You will perhaps have read in last week’s Gazette and also seen on TV last Friday about the restoration of Cassillis House which lies to the east of Maybole. Well this was the main base of the fearsome Kennedy clan and the site originally held a very strong castle with walls up to fourteen foot thick, very necessary as you either courted the Kennedys or hated them. Down the centuries the castle had been transformed into a house, but in recent hard times the Kennedy family could no longer afford to maintain it and it was sold to an Australian lady who has made it into very comfortable home, if a mite big for most of us. There are over 100 rooms all beautifully modernized, but as with all historical places there are some interesting tales to tell.
We go back to the time of the first Earl of Cassillis whose sister Janet Kennedy was a well renowned flaming red headed beauty. King James 1V of Scotland was married to the sister of Henry V111 of England one Margaret Tudor who took after her brother in more ways than one. James certainly had cause to look elsewhere for some affection and was attracted to the lovely Janet Kennedy taking her as his mistress. James made frequent pilgrimages to St. Ninian’s shrine in Whithorn and found it convenient to stop over for a night or two with Janet at Cassillis House both on the way down and on the way back.. There were certainly enough rooms to accommodate them.
But that was not the only romantic tale to tell about this house as Lady Jean, the wife of Sir John Kennedy 6th. Earl of Cassillis fell under the spell of Johnnie Faa king of the gypsies who serenaded her charmingly enough for Lady Jean Kennedy to elope with him. However, the Earl on discovering this gathered a body of men and went after them bringing both Johnnie Faa and Lady Jean back to Cassillis House. Johnnie Faa was hanged from a dule tree in the grounds with Lady Jean forced to watch. The dule tree in question blew down in a gale in the winter of 1939-40 the stump remaining showed that it was over 200 years old. However it is reported that from the stump a new tree has sprouted, nature has its ways of surviving..
It is stated that dule trees had an important part to play in Scottish history, the one at Cassillis House apart from its use as a gibbet was where the Kennedys gathered to confer when one of their leaders was killed or died. The dule tree was thought to be in reality a sycamore tree and there are countless tales about them, but that is for another time. See you next week.