The Catholic Community on the Isle of Barra
Barra & Vatersay lie at the southern end of the Outer Hebrides off the west coast of Scotland. The resident community comprises around 1100 people. Fr. John Paul MacKinnon is the Parish Priest of Barra & Vatersay and it’s 5 churches. There is also a huge constituency of Barra folk on the mainland who come home on regular visits and – importantly – for church-centred events such as Christmas, Easter, the Fishermen’s Mass, and Baptisms, Weddings & Funerals.
Kisimul Castle, the 16th century home of Clan MacNeil, proudly guards the bay at Castlebay – our only town. But there are other townships all around the island. Fishing-related industries and tourism support the local economy and many still work in North-Sea or have Merchant Navy employment. The native language of Gaelic is still spoken by many people – young and old alike. There is a healthy interest in the traditional music and culture. This is reflected in our liturgy, which uses English and Gaelic, as well as Latin and Greek where appropriate.
Most of our supplies arrive by ferry from Oban. It takes five hours to travel over the Minch and it can be a lovely sail on a good day. We also have a one-hour plane service from Glasgow.
Roman Catholic since the coming of the Celtic saints 1400 years ago, we are part of the Diocese of Argyll & the Isles and today exist in two parishes. The Parish of Northbay serves the community to the north of Barra.
Sunday Eucharist is celebrated in two churches in Northbay Parish: St Vincent de Paul’s at Eoligarry (3rd Sunday of each month a Vigil Mass at 4.00pm) and St Barr’s at Northbay (each Sunday at 9.30am).
Northbay Parish has an estimated Catholic population of 309. (St Barr’s, Bayherivagh, Northbay, Isle of Barra, Scotland, HS9 5YQ.)
Castlebay Parish serves the community in the south of Barra, including the island of Vatersay. Sunday Eucharist is celebrated at St Brendan’s, Craigston (Vigil Mass at 6.00pm) and Our Lady, Star of the Sea, Castlebay (each Sunday at 11.30am). Also on the first Sunday of each month Mass is celebrated at 4.00pm in Our Lady of the Waves & St. John in Vatersay. There are weekday celebrations in these churches and also at St Brendan’s Home/Hospital on Monday afternoon at 2.30pm. Castlebay Parish has an estimated Catholic population of 710. (Our Lady, Star of the Sea, Castlebay, Isle of Barra, Scotland, HS9 5XD.)
Our faith-mission as a Catholic Community can be described in three areas: our liturgical life, our life-long learning and our outreach. It is our hope that this website will give you an insight into the church on Barra. There is stuff for visitors and stuff for parishioners. We pray that St Brendan the Navigator, after whom our oldest church is named, will help you find your way around the barracatholic.co.uk website so that you might find something of interest here. We are still at the work-in-progress stage, so your ideas would be welcome. We gratefully acknowledge the skill, enthusiasm and effort of Alistair & Jana Macneil (Criochan, Barra and Blackwood), who are largely responsible for the setting-up of this website and for everyone who has contributed photos