Videos Created By Pupils From Dunoon Grammar School

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Interview with John Stirling by: John Alder
Video Production by: Molly Cossar
Video Production by: Kris Dey
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Step Into History

Journey back into Dunoon and Cowal’s past. From Highland clan battles to Cold War occupation.

You approach Castle House though Castle Gardens, a great place to picnic and watch the ferries come and go on a sunny day. You will see Castle House cresting the hill ahead of you, resplendent in its castellated Gothic style, as designed by David Hamilton in 1822. This building was designed as a ‘marine villa’ holiday home for James Ewing, Lord Provost of Glasgow before the development of steam navigation turned Dunoon into a prime Clyde resort and enticed many more successful Glaswegian business owners to build second homes here.

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The story of this site, however, begins long before Lord Ewing built himself a stylish holiday home. It has been suggested that the origins of a castle at Dunoon can be traced back to the early 6th Century, when Argyll was under Dalriadic rule and coastlines were defended by a series of fortified settlements.

If you look to your left as you approach the museum, the promontory of Castle Hill stands out as a natural vantage point over the entrance to the narrower portion of the Firth of Clyde, with commanding views in all directions.

The ancient name of this location is Dun Omhain, meaning the green hill, and to this day,  it can be clearly discerned why it is an advantageous site for a defensive stronghold.

There has been a castle here at least since the 12th century; the seat of the Lord High Stewards of Scotland. In 1370 it became a royal palace under the hereditary keepership of the Campbell Clan and,  in 1563, it was visited by Mary Queen of Scots. The Castle Gardens were the site of the Dunoon massacre in 1646; a ruthless execution brought by the Campbells upon the Lamonts of Cowal and Bute.

Look to your right and you can see High Kirk, where thirty-six of Clan Lamont were hanged from an ash tree. To your left, behind Castle Hill (and visible from the top) is the memorial at Tom-A-Mhoid road, marking where members of the Lamont clan were transported to the Hill of Justice and sentenced to death, following a besiegement of Toward Castle.

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There’s one more death commemorated upon this hill; that of Mary Campbell, immortalised in a poem of Robert Burns as “Highland Mary”, a nickname she was fondly given because her spoken English was heavily accented with Highland Gaelic, and by which this statue of her is known.

Highland Mary hailed from Auchamore, Dunoon, but spent much of her life across the water. Her body lies in the old West Kirk churchyard in Greenock, where a monument was erected in her memory in 1842. Our statue, erected in 1896, looks wistfully over the water; not toward her grave though, but towards Ayrshire, where she met and fell in love with Burns.

It is thought that they fell deeply in love, informally exchanged traditional matrimonial vows, and made plans to emigrate to Jamaica. Mary returned home to organise her affairs, and discovered her brother ill with typhus. After nursing him back to health, she arranged to meet with Burns in Greenock, but sadly died of the fever before he arrived. Their poignant, tragic romance is a famous tale, and Mary appears in three of Burns’ poems.


A Building Filled With Memories

Our Museum houses exhibitions and memorabilia sure to excite your imagination.

Step inside now, and climb the stairs (or take the lift), to our reception area where you’ll be greeted by our friendly, knowledgeable team. Behind the counter where you pay your entry fee (accompanied kids are free) there’s a cornucopia of items which could be bought from the corner shop in yesteryear. The eagle eyed among you may have spotted some of them in the background images on this site; there’s Fox’s Glacier mints, tins of Zubes and Strepsils, Abernethy biscuits, old packets of Cadets and Woodbine cigarettes, as well as Cow & Gate “Milk Food” tins and many more.

While your children are playing with the interactive exhibits in the reception area, see what memories these faded favourites will stir up. 

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There are display cabinets full of old toys and games, a large collection of model steamers and marine collectables and we have an impressive collection of photographs from local  primary and secondary schools.

To add to your enjoyment and knowledge of the area, you may wish to watch a 12 minute slideshow depicting Dunoon and Cowal as they appear in postcards from the 20th century, contrasted with up to date photographs of how the same locations look today. 

Venture into the main room and you will see recreations of Neolithic tools and early settlements, a replica of Highland Mary’s birthplace in Auchamore, religious relics from bygone days, an interactive photograph wall illuminating the growth of Dunoon, a Victorian school room-set, a celebrity style vanity desk from Sir Harry Lauder’s nearby mansion, Laudervale, items salvaged from long gone hotels and businesses, a video presentation about the Clyde Steamers, paraphernalia from both World Wars – and much, much more!

In fact, we simply do not have the space to showcase all the exhibits nor do full justice to the rich history of Dunoon. However, our staff are keen to make your visit exceptional, and we have more photos and documents we can retrieve upon request. If you have any questions about the exhibits or about the area, please do ask – we love to share!

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We are not done yet though! Come on through to the North Wing which houses a series of painstakingly recreated, and lovingly maintained, room sets,   reconstructions of life in the Victorian mansions that spread along our shoreline shortly after Castle House was built. 

These grand holiday homes were large enough to accommodate whole families and their servants, and in fact many were staffed by servants all year round, meaning wealthy business owners could retreat to coastal luxury at the drop of a hat – indeed, catching a steamer from Glasgow to Dunoon was a quicker journey then than travelling by road is today!

The room sets display life both ‘upstairs’ and ‘downstairs’; they hold real artworks, authentic items, working clocks and living plants. The viewing experience is designed to be immersive.

Finally, come back into the main Museum and have a chat with our dedicated team. We will assist with any questions you have, help you trace your family history and ancestry, or just enjoy a blether! Don’t forget to peruse the gift shop; there’s something to suit all tastes, and shop sales make a vital contribution to the upkeep of our Museum.