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Ailsa Craig ( ) is an island in the outer Firth of Clydemarker, Scotlandmarker where granite was quarried to make curling stones. "Ailsa" is pronounced "ale-sa", with the first syllable stressed. The now uninhabited island is formed from the volcanic plug of an extinct volcano.

The island was a haven for Catholics during the Scottish Reformation in the 16th century, but is today a bird sanctuary, providing a home for huge numbers of gannets and an increasing number of puffins.


The island is located approximately west of Girvanmarker. Two miles (3 km) in circumference and rising to , the island consists entirely of the volcanic plug of an extinct volcano that might have been active about 500 million years ago.
It is part of to the administrative district of South Ayrshire, in the ancient parish of Daillymarker.

The lighthousemarker on its east coast faces the Scottish mainland, and a ruined keep of uncertain origins is perched on the hillside above.


Ailsa Craig in the 1840s
Ailsa Craig in the background with Dunure in 1840
Ailsa Craig was a haven for Roman Catholics during the Scottish Reformation. In 1597 the Catholic supporter, Hugh Barclay of Ladyland, took possession of Ailsa Craig, which he was intent on using as a provisioning and stopping off point for a Spanish invasion which would re-establish the Catholic faith in Scotland. He was discovered by the Protestant minister Andrew Knox and upon being discovered he either tried to escape or deliberately drowned himself in the sea off Ailsa Craig.

In 1831, the twelfth earl of Cassillis became first Marquess of Ailsa, taking the title from the Craig, which was his property.

From the mid-19th to mid-20th centuries, the island was quarried for its rare type of micro-granite with riebeckite (known as "Ailsite") which was used to make curling stones. As of 2004, 60 to 70% of all curling stones in use were made from granite from the island. The floor of the Chapel of the Thistle in St Giles Cathedral, Edinburghmarker is also made of this rock.

Ailsa Craig is now uninhabited, the lighthouse having been automated in 1990. Though quarry blasting is no longer allowed, loose granite rock from the island has been recently used for manufacture into curling stones by the Kays of Scotland company. The island is now a bird sanctuary. Huge numbers of gannet nest here and following a pioneering technique to eradicate the island's imported population of rats a growing number of puffins are choosing to return to the Craig from nearby Glunimoremarker and Sheepmarker Islands.

The island belongs to the 8th Marquess of Ailsa, 19th Earl of Cassillis.

Alternative names

The name of the island is an anglicisation of the Gaelic, Aillse Creag, or Creag Ealasaid, now understood to mean "Elizabeth's rock". The first element, Aillse, appears to represent Allt Shasann, "cliff of the English", mentioned in the Book of Leinster as Aldasain. The 10th-century Cath Maige Mucrama appears to refer to the area around Port Ríg (modern Portreemarker) as the airer Saxan ocus Bretan, "the coastland of the English and Welsh", indicating that the region's Northumbrian character was still notable to the Gaelic-speakers settling the region in this period.

As a result of being the most conspicuous landmark in the channel between Irelandmarker and Scotlandmarker, the island is known by a number of different names;

  • A' Chreag: "the rock"
  • Creag Alasdair: "Alasdair's rock"
  • Ealasaid a' Chuain: "Elizabeth of the ocean"
  • Alasan
  • Carraig Alasdair: Also "Alasdair's Rock", used in the Madness of Sweeney

The name Elizabeth is actually a corruption of Elspeth, and refers to Elspeth McCrudden, daughter of Alexander "Sawney" Bean who planted The Hairy Tree in the Ayrshire town of Girvanmarker (which is visible from Ailsa Craig). Local legend holds that Elspeth tried (unsuccessfully) to swim to Ailsa Craig to escape the mob who later hanged her from The Hairy Tree.

The island is sometimes known as Paddy's Milestone, being approximately the halfway point of the sea journey from Belfastmarker to Glasgowmarker, a traditional route of emigration for many Irishmarker labourers coming to Scotland to seek work.

The Bass Rockmarker is sometimes nicknamed "the Ailsa Craig of the East" , but its prominence in the Firth of Forthmarker is not as great as that of Ailsa Craig in the Firth of Clyde.

In April 2009, Northern Irish singer/songwriter, Foy Vance, released the EP 'Portraits Of The Artist', which contained a song titled 'Portraits of Ailsa Craig'.



  • Watson, W.J., The Celtic Place-Names of Scotland, (Edinburgh, 1926) reprinted, with an Introduction, full Watson bibliography and corrigenda by Simon Taylor (Edinburgh, 2004)

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