Ailsa Craig

Iain Kennedy

Copyright © 2007 Iain Kennedy

Last updated May 28th, 2006 (Neolithic section)

img/ailsa_from_train.JPG (1109207 bytes)

Ailsa Craig viewed from the train near Girvan (click image for full size version)

In 1888 the Reverend Lawson of Maybole, author of many books on the history of the area, wrote a book called 'Ailsa Craig' all about the history and natural history of the rock. You can find an original copy of the book with a handwritten dedication from the author at the library in Maybole. If you want to buy a reprinted copy I believe it can be obtained from Ainslie Books in Girvan, details of whom can be found at the bottom of this page.

In the book, Lawson explains how Ailsa has in recorded history only ever belonged to three different sets of people; the Earls of Carrick, the Abbots of Crossraguel and the Earls of Cassillis (quite a strong Kennedy theme there!). At the start of the twentieth century it can be seen still belonging to Cassillis in the Valuation Rolls for Ayrshire which can be found at the Carnegie Library in Ayr.

Valuation Roll of County of Ayr 1899-1900. Parish of Dailly (sic - a landbound parish!) p 39

Ailsa Rock: owner Marquis of Ailsa: tenant Andrew Girvan, fisher, Maidens annual rent 30; William Girvan, fisher, Girvan, annual rent 30.

In one respect we must update the good Reverend; in 2004 it was handed to the RSPB to preserve its fabulous bird colonies (much discussed in the 1888 book!). You can read the RSPB material on the reserve here. They have a much better picture of it than I have, I have only viewed Ailsa from the coast at Culzean and Girvan and from the Stranraer-Belfast ferry. I hope to get some closer-up pictures up at a later date. You can take a boat tour to the rock. I have been advised that Ailsa (or his estate) still owns the rock and gave the RSPB a lease.

One curious aspect of the ownership story is the existence of the Hamilton family coat of arms on the wall of Ailsa Castle. This, speculates the author, was due to custody (note, not ownership) of the rock being given to one Thomas Hamilton in 1597. He had no right to place his arms on the walls though!

The castle has an entry in MacGibbon and Ross's 1889 book 'Castellated and Domestic Architecture of Scotland' which can be found at the Carnegie Library in Ayr.

'A small keep perched on one of the few shoulders which project from the precipitous slope of the solitary Craig. The island rises abruptly from the sea about ten miles from the Ayrshire coast opposite Girvan. ... The history of this remote and inaccessible tower is quite unknown [he obviously hadn't read Lawson's new book!]. The structure bears some resemblance to the Tower at Kildonan in the south of Arran and may perhaps have been created by a branch of the clan to which it belonged. ' (there is more on the pure structure of the building in the book and a sketch).

Sir Archibald Kennedy was created 1st Baron Ailsa on 12 November 1806 and created 1st Marquess of Ailsa on 10 September 1831.

Ailsa in the Neolithic (added May 28th 2006).

The rock is discussed in 'Scotland In Ancient Europe' in Gabriel Cooney's chapter on Neolithic stone axe quarries. Here are some brief extracts.

'... it seems appropriate to start with Paddy's Milestone or Ailsa Craig at the mouth of the Clyde estuary, halfway on the modern sea journey between Glasgow and Belfast. This was a stone quarry site in the 19th and 20th centuries when the well-known microgranite was quarried for street setts and curling-stones. There is an interesting combination of circumstances here that may be useful to reflect on when we look at the Neolithic stone quarry sites. The location is a very specific type of place: an island, the Fairy Rock, and the stone source were exploited both for what might be deemed economic, functional products; the street setts, and also for objects, the curling stones, which were used in  very specific sporting (ceremonial) contexts. For a while Ailsa Craig microgranite was regarded as providing the best quality curling-stone and was exported to wherever curling was played. So there were echoes and resonances of Ailsa Craig in the widespread locations where such curling stones were valued and used.'

To find out what the Neolithic context of these comments are, check out the book which can be purchased from the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland.

Gabriel Cooney is at the Department of Archaelogy, University College Dublin.