Jun. 16th, 2012

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The one and only Ardrossan Castle.

Not because they're pulling it down, or anything like that...  Far from it!! 

But what they are doing is enclosing Ardrossan Castle within a very high, supposedly ned-proof fence, for its own protection...  This is all part of a long-term programme to help secure the building's future, which is a wonderful thing, but it is of course a damned shame that the antics of a few witless hoodlums are depriving the rest of us of an opportunity to enjoy what is arguably one of the most fascinating castles in Ayrshire.

So, since I found myself on Castlehill in Ardrossan last week, I thought I'd take a few photographs, and introduce to you all one of my favourite (and sadly under-appreciated) local castles.

Ardossan Castle was once in the hands of the Eglinton family, but at a relatively early date, an Eglinton heiress married into the Montgomerie family and the rest, as they say, is history.  From then on, Ardrossan became inextricably linked with the Montgomeries and was the scene for many of the dramas and traumas which unfolded during their long feud with the Cuninghame family.

The ruins of Ardrossan are an imposing sight on the summit of Castlehill, visible from several miles away if you're approaching from the coast road:-

The upstanding remains that we see here are dominated by the gatehouse.  The lower part of the structure dates back to the thirteenth century, I think, when the castle was occupied by the Eglinton family.  You can tell the Eglinton part of the build by the fact that they used blond sandstone as opposed to pink sandstone:-

Later on, during the  Montgomeries' tenure, there was a complete re-modelling of the structure.  The main entrance was blocked, and the gatehouse converted into a tower for accomodation,  This view shows the rear of the structure, with a nicely moulded fireplace at second floor level.  Its ornate appearance suggests that this particular chamber may provided privated accomodation either for the family themselves or for their guests:-

The Montgomeries were not being particularly adept at winning friends and influencing people in their immediate locality.  They were, however, better skilled at this across Scotland as a whole, with my particular favourite, the inimitable and incorrigible Hugh, 1st Earl of Eglinton, being made Vice-Regent of Scotland, co-Tutor to the infant King James V and an admiral at various points in his long and distinguished career, which only ended when he retired from politics at the grand old age of 78. 

However, his arch-rivals the Cuninghames are unlikely to have had anything good to say about him, as he managed to wipe out two of their clan chiefs within several years of each other.  Therefore, the fact that some local cherub has gone about the ruins squirting the tag '666' with a spray can makes me respond with a wry smile: there were probably times when the unfortunate Cuninghames DID believe Earl Hugh was the Devil Incarnate...

Bearing in mind the uneasy relationship (at best!) between these two powerful families, it comes as no surprise that Ardrossan Castle has been modified into a defensive structure capable of dealing with the troubles at the time.  When the large entrance into the Eglintons' castle was blocked, a shot-hole was inserted into the masonry so that the castle's defenders could take out any marauding attackers with the early modern equivalent of handguns:-


Tantalising glimpses remain of the castle's former function as a domestic residence: doorways, windows, and of course, that fireplace:-

And, accessing these upper floors, a spiral stair, which now survives only in vestigial form:-

Elsewhere, we have fragments of additional structures, including this kitchen:-

The origins of the Montgomerie-Cuninghame feud are extremely obscure, but they appear to have their roots in Hugh, 1st Earl's minority.  The Cuninghames were charged with local law enforcement until Earl Hugh reached his perfect age of twenty-five: after this point, the Montgomeries were supposed to take over, with Earl Hugh inheriting a title that had passed into his family several generations before.  The Cuninghames didn't want to relinquish these gains, and the result was a succession of bloody disputes which included the burning down of the Montgomeries' seat at Eglinton in the 1520s (the family were forced to flee to Ardrossan Castle in order to take refuge from the rampaging Cuninghame mob). 

The culmination was, undoubtedly the murder of the 4th Earl in 1586 (also named Hugh) just months after he'd succeeded to the Earldom.  He was set upon by a band of 34 Cuninghames not long after leaving the Montgomerie stronghold of Lainshaw and shot at pointblank range.  Neil Montgomerie of Lainshaw was married to a Cuninghame at the time (it had been an effort to try and bring the families together...)  and local traditions state that it was either this lady who tipped off the murderers of the earl's departure, or a servant of the earl who was, himself, a Cuninghame.

Sordid stuff, and typical of Scottish history, I suppose.  All these local grievances tend to make more sense when you place them into a wider persective - the Montgomeries were pro-French, pro-Catholic, the Cuninghames pro-English, and fiercely Presbyterian, with the roots of these rivalries buried in what seems to us a fairly trivial dispute in the late fifteenth century. 

And Ardrossan Castle?  It met its end in spectacular fashion, blasted to pieces by Cromwellian artillery in the seventeenth century...


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