Ruthven Castle, or Barracks as it is now more commonly referred to, is situated near the town of Kingussie in the heart of the Cairngorms National Park, some 40 miles south of the Highland capital Inverness. The conspicuous mound is alluvial and the ground is boggy. The site lends itself to fortification and it is possible that the first castle on the site was built by John Comyn of Badenoch, commonly known as the Red Comyn, best known for being stabbed to death by the future Robert I of Scotland at the church of the Greyfriars in Dumfries. A castle certainly stood here in the 14th century mostly likely destroyed as a new castle is recorded in the 16th which, in turn, was destroyed by the Jacobites in 1689.
The Jacobite threat caused the government to construct barracks on the site the ruins of the old providing building materials for the new. The only evidence of the previous castle which remains is a well.
The barracks had accommodation for 120 soldiers and 28 dragoons although this complement was not necessary achieved for reasons of cost – nothing changes!
In 1745, caught unawares, there were only 12 soldiers and a sergeant garrisoning the barracks when a force of 300 Jacobites arrived at the gates and demanded surrender. The commander, Sergeant Terrace Molloy, was made of stern stuff and refused. At nightfall 150 Jacobites set fire to the gate with a tar barrel but the soldiers managed to put it out. The brave highlander who had fired the barrel lay dead beside it. The Jacobites withdrew. Molloy agreed to a parley which allowed the Jacobites to remove their dead and wounded but still refused to yield the barracks. The Jacobites recognised that it was hopeless and withdrew. There was only one casualty on the government side – a soldier who had unwisely looked over the parapet. Sergeant Molloy was justly promoted to Lieutenant.
In 1746, on their retreat to Inverness, the Jacobites again appeared before Ruthven but this time they brought a cannon. Let the Jacobite Captain John McLean relate what happened:
"Sunday the 9th we came off from Dallchoiny and came that night to Riven in Badenoch having one cannon in our artillery, which was that same evening levelled to the Barracks there. And fired three shots and gave them as many holes which made them surrender. The Barracks were burned that night. Our company stayed at Riven and removed next day."
John McLean was to be killed at Culloden so did not witness the final, pitiful scenes at Ruthven where the Jacobites had gathered after the battle. The Prince sent word that every man to look towards his own safety and abandoned his army. The Chevalier de Johnstone was there and reported the following:
Our separation at Ruthven was truly affecting. We bade one another an eternal adieu. No one could tell whether the scaffold would not be his fate. The Highlanders gave vent to their grief in wild howling and lamentations; the tear flowed down their cheeks when they thought that their country was now at the discretion of the Duke of Cumberland and on the point of being plundered whilst they and their children would be reduced to slavery and plunged, without resource, into a state of remediless distress.
The Highlanders gave vent to their grief in wild howling and lamentations
All this, alas, was only too true and was to be borne out by events.
After Culloden, Johnstone, after many narrow escapes, found safety on the continent and joined the French army. He served in Canada against the British and wrote an account of the campaign of 1760 – a Jacobite to the end.
Ruthven Barracks is now in the care of Historic Environment Scotland. You can read more about the site and plan your visit on this website -
Article by Scottish Castles Association member Brian McGarrigle.