On the bleak west
coast of Scotland five miles south of Ayr, perched on a craggy cliff top knoll
stands the rubble ruin of Dunure
castle. Originally built for the Kennedy family (Earls of
Cassillis). The site consists of a shell of a late 13th century oblong
keep on the main knoll with the fragmented remains of two additional wings
(possibly a chapel and kitchen) built on the landward side in the 15th and 16th
centuries. Though the keep also had 16th century battlements and bartizans added
to it's earlier frame.
In 1429 John Mor
MacDonald was killed at Dunure castle when talks between the Macdonald's and
King James I's man James Campbell broke out into violence. Why a Kennedy castle
was used for this meeting is unclear perhaps it was regarded a neutral ground?
King James to distance himself from Mor's murder then executed Campbell. However
the MacDonalds still broke out in rebellion defeating the King's army at
In 1563 Mary
Queen of Scots stayed at Dunure on her Royal tour down the west coast to
Glenluce Abbey then on to Whithorn Priory. Later Gilbert Kennedy, 4th Earl of
Cassillis stole the lands of Glenluce by using a Monk to forge the land charter
signatures. Soon after the Monk had completed this task he was murdered by a
hired assassin. Who in turn was arrested and hung by the Kennedies on a false
charge of theft, to further hide their treachery. In 1565, the Earl imprisoned
the Commendator of Crossraguel Abbey at Dunure and roasted him alive to try and
force him into renouncing his claim to Abbey lands.
Lord Bargany (who
also desired the Abbey lands himself) sent a small force of his men to sneak
into Dunure by surprise and rescue the Commendator. Unfortunately the plan went
wrong with his force trapped inside the keep. The Kennedies then besieged their
own castle using the additional building as cover to try and mine into the base
of the keep. During the siege Lord Bargany's men dismantled some of the
battlements dropping them down through the roofs of the lower buildings injuring
some of the Earls men. Suddenly, Lord Bargany appeared with a large army
ensuring the commendator and his men's safe return. And forcing the Kennedies to
mediate a settlement regarding the Abbey lands.
By the late 1700's,
Dunure Castle, like so many Scottish castles became used as the local quarry
leaving the sad shell that remain today, hiding it's former glory as a home of
the Kennedies a place of intrigue and deceit.
Written by, Andrew
Spratt, Custodian of Dirleton Castle