The History of Leith

November 18, 2004

Roll out the barrel

IT was once the world’s most feared weapon and for hundreds of years it guarded Edinburgh Castle from atop the ramparts.

But concerns over the deteriorating condition of Mons Meg doomed the legendary medieval siege gun to two decades of exile in the Castle’s bowels.

Now, the landmark cannon has been returned to its place of honour in a tricky operation which has also ended the ancient mystery of just how much the massive relic weighs.

Final preparations were yesterday under way to remove the gun from the Castle’s vaults and hoist it back into the open air near St Margaret’s Chapel.

Experts have removed all traces of modern paint from the 15th-century bombard and given it a sophisticated covering which they are convinced will make it victorious in the battle with the elements.

A Historic Scotland spokeswoman today said: “Paint technology has advanced so much in 20 years that we’re confident she can stand up to the weather.”

Two cranes, which can measure cargo to the kilogram, were employed to return the giant to its traditional home overlooking the New Town. Mons Meg was winched out from the dungeons last night and trucked up to near where the One O’Clock Gun stands. Shortly after sunrise today, a 90-tonne crane with a 52-metre telescopic arm lifted it up and placed it on the ramparts.

The crane’s sophisticated scale revealed that Mons Meg weighs 5.7 tonnes, slightly less than the six tonnes predicted by historians.

After several hours of work last night crews this morning returned to the Castle at 5am to complete the job before visitors arrived.

Jimmy Rafferty, director of Gilmerton-based crane firm Bernard Hunter, said he was honoured to be working with such an artefact. He added: ” “It went perfectly. We’re delighted that everything went to plan.”

Forged in Mons, Belgium, in 1449, the medieval weapon has spent the last 550 years as a war gun, ceremonial gun, museum piece and an admired piece of Scotland’s military heritage.

It was a gift to James II from the Duke of Burgundy in 1457. Needing a crew of 100, it could fire eight gunstones and move three miles daily. It boasted a 2.5-mile range and saw action against the English at the siege of Norham Castle in 1497.

It was used in 1558 to mark the marriage of Mary Queen of Scots to the French Dauphin, but its barrel burst when last fired in 1681 to mark the birthday of King James VII.

The damaged gun rusted for decades before being moved to the Tower of London in 1754.

A cheering crowd met Mons Meg at Leith docks after Sir Walter Scott convinced King George IV to return it to Scotland in 1829. It was moved indoors in 1980.

Castle gunner Tom McKay said: “Mons Meg is the equivalent of a nuclear submarine today. If you go back to the 1400s, nobody in the world had anything in comparison with it.

“It’s quite a crowd-puller at the Castle, and it’s nice to see that something that goes back to the 1400s is still being looked after and conserved. It would be a terrific honour to be able to fire it.”

A welcoming ceremony will be held for Mons Meg in July.

Historic Scotland plans to transform the 18th-century Queen Anne building where Mons Meg was stored into a visitor centre, with displays on the life prisoners endured.

JASON CUMMING
Tuesday, 19th June 2001
Evening News

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