Row over ownership of Edinburgh Castle’s Mons Meg cannon

Mons Meg, the six-tonne cannon which sits in Edinburgh Castle, is recognised as the world's most famous medieval gun. Picture: David Moir
Mons Meg, the six-tonne cannon which sits in Edinburgh Castle, is recognised as the world's most famous medieval gun. Picture: David Moir
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A WAR has broken out over the ownership of Scotland’s most famous military artefact as campaigners demand the return of Edinburgh Castle’s Mon’s Meg to Dumbarton.

Dumbarton Castle Society, which is seeking the refurbishment of the Clyde landmark, wants the siege cannon to be returned, alongside 1,000 other artefacts related to the historic fortress.

The demand is part of a wider call for a scheme of improvements and refurbishment to position the castle, which sits atop a volcanic plug known as Dumbarton Rock, as a leading Scottish tourist site alongside the country’s better known castles Edinburgh and Stirling.

Mons Meg, the six-tonne cannon which sits in Edinburgh Castle, is recognised as the world’s most famous medieval gun.

It was given to King James II by Duke Philip of Burgundy in 1457, and at the time was considered cutting edge military technology – capable of firing a 150kg gunstone for up to two miles.

However, James IV used the weapon to besiege Dumbarton Castle, then held by the rebellious Earl of Lennox, in 1489.

Paul Neeson, of the Dumbarton Castle Society, said: “Dumbarton has a rightful claim to Mons Meg. It played a vital part in the castle’s history and we’d love to see it back alongside the other artefacts. It’s our Mons Meg as much as Edinburgh’s.”

The society’s request has also received the backing of loc­al Labour MSP Jackie Baillie, who has stated she “welcomes the society’s ambition” in seeking the gun’s return to Dumbarton.

Yesterday a spokesperson for Historic Environment Scotland said: “We strongly value the importance of displaying artefacts in their proper context, and are always happy to discuss the potential loan of objects from our collections. Any such requests have to be considered on a case-by-case basis, and the arguments made for such loans usually have to be supported by documentary - and sometimes physical - evidence.”

Recent figures have revealed that Dumbarton Castle drew only 16,279 visitors over a period of 12 months, in comparison to 1.48 million visitors to Edinburgh Castle and 440,819 to Stirling Castle.

Dumbarton Castle Society is calling on the Scottish Government and Historic Environment Scotland (HES) to invest in the castle and encourage more visitors. A charette was held between interested parties earlier this year when a 22-point action plan was drawn up to revitalise the castle and the surrounding area.

A number of proposals were identified, including a visitor centre and a waterfront path linking the historic castle with the town centre.

Neeson said: “US and Japanese visitors love old medieval castles and we have one of the best here in Dumbarton. If we could get even a slim per cent of the funding that Edinburgh Castle receives, that would make a massive difference and not just for the castle but the whole area.”

Baillie has raised the matter with both culture leaders and historic bodies. In a series of written answers to her queries, Culture Minister Fiona Hyslop revealed that just £14 million has been allocated to Dumbarton Castle over the last seven years.

Asked about future investment, Hyslop said: “The chief executive of HES has informed me that plans to invest in Dumbarton Castle over the next five years are being developed. All spending is subject to a variety of factors, including income generated by tourism and the outcome of the spending review, which will be published on 16 December, 2015.”

Dumbarton Castle was the centre of the ancient Kingdom of Strathclyde, supposedly visited by Merlin and was later sacked by Vikings before becoming a cornerstone of medieval royal power in Scotland.