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Why is the 13th Century Kelburn Castle covered in Colorful Graffiti?

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Kelburn Castle is one of the oldest castles still standing in Scotland. Located in Fairlie, North Ayrshire, Kelburn Castle has a rich history that dates back to the 13th century. Now, however, it is mostly known as Scotland’s famous ‘graffiti castle,’ after a group of Brazilian graffiti artists painted over the exterior in 2007. Tourists from all over the world come to visit Kelburn Castle, see the artwork for themselves, and to learn more about this historic building. 

Close-up detail of the Kelburn Castle graffiti (Tim Kirman / CC BY NC ND 2.0)

Close-up detail of the Kelburn Castle graffiti (Tim Kirman / CC BY NC ND 2.0 )

Kelburn Castle: From Wood to Stone

The history of the colorful Kelburn Castle dates back to the 13th century. In the 12th century, the Boyle family purchased the land the castle now resides on. Once the land was prepared, the Boyles hired workers to build the castle sometime in the 13th century. Some sources believe that there was an initial wooden structure built in the 12th century that was considered the earliest form of the castle. It wasn’t until the 13th century that stone was used to build a Norman keep

Kelburn Castle has undergone several expansions and renovations over the centuries. Mid-19th century photo by John Muir Wood (National Galleries Scotland / CC BY NC)

Kelburn Castle has undergone several expansions and renovations over the centuries. Mid-19th century photo by John Muir Wood (National Galleries Scotland / CC BY NC )

In the 16th century, additions were made to this stone keep when the main part of the castle was built. The tower house was built around the existing stone Norman keep, so different ages and styles of masonry are combined. A century later, the owners added several gardens and orchards to the property to make the land itself more attractive. 

The gardens added to the 13th century Kelburn Castle in the 17th century are still in use today, and open to the public for events (Tracey Adams / CC BY 2.0)

The gardens added to the 13th century Kelburn Castle in the 17th century are still in use today, and open to the public for events (Tracey Adams / CC BY 2.0 )

More changes occurred in the 18th century, after one of the Boyles was named the first Earl of Glasgow. After David Boyle was given this title, he hired Thomson Caldwell, a well-known mason, to build a William-and-Mary-style mansion house as an addition to the main tower. No further additions were made until the 19th century, when the 6th Earl of Glasgow, George Boyle, had the northeast wing built in 1880. It is believed that this wing was built for an individual renting the castle by mason and Member of Parliament Alexander Crum, while the earl lived primarily in another of his several properties. 

In 1892, the castle was linked to Kelburn in New Zealand through David Boyle, the 7th Earl of Glasgow, who became the Governor of New Zealand that year. Through his travels, he filled the castle with countless souvenirs from New Zealand, many of which are still found in the castle and the Estate Museum. The last update before the graffiti project occurred in 1980, when the stables and estate building were converted into a tearoom, souvenir shop, and visitor center. 

The colorful graffiti added to Kelburn Castle in the 21st century has become a tourist attraction. (Jehane / CC BY NC ND 2.0)

The colorful graffiti added to Kelburn Castle in the 21st century has become a tourist attraction. (Jehane / CC BY NC ND 2.0 )

The World-Famous Street Art of Kelburn Castle

Although the castle was well-maintained throughout the last several centuries, it eventually needed some restoration. Particularly, the concrete facing of the castle needed replacement, according to an expert analysis in 2007. If the concrete facing was not replaced, some of the inner stonework would face expensive damage. Patrick Boyle, the 10th Earl of Glasgow, decided to add a bit of a twist to the new concrete siding at the request of his children. 

That year, he invited four Brazilian graffiti artists to the castle to create extensive artwork on the outer walls. The four artists, Nunca, Nina, and the Os Gêmeos twins, were more than happy to oblige. They created bright, colorful pieces on the castle, representing people and nature, in their own art styles. The four famous artists lived in the castle for over a month to complete the project. 

The renowned Brazilian graffiti artists lived at Kelburn Castle for a month while completing their artwork. (BethMoon / CC BY NC 2.0)

The renowned Brazilian graffiti artists lived at Kelburn Castle for a month while completing their artwork. (BethMoon / CC BY NC 2.0 )

Historic Scotland, the agency committed to maintaining the historic property, agreed to the Earl’s artistic request. However, it was with the expectation that the graffiti would eventually be removed once the castle was re-harled. After years of attraction due to these colorful walls, the Earl formally wrote to Historic Scotland to request the graffiti be kept permanently. Such a bold move attracted significant media attention due to the contrast between the rural castle and the urban artwork painted on it. This collaboration inspired several other artists over the last decade, and resulted in the mural’s designation as one of the world’s top ten examples of street art. 

The Kelburn Castle Graffiti Project has been named one of the top examples of street art in the world (Lee Simpson / CC BY NC ND 2.0)

The Kelburn Castle Graffiti Project has been named one of the top examples of street art in the world (Lee Simpson / CC BY NC ND 2.0 )

A Graffiti Lover’s Dream

Today, the castle still exists as both a home and a tourist attraction. The Boyle family, currently headed by Lord Patrick Boyle, still resides at the castle. The castle was first opened to the public in 1977 for families to tour and visit, which has brought in a steady income each year. It is also frequently used for special events, many of which are geared toward families and children. The grounds contain several children’s play areas, which makes it ideal for interactive outdoor experiences. 

Those who feel the romance in the air also have the opportunity to wed at Kelburn Castle. The castle currently has five licensed areas for wedding ceremonies and two different venues for receptions. No worries for those not looking to wed anytime soon – the events team also schedules other private parties, including birthdays and reunions. 

Vistors to Kelburn Castle in Scotland spend hours admiring the graffiti, as well as appreciating the extensive castle grounds (StudioMWM / CC BY NC 2.0)

Vistors to Kelburn Castle in Scotland spend hours admiring the graffiti, as well as appreciating the extensive castle grounds (StudioMWM / CC BY NC 2.0 )

Annual events held at Kelburn Castle include a haunted Halloween experience for teens and adults, and the Kelburn Garden Party. This famous music festival is held each July and brings in an average of 6,000 visitors each year. Packed full of musical and artistic performances loved by visitors of all ages, the Kelburn Garden Party is truly a one-of-a-kind experience for those who attend. 

If you ever find yourself in Scotland, be sure to check out this beautiful, historic castle. Its artwork, architecture, and gardens are sure to leave an impression on you.

Top image: The 13th century medieval Kelburn Castle in Scotland received a colourful graffiti makeover in 2007. Source: Andreas Flohr / CC BY NC ND 2.0

By Lex Leigh

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