Clan Kennedy History

19th century depiction of Clan Kennedy by R.R. McIan

19th century depiction of Clan Kennedy by R.R. McIan

Kennedy comes from the flattering Gaelic word cinneidigh, which in ancient Ireland meant “ugly headed”. Crossing the Irish Sea to settle in an area of Dalriada now called Carrick in Ayrshire, they were probably led by Gilbert, whose son Duncan became the 1st Earl of Carrick in the 12th century.

They supported the Bruces before and through the Wars of Independence and were rewarded. Around 1360 John Kennedy became owner of lands at Cassillis and in 1457 his descendant, Gilbert, was created Lord Kennedy. Gilbert’s younger brother James was Bishop of St Andrews and founder of Scotland’s first university, the University of St Andrews.

To evade the law, Ulric Kennedy fled Ayrshire for Lochaber where began the Clan Ulric. From them came the Kennedys of Skye. These families became a sept of the Clan Cameron.

Many Scots fought for the French through the Auld Alliance. At the English siege of Orleans Hugh Kennedy of Ardstinchar was a commander fighting for Joan of Arc. The saint is represented on the Kennedy of Bargany coat of arms.

In 1509 the third Lord Kennedy became the 1st Earl of Cassillis, losing his life on Flodden field in 1513.

The death warrant of Scotland’s first Protestant martyr, Patrick Hamilton, was signed, under pressure, by the 3rd Earl, Gilbert, when twelve years old. He was poisoned at Dieppe and the Earldom went to another Gilbert, celebrated for roasting the Abbot of Crossraguel slowly over a fire to gain his land. The Abbot was saved by the Kennedys of Bargany but not before being horribly crippled.

In 1775 the 10th Earl of Cassillis was David, who commissioned Robert Adam to build the stunning Culzean Castle. The half gothic, half classical masterpiece looks across the Firth of Clyde to the Ailsa Craig and was offered for use as a retreat to Eisenhower in gratitude for his war achievements.

Culzean Castle, Ayrshire

Culzean Castle, Ayrshire

The earldom passed across the Atlantic to Royal Naval officer Captain Archibald Kennedy who, on top of his Hoboken estates, owned more New York property than any other man. During the War of Independence he tried to sit on the fence. This left him few friends and half of his estates were confiscated afterwards, George Washington taking No. 1 Broadway for himself.

Culzean Castle was given to the National Trust by the 5th Marquess. The family chiefs still live in Ayrshire at Culzean and Cassillis.

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