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HISTORIC CASTLES AND FAMILIES OF THE NORTH
2. Castles Gunn and Halberry - The Gunns
Descent of Clan Gunn
Version No. 2 based on the "Chronicle of Man" states that the clan's ancestor was, Gun or Guin (Welsh - Guynn; Manx - Gawne) second son of Olaus or Olave the Black, fifth Norse King of Man and the Isles who died in 1237.
Version No. 3 claims that Sweyn had a grandson Gunn or Gunni - probably called for his grand-uncle. He was a son of Andrew the younger of Sweyn's two sons, and that it is from him and not the elder Gunn that the clan descends.
In Browne's History of the Highlands (1850), mention is made of an accompanying tradition to the one that puts Gunn the son of Olaus Rolfi as the clan ancestor. This tradition states that Gunn received from his maternal grandfather Farquhar, Earl of Ross, the possessions in Caithness which long formed the patrimony of the clan. But at this point it must be said that the various traditions must have got their "lines crossed", for Farquhar, second Earl of Ross, who had landed possessions in Caithness was not the grandfather of Gunn Olausson, but of Gunn, Prince of Man, by Christina, his second daughter, the third wife of Olave, King of Man.
Can Gunn, grandson of Sweyn be taken seriously as a contender? I think not. There are no indications that Sweyn possessed any lands at all apart from his "pirate lair" castles of Lambaborg and Gairsay, still less that he transmitted lands to any of his descendants. If, in fact, this Gunn was the clan ancestor it would have the astonishing effect of making the Gunns a sept of the Swansons instead of the other way round, which had been for centuries the accepted position. Regarding the other two contenders, one point should be made. George Gunn the Crowner or Coroner of Caithness,
who was treacherously killed by the Keiths about 1464, was believed to be the seventh Chief in descent from the founder. As twenty six years is the average time by which one generation succeeds another, a date somewhere between 1240 and 1280 is suggested as the foundation years of the clan which would put it nearer the time of Gunn, Prince of Man, than of Gunn Olausson who had lived about a century earlier.
Yet another tradition which tends to tilt the question in favour of the line of Manx princes is the story of the early Gunn Chieftain who spent a great deal of his time at the court of the King of Norway and married (some say bigamously) the Norwegian King's daughter. Unfortunately tragedy struck, for the ship carrying her back to Castle Gunn foundered on the rocks below the stronghold. The Princess was drowned and the large dowry of silver and gold lost.
George ("Crowner") Gunn
Septs of Clan Gunn
Although physically in possession of lands in Caithness from about the twelfth or thirteenth century, no branch of the Gunns had any legal tenure of land until the middle the seventeenth century so presumably they held their possessions by the sword. Mixed up as they were with all the clan feuds in Caithness and Sutherland - at times at war with the Mackays as well as the Keiths - with the Sinclairs as well as the Sutherlands, the countless incidents in which they were involved have more the character of romance than reality.
Gunns of Braemore
Latheron and Halkirk in Caithness. Owing to this detachment they came to be recognised as almost a separate branch - in fact Gunn of Braemore is frequently mentioned in history as Chief of the Gunns in Caithness.
Spital was the principal burial place of the clan in Caithness while many of the clan are buried at Dirlot a few miles away in a district thickly peopled with Gunns in former years.
At this point it is only slightly above the level of the waves. An ancient stairway, cut in the rock, descends from the cliff top to the approach to the castle. This stairway is now broken and dangerous. The keep measures 11m x 7m with walls 1m thick. A further wall protected the castle on its landward side at the top of the steep shelf of rock. A small circular depression beside the keep may indicate an ancient well. The castle was apparently abandoned when Halberry was built a mile to the south in about the fifteenth century. Last century most of the stonework of Castle Gunn was used to build a causeway at the small harbour nearby.
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