Dunure Castle

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Perched on top of overhanging cliffs, Dunure Castle has stood guard of the Heads of Ayr since the 13th Century. The castle is located on the Ayrshire coast, in the west of Scotland. The land in Ayrshire was first granted to John Kennedy of Dunure in 1358. He became Steward of Carrick in 1367. Little remains of the castle from that time; the majority of the current building dates to the 15th and 16th centuries. The surroundings of the castle were once landscaped into parks and gardens. Now in a ruined state, the only surviving outbuilding of the gardens is an unusual and well preserved stone dove cot shaped like a bee hive. Below the castle is Browny's Cave. This may have connected to the castle above and been used as a sally port and communication route to the sea.


Murder and rebellion

In 1429, Dunure Castle was the scene of talks between the MacDonalds, so called Lords of the Isles, and James Campbell, a representative of King James I. The MacDonalds had a long history of conflict with the crown. The talks became violent and John Mor MacDonald was killed. In an attempt to pacify the MacDonalds, King James had Campbell executed, but this was insufficient. The MacDonalds rose in rebellion and defeated the King's arms at a battle near Inverlochy castle.

Mary's progress

From the 4th to the 6th of August 1563, Mary, Queen of Scots visited the castle during her third progress round the west of Scotland.

Roasting the Commendator

In 1570, a dispute arose between Gilbert Kennedy, 4th Earl of Cassilis, sometimes called the King of Carrick, also known commonly as the Tutor of Cassillis, and Allan Stewart, the lay commendator to the Crossraguel Abbey. The disagreement was over the ownership of some of the abbey lands. Stewart's predecessor had paid the earl a feu but this had never been confirmed. When Stewart became commendator, the revenues of Crossraguel Abbey were bestowed upon him. The earl tried many times to obtain confirmation of the feu from Stewart but to no avail; so the earl inveigled Stewart to Dunure Castle. Here, Stewart was well entertained for several days but still the earl had no confirmation of his feu.

According to Stewart's account of the events, he was carried to a chamber of the castle known as the Black Voute (vault). The chamber contained a large iron chimney under which a fire had already been set. In the Black Voute with Stewart were the earl and some servants.

The earl gave Stewart one more chance to sign leases and a charter of feu for the abbey. On receipt of Stewart's refusal, the earl instructed his cooks to 'prepare the banquet.' The earl's servants stripped Stewart bare and bound him by his arms and legs to the iron chimney. They then proceeded to beat the fire against Stewart's buttocks, legs, shoulders and arms. They basted him in cooking oil to prevent him from burning.

Stewart cried out for them to end his suffering by ending his life. He told his tormentors that he had "as meikle gold in his awn purse as wald buy powder enough." By this he meant that he had enough money to pay for the gunpowder required for his captors to shoot him.

At this point, the earl felt that Stewart had had enough and took him down. Stewart relented and signed the required papers and even took an oath on a bible not to reveal what had taken place to anybody. The earl then released Stewart. However, it turned out that the papers had not been completed correctly. The earl once again went to the abbey and demanded that Stewart should ratify the papers that had been subscribed under torture and also that this should be done in the presence of an anotar and witness. Stewart refused and so was again taken to Durure and tortured in the same manner as before. He still would not relent to the earl's will and he was roasted for a third time in the evening but still he maintained his resolution.

The Laird of Bargeny, an enemy of the earl and brother-in-law of Allan Stewart, came to the commendator's relief when the laird arrived with a body of men. The crown at the time was too weak to be able to take action directly against the earl.[1]

Present status and preservation

The castle fell into ruin in the 17th century. It was quarried for its stones by locals. The once beautiful gardens were lost. The castle was closed to the public for many years due to the poor condition of the stonework, which had become dangerous. It has now been made safe with walkways, banisters and information plaques in each room for visitors to read. The surroundings of the castle have been made into Kennedy Park. Entry to the park and castle is free though there is a small charge for car parking. Even in its ruined state, Dunure Castle continues to be a popular tourist attraction and has been an inspiration to many artists.


  1. Chambers, Robert (1858). Domestic Annals of Scotland from the Reformation to the Revolution. Original from the University of Michigan: W. & B. Chambers, Pages 65 to 67.