Dunure’s Dark Secret

The picturesque Ayrshire village of Dunure is built around its small harbour, which is home to a small number of working fishing boats. The harbour was improved in 1811 by the Earl of Cassillis and for a time it became one of the industrious fishing ports along Scotland’s West Coast.

Overlooking the harbour and village is Dunure Castle, which from the 12th century was the original base of the Cassillis Kennedy Clan (during this time much of the land along the coastline was owned by the Kennedy Clan and with separate Kennedy factions, including the Bargany and the Cassillis Kennedy’s, the history of the clan has been a hostile one with much blood shed over the centuries).

Although hard to believe today, owing to its derelict nature, for several hundred years Dunure Castle was more important than neighbouring Culzean Castle. In 1563 Mary, Queen of Scots stayed at Dunure Castle for three nights as a guest of Gilbert Kennedy, the 4th Earl of Cassillis (much more of him later) as she made her progression through the country. The magnificent vantage point overlooking the Firth of Clyde to Arran’s serrated profile provided the Kennedy’s with an easily defendable situation and excellent lookout post. As the Kennedy’s position of power and wealth grew so did the castle, with many rooms being added to the original building, including a prison.

Dunure Castle has a very dark past culminating in what has infamously become known as ‘the roasting of Allan Stewart’. Stewart was the Abbot of Crossraguel Abbey a few miles along the road at Maybole and a dispute arose between Stewart and Gilbert Kennedy regarding who owned the Crossraguel’s lands – abbey’s were very powerful institutions at the time and came with much influence and wealth. After a number of heated arguments Gilbert took matters into his own hands. Along with a number of his men, Gilbert captured Stewart and led him down into Dunure’s ominously titled Black Vault.

It was here that Stewart was stripped, bound and slowly cooked over a large, open fire until he signed over the lands of Crossraguel Abbey. But the gruesome tale did not end there. After a week or so, in which time Stewart (and his untreated wounds) was still imprisoned, it came to light that his first signature was invalid. Therefore Gilbert demanded Stewart sign the deeds again before a witness. At first he refused but after he was strung up again and roasted, Stewart succumbed (under what must have been unbearable pain and suffering) and signed the lands over to the Earl.

Dunure Castle and Ailsa Craig
Dunure Castle and Ailsa Craig

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