‘Twixt Wigton and the town o’ Ayr,
Portpatrick and the Cruives o’ Cree,
Nae man need think for to bide there,
Unless he court wi’ Kennedie.
THIS fine ruin stands on the brink of a high perpendicular rock which overhangs the sea, about five miles below Ayr. Its bold and striking situation, which in ancient times must have rendered it a place of great strength; the wild and rugged nature if the coast scenery that surrounds it, and which is completely in character with its lofty and time-worn remains; altogether give the ruins of Dunure Castle a highly picturesque and romantic effect. Nor can the visitor while contemplating its decay, forget to think of its ancient lords, who amid the barbaric pomp and power of the feudal times, sought security on the verge of this sea-beat cliff; that this was often no doubt the scene of rude hospitality; too often perhaps of feudal severity; and that where the pipe and the dance formerly gave token of hilarity and joy, the wind whistling through its lonely and delapidated walls, or the roar of the sea beating against its rocky base, are the only sounds now heard within it.
Like most other ancient castles, it seems to have consisted of a lofty keep or great tower, surrounded by walls and outworks on the land side. But a small portion, however, now remains, to tell what it once has been. The western wall of the great tower, which rises from the very edge of the rock on which it stands, appears still to be of its original height, and a few of the vaulted or under ground apartments are also tolerably entire. In the rocks immediately below the Castle there is a cave, called the “brownie’s cave,” now choked up with rubbish, which is said in former times to have communicated with the Castle above. This was not uncommon in ancient castles, and such an entrance formed a sally port from which the enemy could be unexpectedly attacked, or it sometimes enabled supplies to be admitted to the garrison when hard pressed during a siege. A view of this interesting ruin was taken by Grose,1 about the year 1789, from which it appears to have been at that time much more entire than it now is.
We have not been able to ascertain when this castle was erected, but it could not be earlier than the twelfth century. It was the residence of the family of Kennedy, who were chiefs of the name, and who afterwards, in 1509, were created Earls of Cassillis. “This family,” says Chalmers,2 “is undoubtedly of an Irish origin,” but they came early into Ayrshire. In the reign of Alexander II. we find that Marcow MacKennedy was judge under the Earl of Carrick. In 1371, Sir John Kennedy “dominus de Dunoure,” founded and endowed near the cemetery of the parish church of Maybole, a chapel dedicated to the virgin Mary. It was afterwards called the collegiate church of Maybole, though originally only a chapel. The walls are still standing, and the area within forms the burying place of the family of Cassillis.
The numerous family of the Kennedies was divided during the reign of James VI. by a serious feud, which involved many parties, but particularly that family among themselves. It appears to have arisen from the cruel treatment of Allan Stewart the Commendator of Crossragwell in 1570 by the Earl of Cassillis, and his brother Thomas Kennedy of Cullean. The Earl and his brother applied torture to Stewart, in order to force him to grant leases to them of part of the estate belonging to the monastery. When Kennedy, the laird of Bargeny, heard of this treatment of his friend, he obtained the authority of government to procure his release, and the Earl was charged to release his prisoner under the pain of rebellion. Having failed to do this, the laird of Bargeny assembled his retainers, and took the Castle of Dunure, where the commendator was confined. The Earl enraged at this capture, assembled his retainers in Carrick and West Galloway, and besieged his own Castle which was defended against him by Bargeny. The latter from the authority he had received, called out the king’s lieges in Kyle and Cunninghame to his aid, in consequence of which the Earl of Cassillis with whom it originated; and in 1601 a battle was fought in Carrick, in which the laird of Bargeny was killed. His death was afterwards avenged by the assassination of Thomas Kennedy of Cullean brother of the former, and uncle to the then Earl of Cassillis.
The family of Cassillis having subsequently failed in the male line, the family of Cullean succeeded to the titles and estates, after which the Castle of Dunure appears to have been allowed to fall into ruins, and Cullean Castle came to be the family mansion. The estate of Dunure does not now belong to the principal family; but was sold about the beginning of last century to the ancestor of Mr. Kennedy of Dunure, descended, however, from the same stock. The father of the present proprietor was at considerable expence in improving the harbour of Dunure. It has since, however, been allowed to go greatly to decay.