Fairy lassies and massacres - the bloody history of the Dule tree

Last week I mentioned that dule trees played a prominent part in Scotland’s history and that a tale of their significance would be told another week.

Well apparently the dule tree started back in AD 1057 when Malcolm Canmore and his parliament were assembled at Forfar and proclaimed that every baron should maintain a gibbet on his land for the execution of male prisoners and a pit full of water for the drowning of female prisoners.

The gibbet used in many cases was a large tree standing near the incumbent’s castle which became known as the dule or dool tree.

The name is derived from ‘dool’ an old Scots word for sorrow, no doubt because it caused a lot of sorrow to the families of those who met their end at this tree.

No further mention is made of the water pit, or of the ladies who met their end in its depth. The dule tree being large and dominant was also often used as a meeting place by the members of clans such as the Kennedys who were the most powerful family in Carrick.

In 1527 shortly after Gilbert Kennedy 2nd Earl of Cassillis met his end on the Prestwick sands at the hand of Sir Hugh Campbell of Loudon, the Sheriff of Ayrshire, the Kennedys met under the dule tree at Cassillis House to swear an oath of vengeance before setting forth to kill a number of the Campbell family including Robert Campbell of Lochfergus.

Some 74 members of the Kennedys were thereafter captured and charged with murder only to be merely fined as the family were so powerful in Carrick that the authorities would not dare risk any greater penalty.

There is an interesting tale about the dule tree at Hunterston near West Kilbride which was used as their hanging tree but was also sometimes known as the ‘resting tree’ as passing travellers were known to rest in its shade. Before the tree passed into history a son of the Laird of Hunterston saw a very beautiful young maiden resting in its shade, approached and spoke to her, but not receiving a reply he leant forward to place a kiss upon her cheek.

The maiden vanished as she was in reality a ‘fairy lass’ or a fairy taking human form. A cautionary tale for all gentlemen who may come across a beautiful maiden resting under a tree.

In 1985 an oak seedling was planted in that spot by the 29th Laird of Hunterstone and Chief of the Clan Hunter, not as a hanging tree, but to provide a resting place for travellers, or perhaps attract a beautiful maiden, take your pick but beware.