Dunoon, pp.406-408.

[Gazetteer of Scotland Contents]

   DUNOON1 and KILMUN, a parish in Argyleshire, in the district of Cowal, on the west side of the frith of Clyde. It is about 24 miles in length, and on an average 3 in breadth, but in some places 9 miles in breadth. The general appearance of the country is flat and agreeable, having a few eminences covered with natural wood in the back part of the parish. The soil is sandy and fertile; the coast is also sandy, and presents no safe creek or harbour for vessels of any burden. “It is probable,” we are told in the Old Statistical Account, “that the mount on which the castle of Dunoon is situated, was once surrounded by the sea; and the minister’s glebe has a bank of sandy clay in it which seems to have been formed by the sea.” But this seat of royal greatness is now so demolished that there is scarcely a vestige of it remaining. This has been chiefly in consequence of the dilapidations to which it has been subjected, the stones having been abstracted for building the adjoining cottages. It appears to have consisted of three towers, – one looking up the frith, another in an opposite direction, and a third guarding the approach from the land. The first of these is the only one of which there are any distinct traces. It has been of a circular form. On the side parallel with the frith, may be seen the remains of a small entrance, which it is supposed must have served as a sally-port and a place of escape in cases of emergency. It is believed that there are still a number of vaulted apartments, pretty entire, under the ruins. The site of the castle includes about an acre of ground: being much broader at the base, where it fronts the frith, than behind. The received belief of the vicinity is, that there was a nunnery, at a little distance from the castle, where stands the present church. In support of this hypothesis, it has been urged, that on clearing away the ruins of the old chapel – part of which composed the church – when the workmen began to pull down the gable, they discovered a beautiful Gothic window which had previously been so built up and plastered as to be indiscernible. But this proves nothing as to the existence of a nunnery; as it may reasonably be supposed that the chapel, appropriated to the worship of the court, would be finished in the best style of the age. There is no vestige, in our monastic history, of any nunnery in this district. Near the castle stood the Tom-a-mhoid; or ‘the Hill of the court of justice,’ the same which is elsewhere called ‘the Mote-hill.’ Here also was the Gallow-hill, the name of which sufficiently indicates its appropriation. A ploughed field is still denominated the cuspars, or the butts, marking the scene of the ancient archery. The privilege of a ferry was granted to the heritable keepers of this castle, on condition of their supplying the garrison with certain provisions. 

   The castle of Dunoon, it has been said, is of great, but undefined, antiquity. It originally belonged to the hereditary high-stewards of Scotland, to whom Malcolm gave a grant of Bute and Cowal, in the 11th century. According to our historians, indeed, Walter, the son of Fleance, having adhered to the interests of Malcolm Canmore, not only received from him the baronies of Renfrew and Kyle, but was made Lord of Bute and Cowal, then at the king’s disposal, in consequence of an insurrection of the islanders in quelling which he acted as his Majesty’s lieutenant and commander-in-chief. In reward for his services, he was also made Dapifer Regis. His son Alan was by King Edgar constituted Senescallus Scotiæ, or Great-steward of Scotland, whence originated the family name. Dunoon had remained in the possession of the Stewarts till the reign of David II., who, in consequence of the insurrection of Edward Baliol, A.D. 1333, had deserted the throne. Baliol having overrun the country, among other fortresses took Dunoon. His despicable surrender of the kingdom to Edward III. so disgusted the nobles, that some of them rose in defence of their liberties; and Robert the Steward, who had lain concealed in Bute, resolved to stand forth in the public cause. He escaped to Cowal, and aided by Colin Campbell of Lochow, one of the ancestors of the family of Argyle, made himself master of the castle of Dunoon, A.D. 1334. In reward of his faithful service, Campbell was made hereditary governor, and had the grant of certain lands for the support of his dignity. Robert, the first king of the Stewart family, succeeding David II., the castle would henceforth be viewed in the more honourable light of a palace. In the year 1544, the Earl of Lennox, anxious to obtain the regency, and having received the support of Henry VIII., appeared in the frith of Clyde with 18 vessels and 800 soldiers. Having made himself master of Rothesay, he proceeded to Dunoon. Here he met with powerful opposition from Archibald Earl of Argyle; but the latter was obliged to retreat with loss, being unable to resist the force of Lennox’s artillery. The whole estate was consolidated by entail in the person of Archibald the 1st Duke, A.D. 1706. Mary, it has been asserted, in the month of August 1568,2 paid a visit at Dunoon to her favourite sister the Countess of Argyle. While here, she is said to have employed herself in the diversion of deer-hunting, and to have availed herself of the opportunity to grant charters to her vassals. The person referred to must have been Lady Jean Steuart, natural daughter of King James V., who was the first wife of Archibald, Earl of Argyle. How long Dunoon continued to be the residence of the Argyle family is uncertain. Pennant says:- “Inverary was inhabited about the latter end of the 14th century by Colin, surnamed Tongollach, or ‘the Wonderful,’ on account of his marvellous exploits; and, I may add, his odd whims; among which, and not the least, may be reckoned the burning of his house at Inverary on receiving a visit from the O’Neiles of Ireland, that he might have pretence to entertain his illustrious guests in his magnificent field-equipage. The great tower – which was standing till very lately – was built by the black Sir Colin, for his nephew, the 1st Earl of Argyle, at that time a minor. I do not discover any date to ascertain the time of its foundation, any further than that it was prior to the year 1480, the time of Sir Colin’s death. In December 1644, amidst the snows of this severe climate, the enterprising Montrose poured down his troops on Inverary, through ways its chieftain thought impervious.” It would appear, therefore, that Dunoon was only the occasional residence of the Argyle family; as they were the hereditary keepers of this palace. 

   The village of Dunoon originated from the residence of this noble family at the castle or palace. In consequence of this, many of their vassals had houses built in its vicinity, which they occupied when they attended the court of their chief. Here also the bishops of Argyle resided, at least occasionally, after the restoration of episcopacy, in the reign of Charles II. Near the church, the ruins of the bishop’s house – where one of the fire-places was still visible – were till lately pointed out. In former times the island of Lismore was the seat of those bishops, whence they were called Episcopi Lismorenses. In the 18th century the village of Dunoon was very considerable, and a place of resort on account of a ferry which was the principal inlet to the district; but a new road being opened by Loch Lomond, round the head of Loch Long, contributed to its decay, and it sunk into insignificance until its recent creation as a watering-place, by the citizens of Glasgow, many of whom have built handsome residences here. The old village has, in fact, nearly disappeared, and the whole shore, from a point considerably to the south of Dunoon, and round to near the Lazaretto at the mouth of the Holy Loch, is thickly planted with cottage and marine villas. A good timber quay has also been erected for the accommodation of the numerous steamers which touch here. Population, in 1801, 1,750; in 1831, 2,416. Assessed property, in 1815, £7,661. Houses, in 1831, 467. A survey made under the direction of the parish-minister, in 1837, gave 2,842 of population, of whom 2,464 were in connexion with the Establishment. The population of Kilmun as distinct from Dunoon, was 833 in 1837. The Dissenters are chiefly in connexion with the United Secession church Dunoon is the seat of a presbytery, and is in the synod of Argyle. It is said to be one of the most ancient parishes in Scotland. The parish of Kilmun was united to it both quoad sacra and quoad civilia, by the courts of teinds at a date not known. Patron, the Duke of Argyle. Stipend £275 2s. 1d.; glebe £36 17s. Church of Dunoon built in 1816; enlarged in 1834; sittings 793. The parish-minister officiates at Dunoon and Kilmun alternately, from the middle of April to the middle of October; and during the rest of the year two sabbaths at Dunoon and one at Kilmun. – There is a neat United Secession chapel at Dunoon; built in 1828; sittings 280. Stipend £120. – See KILMUN. A chapel has been recently erected within the district of Toward, and a missionary officiates here and in Kilfinan every alternate sabbath. – There are 3 parochial schools in this parish, and 6 private schools, attended altogether by about 300 children. The salary of one of the parochial schoolmasters is £30 per annum, with £28 fees; of another £25 14s., with £18 fees; and of the 3d £21, with £8 8s. fees.

1  The orthography of this term has assumed a variety of forms. It is erroneously given by Gough under that of Denoon; and still more so in Timothy Pont’s map, where it appears as Dunouy. In this map, the river ‘Clyd’ is represented as terminating opposite to Dunoon and ‘Dunbritan Fyrht’ as commencing immediately below. The industrious Macpherson has pointed out Dunhun or Dunhovyn as the capital castle of the lordship of Cowal. The latter orthography corresponds with Wyntoun’s, which is Dwnhovyn and Dwnhowyn; nearly agreeing in sound with Downhowne, that of Fordun. Boece has Downhome. Irvine explains Noviodunum as denoting ‘Dunnoon castle, in Cowall, be-east Towart point.’ He follows the absurd mode adopted by Buchanan, who has often completely disguised the local names of our country, by giving them a Latin form totally removed from that which properly belongs to them or is indicative of their origin. According to this form, the term has been supposed to be derived from the Gaelic dun ‘a castle,’ and nuadh, ‘new.’ For Buchanan gives it as ‘Noviodunum, vel Dunum Novum, in Covalia.’ In the Old Statistical Account it is stated, that the castle of Dunoon was formerly a nunnery; and that the name comes from the Gaelic word Dun-nooigh, which signifies ‘the House of the virgins.’ Were this the origin, it should certainly have the plural form, Dun-nan-oighean. The denomination given by Pont, if not a typographical error, might seem to have originated from this term in the singular. By some, a preference has been given to the etymon adopted by Buchanan, on the supposition that Dunoon being the nearest fort on the frith of Dunbarton, and in all probability erected in a later age, was thence called New Fort. But it must be evident that this idea is exceedingly vague. There is no reason to suppose that Dunoon existed for many centuries after the fame of Dunbarton had been far spread; or that the former ever attained such eminence as to bring it in any respect into comparison, not to say competition, with the latter. Such also was the distance between them, besides the intervention of different arms of the sea, that the one could not well be subsidiary to the other. Nor would the designation, New Fort, be a sufficient mark of distinction, while there was at least Dunglass in the immediate vicinity of Dunbarton, and Rothesay in that of Dunoon. As our most ancient writers exhibit this name in an aspirated form, perhaps there is ground for viewing its origin as northern. Dunoon may, like Dunolly, have received its designation from some Scandinavian chief. Hogni was a common name among the colonists of Iceland; who, it is well known, emigrated from Norway in, the 9th century. Although the form of Dunhovyn might suggest the idea of affinity to Iceland hoefn, ‘portus;’ it happens unfortunately for such an etymon that there is no creek, or shelter of any consequence, or safety, even for boats, at or near this village. As Owen was a name in Scotland borne by Welsh, by Picts, and by Scots, although sometimes appearing as Hoan, Eogan, Eoghan, &c., this fort may have been denominated q. Dun-Owen, or Dun-Eogan

2  The account given of this visit is obviously misdated. It could not have taken place A.D. 1568. It must refer to 1563. In a progress through the west of Scotland, Mary having, on the 26th July, left Inverary, where she had remained three days, turned to Strone, where she slept, and went to Dunoon, on the 27th, and there passed the following day. 

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