Journey to century 13th: the family castle in Closeburn

The Castle

On my quest to discover more about my family’s origins I am on a journey to Scotland. I had to go see it for myself: Closeburn Castle, owned and occupied by Kirkpatricks from at least the year 1232. Located 1.3 miles southeast of Closeburn, the castle is one of the oldest continually inhabited houses in Scotland. This ancient yet entirely intact structure is located in an area of that same name. Nearby is the village of Kirkpatrick-Fleming and the Kirkpatrick Church.

We’d been told from childhood that we came from Ireland. This turns out to be only partly true, as the oldest records come from this area in Scotland, showing my ancestral Kirkpatrick’s immigration first to Ireland and then to America circa 1700. I discovered this several years back via my account. I then learned about the earliest Kirkpatricks in history, several of whom played significant roles, and Closeburn Castle, granted to Ivone de Kirkpatrick in 1232 by Alexander II.

We flew into Manchester, driving three and a half hours and 175 miles to the northwest in a rented electric car. We’d arranged for a tour of the interior for 9am the next day, spending the night a few kilometers away. We enjoyed good food, with lots of deep fried fish on the menu together with mac and cheese (oy!), while watching the pub fill with people coming for the weekly quiz. We occasionally struggled with the strong Scottish accents. Subtitles would have been useful for some of our conversations.

The building is technically a tower and not a castle. A tower is a defensive structure with extremely limited access built inside a protective fence. A castle is designed for easier access, if still difficult to breech. A keep or donjon (from the French) is a tower within a castle, often used as a prison. Closeburn was built without stairs and with very few and very small windows, a few of which remain. To enter or leave you had to climb a ladder dropped from within. Stairs weren’t added until 1748 when the family’s nearby mansion was destroyed by fire. The stairs sit on the outside of the structure on the rear side, thus are not visible in the photo below. You enter via the first door just to the viewer’s left of the tower.

Closeburn Castle, smaller buildings came much later.

The tower is Scottish Listed, noted as being some 15 meters in depth and 15 in height, by about 10 in width. It may have been built by a Kirkpatrick as early as the late 1100’s, perhaps first in wood. It was there by the time the land was granted to Ivone de Kirkpatrick in 1232 by Alexander II, King of Scotland. The title document is still with us, with a duplicate on display inside the tower. It is also a listed property, see National Monuments Record of Scotland, Site Reference NX99SW 3.00

The land area called Closeburn was much bigger than its current measure when it was granted to Ivone. Some reckon the land was in the family as far back as the 8th century as noted in Kirkpatrick of Closeburn pdf.

The Name

“Kirk” is Scottish for “church,” thus Kirkpatrick is “Church of St Patrick.” The family name may have come from the church of St. Patrick in Kirkpatrick-Fleming. See Wiki on Clan_Kirkpatrick. There are claims that the village of Kirkpatrick-Fleming was the birth place of St. Patrick (Scottish Gaelic: Pàdraig). If so then it would make sense for that church to be the source of the family name, in veneration of St Patrick, who was well known even then of course. However the validity of the claim that Patrick was born here is uncertain at best, and there are several competitors. In his autobiographical Confessio (English ‘Declaration’) Patrick says that he was kidnapped from Scotland when he was about 16 and taken to Ireland, without being specific as to where exactly he was born or lived in Scotland. He writes that he was enslaved for six years before escaping, returning to Scotland, location again unspecified. With regards to the church itself, per Kirkpatrick-Fleming, “The medieval parish church was given to Gisborough Priory in Cleveland by Robert de Brus, Lord of Annandale, around 1170, though this connection lapsed after 1330.[1] The present church dates to the 18th century and is protected as a category B listed building.[2]” Annandale is about 20 miles from the castle.

kirkpatrick church
18th century Kirkpatrick Church in Kirkpatrick-Fleming. It is being converted for use as an art gallery.
Kirkpatrick-fleming town
Downtown Kirkpatrick-Fleming. The white building at the far end is the town pub

Kilpatrick is an alternative spelling. It would seem then that the Calquhoun family is related. “During the reign of Alexander II, Umphredus de Kilpatrick received from Malduin, Earl of Lennox, the estates of Colquhoun, Auchentorily and Dumbuck. ” Wiki

Further, “The lands in the Loch Lomond area of Scotland have been held within the Colquhoun family since 1150 AD, when the lands were granted to the Laird of Luss. The Colquhouns originated at Old Kilpatrick on the River Clyde…” Clan Colquhoun’s website I resided in Glasgow in the summer of 1998. There were pages of Kirkpatricks and Kilpatricks, and there is an area called Kilpatrick Hills, presumably named by that branch of the family, located some 14 miles to the northwest of Glasgow.

The castle was inhabited by Kirkpatricks until 1783 when it was sold. In the early 1980’s until the present day it has been again owned and occupied by a Kirkpatrick, after its purchase by Luis Kirkpatrick (1910-2010) from the Spanish branch- more of this in a subsequent post. His son Patricio, who has also passed away, inherited the estate. The current occupants are his third wife and step-daughter María Navarro de Sepúlveda, our very good amicable guide. She and her mother, María Jesús de Sepúlveda, occupy the adjacent buildings, using the tower for various commercial purposes. Until recently the tower was used as a B&B but is no longer. Currently it is being converted for use in parlor games. It is in a sparsely populated area with few attractions, so making commercial use of the structure is a challenge.

Closeburn Parish Church
Ruins in the graveyard next to the current Closeburn Parish Church, still in use

The tower was originally built on a now drained lake, at one point being surrounded by a defensive wooden fence. I have found references that state there was a stone wall surrounding the building. In 17th century they added a manor house, while a red sandstone porch came to the north side after 1856.

The Structure

The interior is modern, with running water, bathrooms with bathtub, and central heating. There are four floors plus the ground level floor where you see the jail cell, access to the now covered well, and a wine cellar with stone shelves. The walls are 3 meters (10ft) wide on the lower levels, 2 meters (6ft) on the upper. Having a well inside the structure allowed for longer resistance to siege.

stone shelves

On the first floor up a steep staircase you encounter what is called a “yett.” This is a very skillfully produced metal gate posted at what was the main entrance before stairs were installed. In the 1600s, local privy councils removed yetts from most castles in the country to make them less secure. Per the castle’s website, Closeburn Castle, there are just 37 still in castles, only five of which date from prior to the 15th century.


On this level you find a kitchen, two fireplaces on either side of a wall added in 1748 by Sir Thomas dividing the vaulted chamber into two main rooms. There are modern albeit probably single glaze windows at the end of deep cuts into the thick walls.

window in wall
Windows are cut into the 3 meter walls

On the second floor are a kitchen and a fireplace on either side of a central wall added in 1748 by Thomas Kirkpatrick that divided the single chamber into two rooms. There are (likely single glaze) windows at the ends of the deep cuts into the walls. There are portraits of the Luis Kirkpatrick y O´Donnell family. Don Luis (1910-2010) was the 12th Baron of Closeburn, per the Closeburn Castle website, although per Wikipedia there have only been 11. On the other side are photos and other items that focus on Empress Maria Eugenia Palafox Portocarreño y Kirkpatrick. I will write about her in a coming entry. The third floor they call the Kirkpatrick Suite. There are some very good photos of these three floors and the roof, as well as commentary on the Closeburn website

roof view
View from the roof, sheep in the distance. The lake was located in this area. Current residents use the lower buildings. My photo.

The next post is tentatively titled, “The Kirkpatricks– were we Normans?” I will post it soon.

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