Glenbarr Abbey History

On the Western coast of Scotland, twenty miles north of the Mull of Kintyre, which by the way was famous to Scots before Paul McCartney moved there and wrote his song about it, the grass is green and the heather thick. Near by Beinn Breac, one of Scotland’s highest peaks, there flows Barr Water famous for its sea trout and salmon fishing throughout Western Scotland.

On the North bank of Barr Water by the village of Glenbarr stands stately Glenbarr Abbey home and family seat of the Macalister of Glanbarr for 208 years. The history of the house is that the building comprises several different periods of construction and expansion. The original house was probably built around 1700 and is rumored to have been a roadhouse and horse changing station for travelers. It became a traditional Laird’s house some 50 years later. Some of the original rooms remain today in Glenbarr Abbey with their stone fireplaces.

The house was called Barr House originally and the village of Glenbarr consisted of a tailor, a blacksmith, three shops and thatched roofed cottages. In 1796 Matthew Macalister bought Barr House and many of the adjacent properties from Campbell of Barbreck who had gone bankrupt.

Kintyre and Knapdale, to the North of the Loop and Tarbert, had been the ancestral lands of Clan MacAlister since the 1300’s. These lands, most likely, originally belonged to an earlier MacAlister and were forfeit to the King after the MacAlisters participation in some rebellion.

The King would have given the land to Campbells for their support against the MacAlister rebels. Not sure about that, but it’s an educated guess. So I am sure that Matthew Macalister was delighted to have been in a position to purchase Barr House and lands from a bankrupt Campbell. Soon after buying Barr House Matthew married Charlotte Brodie of Brodie, and began to add to the structure.

Eventually after several years he decided to build a more fashionable Gothic Revival style house, turning the original structure into a mere wing of the his Grand new house.

This new house was designed by the then famous James Gillespie Graham, and was completed in 1815. With its new grandeur it was renamed ‘Glenbarr Abbey’. The use of the term Abbey was the fashion of the day even though the building was never used for religious purposes.

It is no coincidence James Gillespie Graham worked on Glenbarr Abbey as he was also working, at that time, on the MacAlisters of Toursdale house on the Eastern side of Kintyre. The new house has a medieval look with traceried windows, lancets, hood moldings, crocketed finials rising from corner buttressing and topped off with a unifying crenellated parapet that we see today.

In 1844 Keith Macalister, 2nd Laird Glenbarr, carried out further extensions to the west wing and added a court of offices, a coachman’s house and stables crowned with a parapet-stepped profile. He also built a large laundry behind the east wing that is now refurbished and used as a large hall for receptions, meetings and Ceilidhs.

The 3rd Laird Glenbarr, Matthew Charles Brodie Macalister, made many improvements to the adjoining woodlands, estate farms and village with the thatched roofs replaced with slate. Later in the 19th century, Ronald MacDonald Brodie Macalister, 4th Laird, continued to make improvements to the estate and farms and in 1947 he converted the water mill on the Barr Water into a generator house and brought electricity into the house. Glenbarr Abby was the first house in the area to have electric lights.