The early history of Carrick is predominantly the history of the ancient clan of Kennedy. It is said that they descend from a chief from the Western Isles who lived during the reign of Malcolm II. In 1263 they were granted the castle and lands of Dunure for supporting Alexander III against the Viking invasion fleet at the battle of Largs.
In a much later generation one of their number, James of Dunure, married Princess Mary, daughter of Robert III and widow of the first earl of Angus, and their son was created lord Kennedy in 1457. This lord Kennedy carried great influence at Court. His youngest son, Walter, became a renowned poet and his grand-daughter, Janet, was the mistress of James IV. When she bore James a son in 1500 the king created the child earl of Moray, presenting him with Darnaway Castle near Forres. The Kennedys continued to be loyal to the Royal House of Stewart and in 1509 the third lord Kennedy was created first earl of Cassilis. He later died with a number of his clansmen at the battle of Flodden.
The Kennedys were a wilful and stormy dynasty who succeeded in establishing themselves as the most powerful family in southwest Scotland. At one time there were 24 major families of the name living in the district, and over the centuries there have been five Kennedy provosts of Ayr and a lord provost of Edinburgh.
In the 16th and 17th centuries Kennedy feuds dominated the lives of everybody in the Carrick district. Clan Kennedy fought against the Campbells of Louoon and the Craufords of Kerse; against the MacDowells of Garthland, and even Kennedy against Kennedy, particularly Cassilis against Bargany. Time and again dastardly deeds took place, frequently with the culprits escaping unpunished.
The ruins of Dunure Castle stand southwest of the Heads of Ayr and it was here in the black vault, in 1570, that the third earl of Cassilis is said to have tried to boil James Stewart, commendator of Crossraguel Abbey, in a vat of soap because he was unwilling to hand over
abbey lands. Stewart was rescued by Kennedy of Bargany, but this was far from being his salvation, since Bargany also had designs on abbey property.
The Cassilis earls had another stronghold at Maybole Castle, where the chapel dates back to 1371, and they built Castle Kennedy at Wigtown in the 17th century. Archibald, twelfth earl of Cassilis, was created first marquis of Ailsa in 1831 and the present sixth marquis
lives at Cassilis House, based on a 14th-century Kennedy mansion, four miles from Maybole.
But the most magnificent Kennedy legacy is Culzean Castle, on the clifftops overlooking the Firth of Clyde. Built by Robert Adam for the 10th earl of Cassilis on the site of an ancient castle, it has been the seat of the Kennedy chiefs since the 15th century.
To Tour Ayr and Kilmarnock