesday of July, and on the Friday in September before South Uist. This parish is in the presbytery of Uist and synod of Glenelg; its minister's income is £208. The manse was built in 1816, and the parish church near it, in the centre of Barra island, was built about 1834, and contains 250 sittings. There is also a Roman Catholic church, St Barr's (1858; 500 sittings), whose Easter communicants numbered 1015 in 1880; and two public schools, Craigston and Minglay, with respective accommodation for 15 and 37 children, had (1879) an average attendance of 38 and 29, and grants of £6,14s. and £32,6s. 6d. Valuation (1881) £2080,1s. 2d., of which £1908,1s. 2d. belonged to Mrs Gordon of Cluny. Pop. (1801) 1925, (1821) 2303, (1831) 2097, (1841) 2363, (1861) 1853, (1871) 1997, (1881) 2145.

An accompanying 19th C. Ordnance Survey map is available, or use the map tab to the right of this page.

Note: This text has been made available using a process of scanning and optical character recognition. Despite manual checking, some typographical errors may remain. Please remember this description dates from the 1880s; names may have changed, administrative divisions will certainly be different and there are known to be occasional errors of fact in the original text, which we have not corrected because we wish to maintain its integrity. This information is provided subject to our standard disclaimer

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