"Barra: Episodes from an Island's History" by Keith Branigan gives a fascinating historical perspective on the story of Barra and the neighbouring islands extending as far north as Eriskay and as far south as the now uninhabited Mingulay and Berneray: a group collectively known as the Bishop's Isles. What draws these islands together, apart from proximity, is that they were all once under the control of the Macneils of Barra.
Keith Branigan has carried out archaeological and historical research on Barra for over two decades and written six previous books on aspects of the history of the Barra and the Bishop's Isles. The title of the current volume, "Episodes from an Island's History" is reflected in the book's description on its cover, which talks about "a dozen episodes of particular interest and importance in the history of Barra and the Bishop's Isles". We therefore approached it with the expectation of finding a series of snapshots, perhaps unrelated to one another.
What we actually found was much more, a series of historical themes which between them set out many of the most important elements of the history of the islands, from the first settlers known to have arrived on Barra in around 4,000 BC right though to the Vatersay Raiders in the first decade of the 1900s, in which the island of Vatersay was settled by families from neighbouring islands against the wishes of the landowner.
Actually, it would be fair to describe the concluding chapter as an "episode", while the preceding chapter, covering the wreck of the sailing ship "Annie Jane" on 28 September 1853 with the loss of some 350 people, is also about a particular incident. But many of the chapters are much more wide ranging. The first three focus on Stone Age settlers, Bronze Age burials, and Iron Age brochs. We then move on to Norse invaders in the late First Millennium, before encountering the Macneils of Barra for the first time in Chapter 5, as they enter the Middle Ages. From here until the story told in Chapter 10 of the clearance of Barra between 1840 and 1850, the book provides a fairly continuous history of the islands, albeit with each chapter taking a different central character or theme.