DUNDONALD CASTLE has never made any conspicuous appearance in our national history; but it claims attention, as having been the residence of some of our princes of the house of Stewart. The eminence on which this castle stands is supposed to have given name to the parish of Dundonald. It is situated on the coast of the frith of Clyde, in that division of Ayrshire which has been denominated Kyle, lying between the rivers Doon and Irvine.
This castle gives name to the earldom in the family of Cochrane; but the rising ground on which it stands, with five roods of land adjoining, is all the property in this parish which now pertains to that family. No authentic record can be produced as to the time when the castle was built, or when it was spoiled of its roof, and rendered desolate. A large pile still remains. Its walls are very thick, and built of the whinstone which abounds in the vicinity; the corners are of freestone; the Stuart arms appear on different parts of the building; and the whole has much the form of those castle which were raised in Britain during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. Opposite to the village and castle is a very beautiful bank of wood, extending near a mile to the north-west.
There seems to be no reason to question the origin which has been assigned to the name of this place, – from the Gaelic Dun, signifying ‘a round hill,’ and secondarily, ‘a fort,’ or ‘fortified hill,’ and Donald, the name of a man. The name may refer to some more ancient fortlet on this eminence, which had been constructed by a person of the name of Donald. About a mile south of Dundonald there are two hill-forts upon two adjoining hills. The manor and parish of Dundonald belonged to Walter, the son of Alan, the first Stewart, who held the whole of the northern half of Kyle, in the beginning of the reign of William the Lion; and it might have been granted to him by David I., or his successor, Malcolm IV. Perhaps the castle of Dundonald was built by the first Walter, who had no appropriate house or castle when he settled in Scotland. “The castle of Dundonald,” says Chalmers, “became the retreat of Robert II., after his retirement from government, upon the death of James, earl of Douglas, at Otterburn, in 1388.” He must, however, before this date have occasionally made this the place of his residence. For Sir John Kennedy, of Dunure, having endowed a chapel adjoining to the burial-place of the parish-church of Maybole, this grant is confirmed by Robert II. at Domdouenald, 4th December, 1371. Robert II., after he ascended the throne, lived much in Dundonald castle, wherein he died in 1390. This event is particularly commemorated by the good prior of St. Serf’s Inch in Lochlevin:
The secownd Robert of Scotland Kyng,
As Gow purwaid, maid endyng
At Downdownald in his cuntré.
Of a schort seknes there deyd he.
WYNTOUN, B. ix. c. 10, v. 3.
That in the same fortress, his mild but unfortunate son and successor, Robert III., occasionally resided, may be fairly assumed from the supplies provided for the royal family here. Irvine was the nearest sea-port to Dundonald, and only a few miles distant from it, and there is extant a Compotum of 1396, – in which it is stated, that there was paid to the burgesses of Irvine, in different instalments, for the use of the house of “our Lord the King,” for goods in vessels and other utensils, ordered by the king’s letters under his own seal, £13 3s. 4d.; and to the officers of the king’s house, for their services for that year, £23 18s. 8d. There is another, of the bailies of Irwyn, A. 1398, for money paid for the proper use of “our Lord the King.” This good prince terminated his unhappy reign, April 4th, 1406. According to Pinkerton, this event took place “at the castle of Rothesay in Bute.” In this he is supported by the account given by the continuator of Fordun, and by Skene in his ‘Table of all the Kinges of Scotland.’ But Ruddiman, David Macpherson, and others, give the preference to Wyntoun’s testimony, who says that he died at Dundonald.