Upon the coast, on a rising ground, is situate the castle of Finlaystone, the seat of the Earl of Glencairn… a noble and great building around a court (1710).
Sir William Cunningham of Kilmaurs, who married Margaret Denniston of Glencairn & Finlaystone was descended from an Anglo-Norman family. His grandson Alexander Cunningham was created Earl of Glencairn on 28th May 1488. He was killed in battle fourteen days later. Of the fifteen Earls of Glencairn, three were Governors of Dumbarton as the Dennistons had been before them.
Alexander, 5th (“The Good”) Earl, succeeded in 1547, and like his father was an outspoken supporter of the Reformation. It is said that in 1556 John Knox gave his first communion in the West of Scotland to the Earl and his household under a Yew tree still to be seen on the lawn by the house (though now further south than it was then – it was moved to its present position in 1900).
William, 9th Earl, supported Charles I & II. In 1655, having harassed Cromwell’s General Monk, he was betrayed and imprisoned in Edinburgh Castle, and only narrowly escaped execution. At the Restoration, Charles II made him Lord High Chancellor of Scotland …in consideration of the great and eminent services of this noble peer, who had an equal talent both for camp and court.
James, 14th Earl, rescued Robert Burns “from wretchedness and exile”. The bard left evidence of having dined here by scratching his name on a window pane. He called his son James Glencairn Burns, and wrote a lament for the dead earl in 1791. “But I’ll remember thee, Glencairn, And a’ that thou bast done for me”.
The Finlaystone which Burns knew was not that described in 1710. The fashionable architect John Douglas had been commissioned in 1746 to knock down some buildings round the court – the “bailey” of the old castle – and to replace them with a new house. While the north wing incorporated the remains of Dinniston’s Tower, the south wing was based on what was then called “the old house”. The central part of the modern house is that built by Douglas; and the present Library was the main room in his design. A kind of Alcove in the Middle with a Venetian Window in it… (still to be seen) was particularly admired by a visitor in 1750, the year this picture of Douglas’ house appeared on a map.