The Barra McNeils | The Canadian Encyclopedia


The Barra McNeils

Barra MacNeils. Folk/Celtic pop band.

Barra MacNeils

Barra MacNeils. Folk/Celtic pop band. From Sydney Mines, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, the siblings Kyle (b 21 Apr 1963), Lucy (b 24 Oct 1968), Sheumas (b 26 Oct 1961), and Stewart (b 20 Oct 1964) MacNeil formed the Barra MacNeils as 10- to 20-year-old students in 1980, naming it after the MacNeil clan's ancestral home on the Scottish island of Barra. The Barra MacNeils initially performed mainly on weekends and on tours during school holidays, as well as on local radio and TV shows. Members of the group also studied music at Mount Allison University. The Barra MacNeils provide a leading example of Celtic music, performing a combination of traditional songs (some in Gaelic), storytelling, and pop/folk songs inspired by that tradition.

Their repertoire includes original songs (often composed by Stewart); compositions of Allister MacGillivray; and world-beat versions of songs popularized by the Lovin' Spoonful, Marianne Faithfull, Dusty Springfield, Bruce Cockburn, and others. The four original members of the Barra MacNeils are renowned for their ensemble vocal harmonies. Lucy and Stewart (with their brothers Boyd and Ryan, who joined the group in 2005) step dance in live performances. The members also serve as acoustic multi-instrumentalists. Their various instruments include guitar, violin/fiddle, bodhrán, mandolin, Celtic harp, piano and other keyboards, accordion, bouzouki, tin whistle, flute, banjo, percussion, and the uilleann pipes.

Recordings and Broadcasts

The Barra MacNeils independently released (on Barra Music) in 1986 an eponymous album debut, followed by Rock in the Stream (1989) and Timeframe (1990). Their song "The Island" was used in the CBC-TV movie Island Love Song (1987), in which the group sang and acted; they also appeared in Disney's The Little Kidnappers (1990). Polygram signed the group in 1993 and re-released those first three albums. Closer to Paradise (1993) followed, charting at No. 33 in Canada (No. 10 on the Canadian country album chart) and earning gold record certification (selling over 50,000 copies). The group responded with The Traditional Album (1994, a collection of Celtic jigs and reels); The Question (1995, pop-oriented again, peaking on the Canadian album chart at No. 61); Until Now (1997); and The Christmas Album (1999). The group's most successful songs have been "Darling Be Home Soon" (No. 23 in Canada, 1993) and "In the Wink of an Eye" (No. 25, 1994), both of which were also distributed as music videos; other notable songs have included "The Island," "Row Row Row," "My Heart's in the Homeland," "Caledonia," "We Celebrate," "Myopic," and "The Ballad of Lucy Jordan."

The Barra MacNeils have traditionally toured heavily around the Christmas season; their Christmas TV special (2000) resulted in the 2001 DVD Cape Breton Christmas. A follow-up Christmas special was broadcast in 2007 (following The Christmas Album II, 2006). The group also released Racket in the Attic (2000), All at Once (2005), the 20th Anniversary Collection (2007), In Concert (2008), and In Session (2008). The group has toured in Canada, the US, the UK, and the Caribbean; they appeared as an opening act for Céline Dion in 1994 and with the Chieftains on Rita MacNeil's TV special (2000). The group has won several East Coast Music Awards since 1991.

See also: Folk Music, Anglo-Canadian


The Barra MacNeils. 1986. WRC 1-4689 Barra/1993. 314 519 027-2 Polydor

Rock in the Stream. WRC1-6100 Barra/314 519 028-2 Polydor

Timeframe. 1990. BM3 Barra/314 519 029-2 Polydor

Closer to Paradise. 1993. 314 521 106-2 Polydor

The Traditional Album. 1994. 314 523 251-2 Polydor

The Question. 1995. PCD 414 Mercury/Polydor

Until Now. 1997. 02-50731 Celtic Aire

The Christmas Album. 1999. 99057 0003-2 Barratone

Racket in the Attic. 2000. 99057 0009-2 Barratone

All at Once. 2005. 400332 Shoreline

The Christmas Album II. 2006. MC 20061 Barra Music Company

The 20th Anniversary Collection. 2007. BMC 2007-2 Fontana

In Concert. 2008. BMC 20081 Barra Music Company

In Session. 2008.

Music of
The Barra McNeils

Further Reading

External Links