This clan claims descent from Niall, a descendent of Aodh O’Neill, a king of Northern Ireland at the beginning of the eleventh century. Niall came to the island of Barra in the Outer Hebrides around 1094 and is commonly held to be the first chief of the clan. Barra itself is thought to take its name either from St. Fionnbharr, the founder of Cork, or from St. Barr, the great-grandson of Niall of the Nine Hostages – a famous king of Ireland.
Of the two branches of the MacNeil clan, the Barra line is now generally recognised as the chief line. Neil MacNeil, 5th of Barra, was recognised as a “Prince” at a council of the Isles in 1252, a great honour for the family.
Kisimul Castle, the historic seat of the MacNeills of Barra
The fifteenth chief of the MacNeils, Ruadhri “The Turbulent” has been described as “the last of the Vikings”, carrying out raiding trips from his island stronghold of Kisimul. When he was arrested for piracy of an English ship at the end of the sixteenth century, he successfully excused himself to James VI by asserting that he thought it “would be deemed good service to harass the subjects of the woman who killed his sovereign’s mother!” Ruadhri was eventually captured by his own nephews and his eldest son, Neil Og, became chief.
The clan prospered until 1838 when the 21st chief was forced to sell Barra. The chiefship passed to a cousin in the United States of America, and it was from America that the father of the present chief returned to reclaim the Castle of Kisimul.
He devoted his life the restoration of the house, which is once again the home of the chiefs of the clan MacNeil.
On the 16th of February, 2010 clan chief Iain Roderick Macneil died at the age of 80. He was said to have been a well respected person by the residents of Barra, and that he took genuine interest in the life of the island and its inhabitants. Iain’s son, Rory is the now the 47th chief of the Macneils.
MacNeil Clan History