Scottish Castles Association

Preserving the Past for the Future

Glenbarr Abbey - Kintyre

Glenbarr Abbey
Glenbarr Abbey

One of the oldest families in Kintyre, the Macalister family's history is deep rooted and fascinating. The progenitor Alistair Mohr, a Grandson of Somerled, the second son of Donald of the Isles (and one Ranald, son of Alexander), is noted as swearing fealty to Edward I in 1291.

Much of Kintyre and Knapdale to the North of the Loup and Tarbert, are known to have been the ancient ancestral lands of the Chief and Clansmen of the Macalister Clan since the 12th century.

According to old maps of 1793, 1801 & 1847, Kintyre appears to have been considerably more populated, when the land was covered with trees. Tracks, or 'drove roads', are shown, crossing from West to East and running along the centre of the peninsular, on ground high above the coastal lands, all the way south to Campbeltown, dotted with habitation. Arinanuan, in a beautiful sheltered spot, under Beinn Bhreac, on 'the drove road' between east and west, was long known as a 'resting place' on the crossing between Barr Glen and Carradale.

Ranald, who was born at Arinanuan, at the confluence of the 3 estates of: Glenbarr, Arnicle and Ugadale, on 13th Nov 1715 (the date of the Battle of Sherrifmuir), went up to Skye as 'tacksman' to his kinsman, Sir Alexander McDonald of Kingsburgh. He married Sir Alexander's, much admired, daughter Anne, and when Bonnie Prince Charlie and Flora Macdonald were fleeing after the Battle of Culloden in 1745, they stayed the night at Kingsburgh, after rowing over from Benbecula. Ranald was advised to make himself scarce, rather than being a witness to the Prince's presence, so he leapt out of the window and his second best coat was eventually given to the Prince for his onward journey. The following morning, his wife Anne asked the Prince if she might have a lock of his hair as a keepsake, which he graciously agreed to, being quite smitten by this charming young lady. This lock of hair was later made into a gold ring, encircled by diamonds, which is the Glenbarr family's most treasured possession.

Anne and Ranald moved to Skirrinish, south of Kingsburgh, factoring the Strathaird Estate, where they raised 14 children, of whom several joined the illustrious East India Company. Their 7th son, Mathew, was eventually taken prisoner by Tipu Tip and locked up in manacles, for 4 years, in his dungeons at Seringaputan, suffering appalling conditions, from where he was miraculously rescued, by his brother General Keith.

In 1796, when he returned to Kintyre, Colonel Matthew bought land and the house at Barr and much of the adjacent properties from Campbell of Barbreck, near Tangy, who had gone bankrupt, which included all of the village and surrounding lands. Mathew already had ownership of substantial family lands at Cour, north of Carradale and he gradually added farms from Beachmenach, just south of Killean, to Barr Mains/Machrimonach in the south, above Paitin graveyard, amounting to some 17,000 acres in total.

Mathew is also known to have partially funded the building of the new road, along the shore, between Bellochantuy and Westport. The original road ran on higher ground, from Tangy to Campbeltown.

One Lachlan McNeill married Margaret MacAlester of Cour and died in 1692 and is buried there, alongside John Macalister.

The estate of Crubasdale (then known as Rockfield) was bought by Grandfather Charlie in 1868, left to Kit and sold off at her death.

Glenbarr Abbey, originally called Barr House, lies immediately south of the village of Glenbarr, which, back in the day, boasted: a tailor, a blacksmith, three shops and several thatched roofed crofters cottages. The house itself comprises of several different periods of construction. The original building was probably built around 1700 and was known to have been an inn or 'post-house', a horse changing stop for travelers. At that time, the approach to the house led into the back yard, from the south, with access along the edge of the front field, from the main road nearer the road bridge.

Most of the ancient Macalister lands in Kintyre and Knapdale had been confiscated after 1746 by the then Earl of Argyll, a Campbell, so Matthew must have been delighted to have been in a position to purchase Barr House, and reclaim former Macalister lands.

Not long after buying Barr House and its policies, Matthew met and married Charlotte Brodie of Brodie, who hailed from Brodie Castle on the Moray Firth coast.

Mathew's younger, and much richer brother, General Keith employed James Gillespie Graham, to build Torrisdale Castle, on the east coast of Kintyre, south of Carradale, in the neo-Gothic Revival style, which was very popular at the time. Much impressed, Mathew asked Gillespie Graham to add embellishments, in stages, to Barr House, re-naming it Glenbarr Abbey, as it had the Gothic look of ecclesiastical buildings, as was the fashion of the times, which was completed in 1815. Whilst adding on to the original house, the entrance was situated on the North side of the house, which was very typical of people who had lived or worked in Tropical regions.

In the early 19th century, Colonel Mathew Macalister began to add to the original Barr House, deciding to build in the more fashionable Gothic Revival style, employing James Gillespie Graham, embellishing the original structure and adding extensions and offices.

Glenbarr Abbey retains a medieval look with traceried windows, lancets, hood moldings, crocketed finials rising from corner buttressing, topped off with a unifying crenellated parapet and is constructed of locally quarried old red sandstone.

In 1844 Keith Macalister, the 2nd Laird of Glenbarr, carried out further extensions to the west wing, adding a courtyard of stables, farm buildings, offices and a coachman's house, crowned, on the western facade with a parapet-stepped profile plus an arched gate house (sadly demolished in the 1960s). A large laundry, behind the east wing has recently been refurbished and is used for weddings, receptions, meetings and ceilidhs.

The 3rd Laird of Glenbarr, Matthew Charles Brodie Macalister, made many improvements to the adjoining woodlands, estate farms and village, replacing their thatched roofs with slate. Later in the 19th century, Ranald Macdonald Brodie Macalister, the 4th Laird, continued to make improvements to the estate and farms and in 1947 converted the water mill (since removed) on the Barr Water into a generator which brought electricity into the house. Glenbarr Abby was the first house in the area to have electric light. In its hay day there were some thirty servants, coachmen, crofters and retainers and their families working on the Glenbarr Estate.

Glenbarr Abbey, the Macalister Clan Centre, Kintyre, Argyll

On the Western coast of the Kintyre peninsular and on the north bank of the Barr Water, famous for its sea trout and salmon fishing, is the village of Glenbarr. Immediately to the south of the village, stands Glenbarr Abbey, the home and family seat of the Macalisters of Glenbarr for over 200 years. Glenbarr lies twelve miles north of Campbeltown, and the Mull itself, lies 15 miles further southwest of the 'Wee Toon', made famous by Beatles Paul McCartney in his song "Mull of Kintyre".

Lady Glenbarr, Jeanne Barkley Macalister, manages the Clan Centre. She is the widow of Angus Charles Macalister, 5th Laird of Glenbarr, who passed away in 2006. After Angus' passing, the Abbey became the sole responsibility of the Clan Macalister Charitable Trust. Laird Glenbarr established the Trust in 1984. 'The Glenbarrs' were in the process of renovating and restoring the house to its original glory and it still requires constant maintenance at considerable expense. While Lady Glenbarr continues to live in the Coach House, the Abbey and grounds are in the Charitable Trust in the name of Clan Macalister to be used as a Clan Centre. We are most thankful to Angus for so generously giving Glenbarr Abbey to all Macalister Clansmen and their descendents. Now it's up to us all to try and maintain it.

Glenbarr Abbey

The Late Laird Glenbarr With Lady Glenbarr
The Late Laird Glenbarr
with Lady Glenbarr

When you arrive at Glenbarr Abbey and enter the front door, its impressive stone staircase, with iron Gothic style banisters, lit by a magnificent perpendicular-traced window, rises to the first floor. The Medieval chimney piece, on the ground floor, incorporates three timber panes of Gothic tracery of Medieval origin. The grand dining room, has a large gray marble trimmed chimney piece and large dining table set with antique china (Sevre?). Family portraits grace the walls and a 19th Century harmonium sits by the door, still in perfect working order. Angus's Grandmother, Edith brought it with her on her marriage in 1901, as she delighted in playing it.

Ascending the staircase one enters the first floor drawing room, which has an imposing white marble chimney piece and contains several built-in and free standing glass cases displaying generations of Macalister family china; naval and regimental uniforms; items collected by seafaring ancestors, from their travels to India, China, Penang, Australia and North America. Personal family items in other rooms includes Lady Jeanne's 1000+ piece thimble collection and award winning quilt squares. Found items, from the attic, include clothes, antique toys, hatpins, shoe hooks, old silver dresser sets and all the items that Victorian ladies used to prepare for the day.

In addition, the museum contains treasures from several centuries of Scottish history, including a pair of embroidered leather hunting gloves, from the 16th century, reputed to have belonged to Mary Queen of Scots and the most precious treasure of all - a ring containing a lock of Bonnie Prince Charlie's hair. This priceless heirloom contains a lock of the Prince's hair, which Anne Macdonald of Kingsburgh in North-eastern Skye, who was, by then, married to Ranald Macalister, personally cut from the back of the Prince's head, after he had spent the night at Kingsburgh, whilst on the run, with Flora McDonald, after the Battle of Culloden in 1745.

Lady Glenbarr conducts daily tours of the house and Clan Centre Museum for the paying public which includes an enticing Gift Shop and pleasant Tea Room. Overnight accommodation is also available to Clansmen.

Glenbarr Abbey is an imposing and ancient ediface, with its own parkland, woods and river walks. At one time it was part of the large 17,000 acre estate with working farms and pastures where beef cattle and sheep grazed.

Glenbarr Abbey is open to the public from April to October, Wednesday through Sunday. For information about overnight accommodation at Glenbarr Abbey, please send an email to this address.

Farms: north to south

Beachmenach, Beachar, Higher & Lower Clachaig, Rosehill, Glenacardoch, Barrlea, Charlottan, Skernish, Barruachar, Auchadaduie, Blary, Garvalt, Higher and Lower Stockadale, Hagh & Low Killigruar, Portavoran/Dalkeith and Machrimonach/Barr Mains

CLAN CONNECTION - Clan Macalister

Added: 22 Feb 2017 Updated: 18 Oct 2023
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