Culzean Castle

Culzean  is included in our 16 days "Best Castles of Britain and Ireland" tour.
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The following information was  researched  by our volunteer team member
Carolyn D. Ahrns from Las Vegas, NV. Thank you very much!

Location: Ayrshire, Scotland


The Clan Kennedy has been chieftains, earls, lords and stewards of some kind of fortress in Carrick (present day Ayrshire) since Gillescop MacKenedi became steward of Carrick in 1243. The Kennedy clan, who were the original owners, were a powerful Ayrshire family. Several ghosts haunt Culzean Castle one of whom is believed to be and actual Kennedy ancestor. There is also a legend about a supernatural knight and direct ties with the roasting of the Abbot of Crossraguel. But first the ghosts...

A ghostly piper has been heard on the castleís grounds; he plays apparently to the celebration of marriage of Clan family members. He has also been heard playing at a spot between Happy Valley and the ocean. It is said that on stormy nights, you can hear his ghostly pipes playing mixing eerily with the howling wind and crashing waves.

The spirit of a woman dressed in a ball gown haunts Culzean. Seen as recently as 1972, no one knows who this young woman was.

In 1976, two tourists visiting the castle witnessed a "peculiar misty shape" moving up the oval staircase. Apparently this is not an uncommon sight, several people have seen it. It is thought to be the ghost of a Kennedy. It is also reported that "younger members of the staff are warned about 'a wee ghost near the dungeonsí, but according to one of the castles guides, ĎI think thatís a bit of a tall storyí."

The castleís legend tells of a supernatural knight who abducted a young heiress and held her captive in the castle. "The knight tells her how he plans to kill her, but she manages to lull him to sleep and stabs him to death with his own dirk." Later this legend comes to life, when May Kennedy from Culzean was abducted from the castle by Sir John Cathcart. Cathcart is supposed to have murdered his wife and apparently was planning on murdering May Kennedy. Luckily May discovered his murderous plans and managed to push Cathcart to his death from cliffs near Carelton Castle, where he lived and still to this day haunts itís ruins.

Once a Kennedy stronghold; Dunure Castle is now a crumbling ruin...

In 1570 Dunure Castle was owned by Gilbert, the 4th Earl of Cassillis. He was a greedy man with a fiery temper. His uncle was the last abbot of Crossraguel; upon his death the Abby and land passed to Gilbert in 1564. In 1565 the King appointed Alan Stewart the "lay commendator" to the abbey. He now controlled the lands, buildings and the duties paid to it. The Earl had Stewart kidnapped and thrown into the Black Vault of Dunure. It was here that Steward was roasted, tied to a spit over a "well stoked fire", until finally agreeing to sign over the lands to the Earl. Steward was eventually released out living the Earl who was killed when his horse fell on top of him.

On dark moonless nights as the wind whips through the castle ruins, it is said that the hideous shrieks of the abbot can still be heard as he is roasted alive deep within the Castleís Black Vault.


The castle which stands today was built in 1772 by the 10th Earl of Cassillis. It incorporated an earlier "warlike" stronghold of the Clan Kennedy, of which the Earls were the Chieftains.

There has been a castle here on these cliffs overlooking the Firth of Clyde quite possibly as early as 1165. The Kennedy Clan has been associated with the Province of Carrick since the late 12th century. They are descended from the Earls of Carrick and Kinship to the culfamily of Bruce. The earliest record of the Kennedys is the granting of land to John Kennedy of Dunure in 1358. In 1367 he is recorded as Steward of Carrick. The earliest mention is of "Gilbert Mackenedi who witnessed a charter of the Doon Fishings in William the Lionís reign (1165-1214)." James Kennedy of Dunure married Mary daughter of King Robert III in 1407. James had five brothers, and their decedents spread across south west Scotland; at one time they held over 40 Clan Kennedy estates.

Clan Kennedy has played an important role in Scotís history. One had fought for France in the Hundred Years War; one had led the Scots under Joan of Arc to relieve Orleans; one was held hostage for the redemption of his Uncle, King James I, from his long captivity in England; "the fourth became Bishop of Dunkeld and St. Andrews, and is remembered by the students at the University there to this day in the Kate Kennedy procession."

The first Lord Kennedy was Gilbert in 1458. James and Princess Maryís great grandson, David, became the 1st Earl of Cassillis (taken from the ownership of Cassillis House since 1373 through marriage), and in 1509 he died in battle at Flodden in 1513.

"The 2nd Earl was murdered; the 3rd Earl died of poisoning in Dieppe after helping to negotiate the marriage of the infant Mary, Queen of Scots, to the Dauphin of France."

The 4th Earl known as the "Tutor of Cassillis" is best remembered for his role in a family feud which one branch turned against another, the result was murder and mayhem. The Earl committed a most heinous act to obtain ownership of land. He kidnapped the Abbot of Crossraguel Abbey, took him to Dunure Castle where he tied him to a spit and held him over a very hot fire forcing the Abbot to hand over the Abbey and lands to him. The Earl died from injuries after his horse had fallen on him.

The 8th Earl died and left no heirs. After three years of dispute the title was given to Sir Thomas Kennedy of Culzean, the nearest male descendant to the "Tutor"; he became the 9th Earl. He was succeed by his brother in 1775.

Both made great improvements to the castle. David, the 10th Earl commissioned Robert Adam to remodel Culzean. He died the year the castle was completed, 1792.

In 1777, the conversion of the old Scots house of the 16th century into the 18th century mansion took place. In 1785, the brewhouse was replaced with a "magnificent suite of rooms, perched on the very rim of the cliff."

"Adamís finest achievement is the oval staircase and the vertical shafts of columns. The Columns on the first and second floors has been reversed. Adam used Corinthian, as being the most decorative order for the principal floor, and shorter, slimmer Ionic for the second floor to emphasize the perspective and thus the height." It " stands high in the catalog of wonderful staircases of which the Adams were always inordinately fond." The castle also has a unique round drawing room.

The title then passed to an American branch of the family. Captain Archibald Kennedy died two years after becoming Earl.

The title was passed to his son, the 12th Earl, who was created Baron Ailsa of Aisla and then 1st Marquess of Aisla, by his friend, H.R.H. William, Duke of Clarence, on his coronation as William IV in 1831.

The 2nd Marquess died in a hunting accident; the 3rd Marquess succeed at age 22 and lived to the ripe old age of 90 years. He was the great grandson of the 1st Marquess. The 3rd Marquess and founder of the Ailsa Shipbuilding Company-1885 made many alterations to Culzean during his long lifetime. He built the west wing of the castle, and in the Armory it is his display of 716 flintlock pistols and 367 swords that can be seen today. His three sons succeed him in turn after his death in 1938.

In 1945 the 5th Marquess and Kennedy culfamily gave the castle and estate to the care of the National Trust For Scotland. The Family stayed in the West Wing of the castle for a few years after it was given to the trust. They have now made Cassillis House their family home. The Title is presently held by Charles, who is the 8th Marquess of Ailsa and the 19th Earl of Cassillis.

 For pictures and historical information on Culzean Castle, click here.

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