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Stranraer Castle

Before the castle was constructed in or around the year 1510, there does not seem to have been any substantial settlement on this favoured site, on the northern edge of the narrow neck of land that prevents the Rhins of Galloway from being an island. Originally the Castle of St John must have stood above the broad beach at the head of Loch Ryan but the growth of the town and subsequent changes in land and water use have meant that the castle, like Rothesay on Bute, is now a marooned inland.

Stranraer Castle was built by Ninian Adair of Kilhilt, the leader of a 'rising' Wigtownshire family of gentry that had established many cultural and mercantile links to nearby Ireland. Ninian's wife Katherine Agnew was daughter of Sir Patrick Agnew, the Hereditary Sheriff of Galloway. Ninian built a particularly solid three story tower in greystone but a fourth highly decorated floor was added at a much later date. The Adair's new castle at Stranraer was probably designed to further extend the laws and authority of the Scottish Crown over an area that had justly earned a reputation for 'difficulty and lawlessness'. Doubtless the Adairs were charged with controlling not only the local domiciled population but also the transient folk from Ireland who played a big part in the society and economy of the region. As the castle became the focus of administrative life in the later 1500s, Stranraer grew into a sizeable burgh, far exceeding in size its local 'rival' of Portpatrick.

In the 1590s, the castle passed from the Adair family to the Chappel branch of the Kennedys, another significant family in the history of south west Scotland. The wealthy Dalrymples of Stair bought it in 1680. Two years later it housed John Graham of Claverhouse who was appointed to the office of Sheriff of Wigtownshire during the 'Killing Time'. Graham was charged with stamping down on this hotbed of Covenanting and conventiclers, and he carried out his duties between 1682-85 with such diligence
and ferocity that he was remembered as 'Bloody Clavers'.

The town of Stranraer, a royal burgh by 1617, prospered in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, becoming the market town for the Rhins folk and a busy port for the growing cattle trade with Ireland. In 1815 the burgh council purchased the castle for £340 to serve as its town gaol. When prison reforms in the early twentieth century removed this function, it became a meeting place and a store but now serves as a museum.

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