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The Worldwide Gathering of Clan MacNeil in Barra – 2016

Reported by Vince MacNeil

I had the pleasure of attending the Worldwide Gathering of Clan MacNeil in Barra with my parents last August. For the three of us, this was the trip of a lifetime. What made it extra special is that both of my parents are MacNeils by birth and both have roots in Barra. Through my father I am Vincent s/o Raymond s/o Hector s/o Hector s/o James s/o Malcolm s/o John s/o Rory the Piper MacNeil and through my mother I am Vincent s/o Patsy d/o Hector Joseph s/o Francis Hector s/o Hector Rory s/o Rory Mor s/o Donald s/o Ruairi MacNeil. My father’s Piper MacNeils lived on the islands of Helisay and Gigha and my mother’s MacNeils came from Sandray (all are currently uninhabited).

Sarah MacLean did an outstanding job of organizing the Clan MacNeil gathering and the focus of the event was on community involvement making it extra special.
Day 1, Monday, August 8, 2016 consisted of registration, a welcome by the MacNeil of Barra, a discussion about island migration by Calum and Rhoda MacNeil followed by a genealogical presentation. In the evening we attended a celebration marking the 80th Anniversary of the Barra Airport where we watched the remake of the movie Whiskey Galore.

Pictured right is the Macneil of Barra, Rory Macneil s/o Ian Roderick s/o Robert Lister s/o Roderick Ambrose s/o Iain s/o Hector Edward s/o Hector Ban s/o Hector Og s/o James s/o Roderick Dubh Macneil.


Pictured left, making a presentation, are Rhoda (Campbell) MacNeil d/o Michael s/o Rory s/o Michael s/o Murdock s/o Peter Campbell and Calum “Calum a’ Chal” MacNeil s/o Calum s/o Roderick s/o John s/o Alasdair “Alexander” s/o Roderick Ban s/o Hector “Eachann Og” s/o James s/o Clan Chief Roderick Dubh Macneil. I would be related to both Rory and Calum as my ancestor James MacNeil “Piper” married Mary MacNeil d/o Hector Ban MacNeil s/o Hector Og MacNeil.

Day 2, Tuesday, August 9, 2016 consisted of a reception at Kisimul Castle hosted by the Macneil of Barra and his wife Sau Ming Kwan Macneil, a walking tour of Castlebay, a Gaelic lesson at the Castlebay Community Centre and House Ceilidhs in the evening. Our Ceilidh was at Calum and Rhoda’s place.

One of the many great things about the gathering was getting to meet some of the members of Clan MacNeil in Canada. Pictured right are Robin Vincent, his mother Louise (McNeal) Fielder, The MacNeil of Barra and Robin’s wife Catherine Borelly. Louise is the d/o George s/o William s/o George s/o Thomas s/o Thomas s/o Daniel McNeal.


Left we have Eddie MacNeil, Patsy MacNeil, Vince MacNeil and John McNeil (President of Clan MacNeil in Australia). It was a great pleasure to meet John as we have corresponded by email for a number of years. John is the s/o Malcolm s/o William James Alexander s/o Peter s/o James s/o Donald s/o James McNeil.

Pictured right are Eddie MacNeil and Andy Ritchie. They made a wonderful connection through their careers in the I.B.E.W. Andy is also a member of Clan MacNeil in Canada and his connection comes through Louise McNeal Fielder.

Pictured left we have Màiri Eilidh MacLean in the centre of the photo leading our Barra walking tour. Mairi didn’t know her ancestry but she was able to tell me that her father’s mother was Morag “Mollag” (MacNeil) MacLean and this MacNeil family went by the nickname Fry. Her great-great grandfather was Fire MacLean.

Pictured far left are Sarah MacLean and Sau Ming Kwan Macneil and on the far right are Patsy MacNeil and Rhoda MacNeil. Sarah (Rose) MacLean is married to Neil P. MacLean s/o John s/o Alexander s/o Hector s/o Neil s/o Donald “Taylor” MacLean. Neil has a connection to an Archibald “Miller” MacDougall of Barra and since I descend from Malcolm “Miller” MacDougall of Barra, based on the nickname, Sarah would be my distant cousin-in-law.

Pictured on the right is the house Ceilidh held at Calum and Rhoda’s. Right to left we have Louise Fielder, Angus MacNeil (entertaining us), Rhoda MacNeil and Eddie MacNeil. Angus MacNeil of Barra is the s/o Alexander “Sandy” MacNeil s/o Donald s/o John Ban s/o Donald “Mor” s/o James MacNeil. I would be related to Angus’ late wife Robertha Janet “Janet” Dalziel d/o Bella MacKinnon d/o John MacKinnon s/o Catherine MacMillan d/o Donald MacMillan and Elizabeth Campbell. I descend from two of Elizabeth’s sisters Annie (Campbell) MacNeil and Mary (Campbell) MacNeil (all daughters of John Ban Campbell and Margaret Johnston). I believe Elizabeth was the only member of this family to stay in Barra.

Day 3 Wednesday, August 10, 2017 featured another Gaelic lesson, a presentation by Janice Ross, author of Voices Galore, and a tour of the island with driver Hector MacNeil (Hector MacNeil s/o Donald Alick s/o Neil “Niall an t-sithean” s/o Donald s/no-premature-ejaculations.com). I would also be related to Hector as he descends from the same Archibald “Miller” MacDougall mentioned previously. Our tour guide was Calum MacNeil, also a descendant of Archibald “Miller” MacDougall. We enjoyed a Ceilidh at the Castlebay Community Hall in the evening. Janice Ross is pictured on the right.

The weather wasn’t the greatest but the scenery was beautiful just the same. And we couldn’t have had a better tour guide than Calum MacNeil of Barra.

We enjoyed watching some Highland Dancers at the community Ceilidh.

John McNeil of Australia entertained us by singing Waltzing Matilda (below).






On Thursday, August 11, 2016 we were given the opportunity to explore the castle again. Unfortunately, our skiff rowing event was cancelled due to poor weather. The fourth day the gathering ended with the Clan Dinner. Shown right are Andrew McNeil (John’s son), Angus MacNeil, Rhoda MacNeil and John McNeil (president of Clan MacNeil in Australia).

MacNeils from Australia, Ireland, Canada, the US and Scotland enjoyed socializing at the Clan MacNeil Dinner. The Macneil of Barra and his wife spent time with everyone who attended the event.



We were served a wonderful dinner made from a variety of locally produced foods.

At one point my father said to me, “I feel like I’m home.” We were made to feel like we were at home and part of the community thanks to Sarah MacLean (pictured on the right) and the welcoming people of Barra.

Message from the Chief

Message to Clan MacNeil in Canada

17 January 2015

Dear fellow MacNeils,

Congratulations on the launch of your new website!  It looks very nice, and I hope it proves to be a good platform for sharing information and news.

Looking ahead at 2015, I’d like to let you know about an event happening in Barra this coming September 18-20, a major scholarly conference titled,  THE HISTORIC GALLEY CASTLES OF THE NORSE – GAELIC SEAWAYS – A REASSESSMENT.  The background and details are as follows.

An outstanding feature of the Norse-Gaelic seaways is the network of dramatic castles built on or near the shore. They typically dominated main lines of sea communication, and were accessed by ‘birlinn’ or galley. They played a central role in the Hebrides during the Hebrides’ heyday, broadly from the Norse period through to the end of the Lordship of the Isles, when the islands were at the crossroads of the Norse-Gaelic world.  In recent years considerable inter-disciplinary scholarly effort has gone into reinterpreting their history, dates, functions, and method of construction.

This 3-day international gathering was stimulated by my father’s call to revisit galley castle studies with a rigorously comprehensive approach to studying four aspects of the castles: Physical, Historical Evidence, Functions, and Relations. The conference will bring together some of the leading experts in their fields to take stock of the latest research to examine:

* The wider cultural context of galley castles, including evidence from Ireland, the Isle of Man and Caithness as well as the Hebrides and the ‘Hebridean mainland’

* The landscape and maritime context of castles, and how they were influenced by galleys

* The changing historical and political context of the western seaboard of Scotland, from Norse control to the Gaelic Lordship of the Isles and the efforts of the Scottish monarchy to exert central control

* The functions of the galley castles – political, military, economic, and cultural – and relations between the castles

* The significance and characteristics of Hebridean galleys in the history of boat-building

* New findings on the structure, materials and construction of the galley castles, and how they can best be conserved

My mother and I were keen, after Dad’s death, to find a way to ensure that the work he had been doing on galley castles was not lost or ignored.  After several years of false starts, with the encouragement and guidance of Barbara Crawford at St Andrews University  we were fortunate to find a group coalescing around The Islands Book Trust, Historic Scotland, and  Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, who have joined with us to organise the conference.

More than scholars 20 will be delivering papers at the conference, and I am pleased that one of them is Professor Andrew McDonald of Brock University, who will deliver the keynote address.

My mother, Sau Ming, Ruari and Seumas join me in wishing you a Happy, Healthy and Productive New Year!

Rory Macneil of Barra