Kenmure Castle was the headquarters of the Galloway Gordons. Beautifully situated at the head of Loch Ken it figured in the iconic Scottish Wars of Independence during the reign of Robert Bruce and in the civil strife of the Covenanting era in the 17th century. It was a Gordon of Kenmure who organised Scotland’s first colonial expedition to the Americas in 1622 - to Cape Breton renamed New Galloway. The castle was occupied by John Graham of Claverhouse, known as ‘Bloody Dundee’ during the state persecution of the Covenanters for their faith during the ‘Killing Times’ of the later 17th century.
The Covenanters were so called because they had subscribed the National Covenant of 1638, a sacred contract with God, in which they swore to defend their presbyterian church against encroachment by the Crown, believing as they did in the separation of church and state. Charles I and Charles II considered them little better than terrorists guilty of treason and rebellion and who thus had to be rigorously suppressed.
Viscount Kenmure was executed for his part in the Jacobite Rising of 1715.
Kenmore, Virginia, where George Washington spent his boyhood, was named for Kenmure by a Galloway Gordon who emigrated to the US. Another emigrant was the son of a gardener at Kenmure Castle, John Lowe, the tragic poet who composed the highly popular song, ‘Mary’s Dream’. He became tutor to the children of Washington’s brother but later took to the bottle.
At the end of July 1793 Robert Burns and his good friend John Syme spent a few days at Kenmure. A major preoccupation of the trip was the issue of Burns’s boots. The poet, who was something of a dandy, had purchased a new pair at a cost of 22 shillings, an enormous sum at a time when a day labourer earned one shilling a day (less in winter).
Burns was keen to visit the scenes that had inspired Lowe. Kenmure suggested they take his barge, named Glenkens, down the loch. The small party included Rev John Gillespie the aged minister of New Galloway. Unfortunately before they reached their destination the vessel grounded. Everyone else used oars to vault ashore; only Burns and Gillespie remained. According to one account, Burns, ‘his eyes beaming, and his face suffused, sprang at once over the boat’s gunwhale, knee-deep in mud, and grasping the old gentleman with outstretched arms, he half dragged him on to his back and bore him ashore’. Syme exclaimed in jocular mode that Burns was the last man he expected to see ‘priest-ridden’ but the poet did not join in the mirth, grimly plodding on through the reeds with his godly burden. Burns reportedly remained in a mood as foul as the torrential weather all the way to Kirkcudbright, after leaving Kenmure, because his fine top-boots were ruined through being soaked in the loch and subsequently shrunk while drying.Glenkens is at the heart of the spectacular Galloway countryside popularised by local best-selling writer Samuel Rutherford Crockett (1859-1914) in many of his novels, among them The Raiders, The Lilac Sunbonnet and The Stickit Minister. The Kenbridge Hotel is believed to be the inspiration for Richard Hannay’s meeting with ‘the literary landlord’ in John Buchan’s The Thirty-Nine Steps.