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Irvine (Gaelic: Irbhinn) is a coastal new town in North Ayrshire, Scotland. According to recent population estimates (2007), the town is home to 39,527 as the largest settlement within North Ayrshire.

Irvine was the site of Scotland's 12th century Military Capital and former headquarters of the Lord High Constable of Scotland, Hugh de Morville. It also served as the Capital of Cunninghame. The town was once a haunt of Robert Burns, after whom two streets in the town are named: Burns Street and Burns Crescent. He is known to have worked in a flax mill on the Glasgow Vennell. Despite being classed as a new town, Irvine has had a long history stretching back many centuries and was classed as a Royal Burgh. There are also conflicting rumours that Mary, Queen of Scots was briefly involved in the town's history. Some say she stayed briefly at Seagate Castle. To this day there is still an annual festival, called Marymass, held in the town.

Irvine is the birthplace of the present Deputy First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon and the former First Minister of Scotland, Jack McConnell. Its twin town is Saint-Amand-les-Eauxmarker in northern France just outside Lillemarker.



Part of modern Irvine contains the oldest continually inhabited village in Europe. Dreghornmarker, formerly a separate village, appears to contain archaeological remains dating back to the first incursions of man into Scotland (Mesolithic). Numerous ancient sites pepper the region. Iron Age Hill forts are abundant.

The Grannie stone (or Granny Stane) is described as "one of Irvine's prehistoric puzzles", this boulder is either left behind from the Ice Age or is the last remaining stone of a stone circle - others were removed, by blasting, after the Irvine weir was constructed in 1895, but popular protests saved this remaining stone. The Grannie Stane is visible when the water is low.

Medieval history

The medieval parish of Irvine was one of the most important regions in Scotland. Originally the site of the Military Headquarters of the Lord High Constable of Scotland, it would later serve as home to no fewer than three kings. King John Balliol inherited the lordship of Irvine sometime in the mid-13th century. Robert the Bruce, in an attempt to seize Balliol's lands, made sure that he secured the town. From Bruce it passed to his grandson Robert the Steward, future King Robert II.

Bourtreehillmarker, the only major Estate in the parish, was periodically possessed by all three kings and the Constables of Scotland before them.


Irvine 'Old Town' High Street, early 19th century

The harbour for Irvine has a long history and once was one of the most prominent ports in Scotland after Glasgowmarker. Across from the main harbour itself there was a terminal for the ICI-Nobel Explosives plant on the River Garnock. Much of the harbour went into decline in the 19th century when Glasgow, Greenockmarker and Port Glasgowmarker achieved higher prominence as sea ports. Despite this, there was still commercial sea traffic, though the harbour went into further decline in the 20th century. The main shipping in the 20th century was light coastal traffic and vessels destined for the Nobel Explosives facility. This facility had its own quay, which, although now disused, is still visible from Irvine Harbour. A shipyard on the River Irvinemarker, the Ayrshire Dockyard Company, remained active until after World War II, though its last ship was built just prior to the war.

Afterwards it was involved in refitting ships and also in the manufacture of fittings for other vessels including the Cunard liner Queen Elizabeth 2. Irvine Harbour is now officially closed as a commercial port and houses a small number of privately owned pleasure craft. It is also home to part of the Scottish Maritime Museum with numerous vessels on display, including the 'Spartan', one of the last surviving Clyde puffers.

Irvine Harbour is home to a unique and distinctive building which marked the tide level. It was built in 1906 and devised by Martin Boyd, the harbourmaster at that time. The Automatic tide signalling apparatusmarker indicated the tide's state in two ways depending on the time of day. During daylight, the level was marked with a ball and pulley system attached to the mast. At night, a number of lamps marked the tidal level. Unfortunately the building has fallen into some disrepair and the mast partially dismantled. There have been plans to try to refurbish this unusual building which so far, have come to nothing.
The old 'Big Idea' building and the footbridge.
The harbour and surrounding area became an area heavily blighted by industrial waste even long after some of the industries were gone. There was a waste bing known by the locals as 'The Blue Billy' due to the colour of the waste there. During World War II a Royal Observer Corps watchtower was sited here giving a wide overall view of the Firth of Clydemarker. It is also credited with the first visual sighting of Rudolf Hess's Messerschmitt 110 in 1941.

Irvine Harbour was a prime target for Adolf Hitler's invasion of the British Isles, being a major boating district and also in near vicinity to the ICI weapons development.

The Big Idea

As part of the Millennium celebrations, an exhibition known as 'The Big Idea' opened in 2000. It was constructed on the north side of the River Irvinemarker near the former Nobel quay. A footbridge from the harbour area was constructed, although it had to be able to open and close to still allow the small pleasure craft to pass.

'The Big Idea' closed in 2003, due to low visitor numbers.

The Hulk

The hulk of the historic clipper ship, City of Adelaidemarker, was moved to a dry dock near the inner harbour in 1992.

New Town

Unlike most new towns which were either completely newly built or based around small villages, Irvine was already a sizeable town which had been a Royal Burgh since 1372.A quango, the Irvine Development Corporation (IDC), was set up in the 1960s to oversee the development of Irvine as a 'new town'. The organisation was given the planning powers of the Royal Burgh of Irvine Town Council, Kilwinning Town Council and the Irvine Landward District Council. This involved massive and sometimes controversial development of the old parts of the town. Irvine was officially designated as a New Town in 1966, the fifth and last to be developed in Scotland and the only 'new town' to be located on the coast. The other Scottish 'New Towns' were East Kilbridemarker, Glenrothesmarker, Cumbernauldmarker and Livingstonmarker.

IDC was widely criticised for some of their actions including the demolition of large swathes of the Fullarton part of the town, the Bridge and most of Bridgegate in 1972 and 1973. One positive development of IDC's was the Irvine Beach Park from 1975 and the Magnum Leisure Centre opened in 1976. This area, behind the harbour had been largely industrial wasteland for many years and was regarded as an eyesore. The area was developed with vast amounts of greenery making it a pleasant place to walk. IDC, and also the Urban Regeneration Company, have plans to redevelop much of the waterfront area. Surrounding towns and villages along the coastline are included in a number of the regeneration proposals.

The provisions of The New Town (Irvine) Winding Up Order 1993 officially ended the New Town Designation on 31 December 1996. This marked the end of the Irvine Development Corporation and the return of full planning control of the area back to the local authority.


Coat of arms of the Royal Burgh of Irvine
Irvine was granted its first Burgh Charter around 1249. This entitled the town to organise its own affairs under a Town Council. In circa 1372 a dispute arose between Irvine and Ayrmarker as to which of the two burghs had rights to control trade in the Barony of Cunninghame and Barony of Largs. The Burgess of Irvine were able to produce Royal Charters showing that the town had the right to control trade in the Baronies of Cunninghame and Largs. The dispute was resolved by Robert II's Royal Charter of 8 April 1372 conferring Royal Burgh status.

Originally Fullarton remained outwith the Royal Burgh of Irvine as a distinct village and latterly burgh in its own right in the Parish of Dundonaldmarker until the Irvine Burgh Act 1881 extended the town's boundaries.

Irvine continued to administer itself with the usual Royal Burgh administrative arrangements of Provost, Bailies and Burgess. Responsibility for public health, schools and strategic services such as roads passed to Ayr County Councilmarker in 1930 when the town was re-classified as a Small Burgh. On 16 May 1975 the Royal Burgh of Irvine Town Council was abolished and its functions were transferred to the now defunct Cunninghame District Council. One of the last acts of the old town council was to present the bulk of the Royal Burgh records and the Provost's regalia to the Irvine Burns Club Museum on Eglinton Street.

There is a Community council in Irvine. However, unlike counterparts elsewhere in Scotland, it opts not to use 'Royal Burgh of' in its title.

The motto used on the coat of arms of the Royal Burgh is 'Tandem Bona Causa Triumphat.' This means the Good Cause Triumphs in the end.

The Westminster Constituency of Central Ayrshire is currently held by the Labour Party. The Member of Parliament is Brian Donohoe.

The Scottish Parliament Constituency of Cunninghame South is currently held by the Labour Party. The Member of the Scottish Parliament is Irene Oldfather

Geography and Climate

Irvine is situated in low lying Ayrshire on the Firth of Clydemarker. It is a coastal town and lies approximately 25 miles southwest of Glasgow. Most of the land in and around Irvine is very flat. Two rivers flow through the area, one being the River Irvinemarker and the other being the Annick Watermarker. The Annick Water is very popular for fishing. The area experiences relatively cool summers and mild winters, although frosts in the area are not uncommon. Part of the reason why this part of Scotland is particularly mild is the influence from the sea air, with summer temperatures lower than their continental counterparts and higher during the winter. Generally rainfall is plentiful throughout the year due to Atlantic weather systems sweeping in from the west. Snow is rare in this part of Scotland because of the milder air and the many hills and mountains towards the north, these hills tend to serve as a rain shadow on the occasions during winter when north to northwesterly winds blow in snow showers to many other parts of Scotland. Although snowfall is rare, events such as those in March 2006 and the Christmas period of 1995 brought the area to a standstill.

The average conditions in Irvine do not vary much throughout the year, with daily maxima typically reaching 19C during the warmest month of August and typically around 6C during the coldest winter month in January. On average during the winter the low is around 2C. Again due to the cooling and warming effect during summer and winter, the warmest summer month is August and the coldest temperatures are typically experienced during the end of January.

Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Avg high °C (°F) 7 (45) 8 (46) 10 (50) 12 (54) 15 (59) 17 (63) 18 (64) 19 (66) 17 (63) 13 (55) 10 (50) 7 (45) 13 (55)
Avg low °C (°F) 2 (36) 3 (38) 4 (40) 5 (41) 7 (45) 10 (50) 12 (54) 12 (54) 10 (50) 8 (46) 6 (43) 3 (38) 6 (43)


Irvine is well served with numerous transport links. A railway stationmarker, originally built by the Glasgow and South Western Railway Company, is situated at the west end of the town which is on the main line between Stranraermarker and Glasgowmarker. The railway company responsible for local routes is First ScotRail who operate the carmine and cream liveried Diesel and Electric Multiple units of the former Strathclyde Passenger Transport Executive. A comprehensive local bus network, coupled with frequent services to Ardrossanmarker, Greenockmarker, Kilmarnockmarker, Ayrmarker, Troonmarker and Glasgow, is provided by Stagecoach West Scotland.

There are two primary road crossings over the River Irvine, the more southerly of which has been criticised for some years. It is situated on the site of the former Irvine to Kilmarnock railway link which has long since been closed. The bridge over the river there has long been unsuitable for heavy traffic being of a Bailey Bridge design which has been constantly repaired over the years. North Ayrshire Council has announced plans to renew the bridge in a £2m investment scheduled to start in 2007.

Irvine is also well served by several arterial roads, namely the A78 (Greenock to Prestwickmarker), A71 (Irvine to Kilmarnock and beyond to Edinburgh), A737 (through the Garnock Valley to Glasgow International Airportmarker and the M8) and the A736 (to Barrheadmarker and Govanmarker).

Irvine's local bus service

Local routes provided by Stagecoach Western Buses Ltd.

Express routes from the town provided by Stagecoach

Other routes provided by other companies

Irvine New Town Trail

The Irvine New Town Trail passes through a lot of the surrounding areas of Irvine; it forms part of the British National Cycle Network with routes 7 and 73 forming part of the route. The route forms a ring around the town and passes through Kilwinningmarker, Bourtreehillmarker, Girdle Toll and Dreghornmarker and passes through the town centre of Irvine.


Irvine is served by 12 primary schools and 3 secondary schools. These areAnnick Primary (opened 1980),Broomlands Primary (opened 1977),Castlepark Primary,Fencedyke Primary (opened 1979),Glebe Primary (opened 1974),John Galt Primary (opened 1960),Lawthorn Primary (opened 2000),Loudoun Montgomerey Primary,St John Ogilvie Primary (opened 1984),St Mark's Primary,Towerlands Primary (opened 1975),Woodlands Primary (new building opened 2003),Greenwood Academy (new building opened 2007),Irvine Royal Academy (formed from the merger of Irvine Royal and Ravenspark in present building in 1992) andSt Matthew's Academy, Saltcoats (new build opened in 2007 to meet the needs of Roman Catholic students in Irvine). There are also 2 special schools serving the town namely Haysholm and Stanecastle schools.

Notable residents

Notable visitors

The Drukken Steps / Saint Bryde's Well commemorative cairn.
The plaque relates that this was a favourite haunt of Robert Burns and his friend Richard Brown.



The River Irvinemarker with the town in the background.
The River Garnock with the old ICI Explosives jetty to the left.
Looking seaward towards the Scottish Maritime Museum's pontoons, with the closed 'Big Idea' building and footbridge in the background.
Image:Irinescottish maritime museum.JPG|
The Scottish Maritime Museum with the old ICI Explosives tug MV Garnock to the right.
The ship exhibits at the pontoons.
The Clyde 'Puffer' MV Spartan at the slipway.
The Linthouse Building from the front.
A view near the Linthouse Building.

Irvine 'Old Town'

Image:Irvinecadgersracecourse2.JPG|The Cadgers' Racecourse looking towards the old Ravenspark Hospital.Image:Stinanswellirvine1.JPG|St. Inan's Well near the Old Parish Kirk dated 839 AD.Image:Irvineoldparishchurch.JPG|The Old Parish Kirk.Image:Irvinepowderhouse2.JPG|The Old Powder or Pouther Magazine dating from 1642, built by order of King James VI.File:Heckling Shop Irvine.JPG|The Heckling Shop in the Glasgow Vennel where Robert Burns worked 1781-1782.File:Stooks at Irvine, 1903.jpg|Irvine in 1903‎File:Irvine and the old kirk, 1904.jpg|Irvine circa 1904File:Irvine, 1903, Ayrshire.jpg|An old view of Irvine

Further interest

New Towns

Surroundings villages, hamlets and items of interest


  1. Clipper Ship 'City of Adelaide' - Timeline
  2. Wilson, Professor.(1870) The Works of Robert Burns, Pub. Blackie & son. London.

External links

Further reading

  • Cowling, D (1997) An Essay for Today: the Scottish New Towns 1947-1997 (Rutland Press, Edinburgh)
  • McJannet, A (1938) "The Royal Burgh of Irvine"
  • Pettigrew, D (1997) Old Irvine
  • Stirrat, N (1998) Irvine
  • Strawhorn, J (1985) "The History of Irvine: From Royal Burgh to New Town"
  • M, A.J. (2008) "Secret History of Irvine: Irvine Times"

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