I fondly recall my first visit to Kisimul Castle. I had wanted to see the castle ever since reading the tale of how a piper would stand atop the castle ramparts every evening after the chief had his supper, and proclaim:
"The MacNeil has eaten, the lesser princes of the earth may now dine."
That first visit to Barra was in 1993. The ferry from Oban arrived in the dark at 11pm. And as we approached Castlebay we could clearly see the castle, seeming to rise out of the sea, brightly illuminated by several spotlights. It was an amazing sight. The next day we took a little boat out to the castle, where we were allowed to wander at will.
The highlight of seeing the castle was climbing to the top of the tower and stepping out onto the ramparts. All of Castlebay could be seen, with Heabhal towering high above the village. The tower-top remains one of my favourite places in the isles. I did not know it at the time, but I would never be able to stand there again.
|My wife on the tower roof|
|Standing at one of my favourite places in the isles. Was this where the piper stood?|
The next time I visited Kisimul I was looking forward to climbing the tower and stepping out onto the ramparts again. Coincidentally, my visit was at the same time as a Clan MacNeil gathering, and there were several MacNeils on the boat to visit the Castle. But when we reached the top of the interior stairs we found that the door to the roof was locked. I made my way back down to the entrance kiosk to ask if they could open the door. They looked at me as if I was crazy. Why would anyone want to go out there? They refused to open the door, and so I left a bit disgruntled. At least I have that memory of standing atop the tower back in 1993.