|OS grid reference||NX019997|
|Gaelic name||Creag Ealasaid|
|Meaning of name||Elizabeth's rock or Fairy rock|
|Area and summit|
|Area||0.38 sq.mi. (0.99 km²)|
|Highest elevation||1,110 ft (338 m)
|Island group||Firth of Clyde|
|Local Authority||South Ayrshire|
Ailsa Craig (//; Scottish Gaelic: Creag Ealasaid) is an island of 219.69 acres in the outer Firth of Clyde, 10 miles from mainland Scotland, upon which blue hone granite was quarried to make curling stones. The now uninhabited island is formed from the volcanic plug of an extinct volcano.
The island, colloquially known as "Paddy's milestone", 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 owned by The 8th Marquess of Ailsa, but since May 2011 has been up for sale. By March 2013 the asking price was for offers over £1,500,000, down from the original asking price of £2,500,000.
An early reference to the rock is made by Sir Donald Monro, Archdeacon of the Isles who referred to the rock as "Elsay" in the 16th century. The modern name of the island is an anglicisation of the Gaelic, Aillse Creag meaning "fairy rock". An alternative Gaelic name is Creag Ealasaid meaning "Elizabeth's rock". The first element, Aillse may represent Allt Shasann, "cliff of the English", mentioned in the Book of Leinster as Aldasain.
The island is sometimes known as "Paddy's Milestone", being approximately the halfway point of the sea journey from Belfast to Glasgow, a traditional route of emigration for many Irish labourers coming to Scotland to seek work.
- A' Chreag: "the rock"
- Creag Alasdair: "Alasdair's rock"
- Ealasaid a' Chuain: "Elizabeth of the ocean"
- Carraig Alasdair: "Alasdair's Rock" (used in the Madness of Sweeney, the tale of a legendary king of Ireland).
Geography and geology
The island, which is located approximately 10 miles (16 km) west of Girvan, is 2 mi (3.2 km) in circumference and rises to a height of 338 m (1,109 ft).
Geologically Ailsa Craig is the remains of a volcanic plug from an extinct volcano. It stands out because all younger sedimentary rocks covering Southwest Scotland have long since been eroded away. But the island survived erosion because it is composed of much harder igneous rocks from the Palaeogene era (65,000,000 years ago). The plug, which is composed of granite, is all that remains from the massive volcanic activity which accompanied the continental drift that formed the Atlantic Ocean. Dykes of similar age can be found in Scotland through other older rocks such as the extensive Cleveland and Eskdalemuir dykes. Though only a few metres across, these volcanic dykes can be traced all the way from northern England back to an ancient supervolcano on the Isle of Mull.
Research has shown that the granite on Ailsa Craig has an unusual crystalline composition that has a distinctive appearance but a uniform hardness. These properties have made the island's rock a favourite material for curling stones.
Facilities and ownership
The island has a fresh water spring but no electricity, gas, sewage or telephone connections. The island currently belongs to The 8th Marquess of Ailsa. In May 2011 it was announced that the island was for sale; originally given an asking price of £2,500,000, as of March 2013, the current asking price is for offers over £1,500,000.
Four cottages, a shed and a small area of adjacent land are in the ownership of the Scottish Indian business tycoon Bobby Sandhu, purchased for £85,000 from the Northern Lighthouse Board. A five-star hotel was to be built however planning regulations prevented this development.
The only surviving buildings on the island are the lighthouse on its east coast facing the Scottish mainland, a ruined towerhouse, that was built by Clan Hamilton to protect the area from King Felipe II of Spain in the 16th century and the old quarry managers house that is used by the RSPB.
Mrs Margaret Girvan ran a tearoom in a wooden building that stood next to the tacksman's cottage, famed for its pristine white table cloths and fresh scones. Mrs Girvan kept goats in stone-built goat rees or pens on the good grazing near Garry Loch. The feral billy goats were want to interfere with these nanny goats and this was another reason for their demise.
In 1590 the shipping of the Clyde was disrupted by pirates who were said to be Highlanders, quha lyis about Ailsay.
An annual hunt of the solan geese or gannets took place in the days of Robert Burns as the flesh was considered a delicacy. Robert Burns' maternal uncle, Samuel Burns was involved in the solan goose trade.
The 40 ft/12m high castle which stands on the eastern side of the island was built in the late 1500s by the Hamilton Family to protect the island from King Felipe II of Spain. The island was used as a prison during the 18th–19th century. The castle has two vaulted storeys and an oven is located in a cellar with evidence of a spiral stairway that once ran to the top of the tower. Three cinquefoils arranged in a 'V' shape are carved on the tower and indicate that the Hamilton family were linked with the structure. There are indications of an adjoining building that ran to the north.
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 Rev. Andrew Knox, a Protestant minister (who later became both Lord Bishop of the Isles and Lord Bishop of Raphoe). Barclay thereafter deliberately drowned himself in the sea or did so accidentally whilst trying to escape.
Beneath the Main Craig at the southern end of the island and 40 ft (12m) above sea level is located a cave named after the supposed smuggler MacNall. When the cave was being cleared of guano many years ago two stone coffins were found and both contained human bones. The Rev. Roderick Lawson (1831-1907) thought that one of the internments might be MacNall himself however no details of this individual have yet come to light. Ailsa Craig would have been an ideal place for the temporary hiding of contraband groups.
The island had two chapels and Thomas Pennant who visited Ailsa Craig in the 1772 recorded that the ruins of a small chapel were located near the landing place and that another chapel (which he did not visit) was located on the summit of the island and was probably used by seaman to pray for safe voyages and returns. When the lighthouse was being constructed four stone coffins were found that may well have been associated with the first mentioned chapel. The monks of Crossraguel Abbey once held the island and 'places of prayer' are therefore to be expected especially with a garrisoned castle nearby; it is to be noted that even the diminutive Lady Isle off Troon once had a chapel.
The Lighthouse, Foghorns and Gas Works
The lighthouse was automated in 1990 and converted to solar electric power in 2001; the island has been uninhabited since automation in 1990. Ailsa Craig and its lighthouse feature extensively in Peter Hill's book Stargazing: Memoirs of a Young Lighthouse Keeper.
Two substantial foghorns with concrete housings were built in 1866, one at the north end of the island near the Swine Cave reached by the 'The Loups' path and the other at East Trammins on the south end, both were powered by compressed air that was piped from the lighthouse where a gas powered compressor was housed until 1911 when oil powered engines were installed. One of the compressed air pipelines can still be seen within 'The Loups' path that was constructed above it. The compressed air cylinders that held the required 'store' of air are still prominent features, especially at the Trammins foghorn. Both foghorns were decommissioned in 1966 and a Tyfon fog signal was used until 1987 when improvements in ship navigation made it also redundant.
The gas works are still a prominent feature on the island and the cable powered tramway was partly built to haul wagons full of coal up to it from the North Port. Two gasometers held the coal gas that powered both the compressed air pump and the lighthouse light, however in 1911 the light was converted to incandescent lighting which was powered by electricity. The gas works became redundant at this time.
The Railways of Ailsa Craig
Ailsa Craig had two quite separate rail transport systems, one dated from 1886 and supplied coal, oil fuel and provisions to the lighthouse and gas works via the North Port and later the New Jetty and the other transported road stone from the quarries at Kennedy's Nags via the stone crusher to the Quarry Pier. The Northern Lighthouse Board's tramway had a section worked via a powered cable way that hauled wagons up from the North Port and later from the New jetty. This well built tram line is largely intact and has a gauge of 3 feet with a junction/points at the gas works and a further set of points that led to a siding that ran down parallel to the gable end of the gas works to presumably collect the coal ash for disposal. The 'main line' runs on down to the lighthouse and its ancillary buildings, taking a right angle bend to run parallel to the southern end of the lighthouse buildings block. This section of the line was worked by hand and at least two wagons remain at the site together with a set of spare wheels at the gas works.
The mineral line was built by the Ailsa Craig Granite Company Ltd. in 1909 and ran from the quarry at Kennedy's Nags via the stone crusher near the South Foghorn to the Quarry Pier. This crudely constructed narrow gauge line was mainly horse drawn although wagons were also moved by hand or hauled up inclines by winding engines. The mineral railway at the quarry end had a least one siding and a mobile steam crane loaded the larger granite blocks into the wagons that were transported to the stone crusher at the Trammins near the south foghorn, smaller stones being loaded and even moved by hand. Wagons or bogies were winched up to the substantial stone crusher and gravity was used to deliver the different grades of road stone to the wagons below that were then hauled by horses to the Quarry Pier via a line that ran in front of the lighthouse buildings and took a tight right angles bend to run up the substantial stone built incline to the storage area in preparation for delivery via sea transport to the mainland.
Photographs taken in the late 19th century show the horse drawn wagons passing in front of the lighthouse and portray the substantial railway incline and storage area. At times the production outstripped the storage capacity and a photograph shows at least three piles of different grades of road stone stockpiled in front of the lighthouse enclosure. The track at the crusher had a siding that ran to the crusher and a set of points that led to the Quarry Pier 'main line'. The Ailsa Craig Granite Company was never a financially sound business and effectively closed in 1928. The course of the mineral line is still evident near the quarries as a linear embankment that ends below Kennedy's Nag. Various artefacts of the quarry enterprise remain, including concrete blocks at Kennedy's Nag and steel and concrete remnants of the stone crusher near the south foghorn.
From the mid-19th the island has been quarried for its rare type of micro-granite with riebeckite (known as "Ailsite") which is used to make stones for the sport of curling. As of 2004, 60 to 70% of all curling stones in use were made from granite from the island and is one of only two sources for all stones in the sport, the other being the Trefor Granite Quarry in Wales.
Ailsa Craig produced two types of granite for curling, Blue Hone and Ailsa Craig Common Green. Blue Hone has very low water absorption, which prevents the action of repeatedly freezing water from eroding the stone. Ailsa Craig Common Green is a lesser quality granite than Blue Hone. In the past, most curling stones were made from Blue Hone but the quarry is restricted by environmental conditions that exclude blasting.
Kays of Scotland has been making curling stones since 1851 and has the exclusive rights to the Ailsa Craig granite, granted by the Marquess of Ailsa. The last "harvest" of Ailsa Craig granite by Kays took place in 2013, after a hiatus of 11 years; 2,000 tons were harvested, sufficient to fill anticipated orders through at least 2020.
Pennant and others have noted that the only trees that grow on the island are elders Sambucus nigra or bourtrees in the Scots dialect, that are found as a grove known as 'The Bourtrees' located at the Trammins on the southern end of the island. This visitor also rather quaintly mentions that he was surprised to find three species of 'reptiles' by which he meant molluscs, namely a naked black slug, the garden snail Helix aspersa and one of the common striped snails of the Cepaea genus. He speculated that they had accidentally been brought over from the mainland secreted within vegetables.
Slow worms Anguis fragilis are found on the island.
The mammals fauna included rabbits and at one time goats whilst pigs were bred here as food for the inhabitants. The billy goats were shot for sport in the 19th century and no longer survive, only a mounted head of one remains at the McKechnie Institute in Girvan. The rabbits and goats may have been originally introduced to supply food for the fishermen and were mention by Pennant in 1772.
Rats were probably introduced via shipwrecks and caused great harm to the nesting bird populations with the Puffins proving vulnerable to the extent of extinction as breeding birds. After a long campaign using pioneering techniques the rats were eradicated in 1991 and now puffins are once again raising young on the island with many other benefits accruing to both the fauna and the flora. It is thought that the puffins recolonised Ailsa Craig from Glunimore and Sheep Islands.
It is recorded by the Rev Roderick Lawson that one of the Marquises of Ailsa released badgers and raccoons on the island, the latter certainly have not survived.
In a small glen above Ailsa castle a small freshwater body known as the Garry Loch is located at an altitude of 790ft / 247m.
Eastern coast of Ailsa Craig photographed from HMS Campbeltown (F86).
Summit ridge (338 m) across the Firth of Clyde.
- Area and population ranks: there are c. 300 islands >20ha in extent and 93 permanently inhabited islands were listed in the 2011 census.
- 2001 UK Census per List of islands of Scotland
- Haswell-Smith (2004) p.2
- "Ordnance Survey". Ordnance Survey. 2012-07-03. Retrieved 2012-08-04.
- Mac an Tàilleir (2003) p. 3
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- "Ailsa Criag". Media.primelocation.com. Retrieved 2012-08-26.
- "UK property for sale". Primelocation.co.uk. Retrieved March 1, 2013.
- Monro (1549) no. 2
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- Watson (1926) p. 173
- PADDY'S MILESTONE 1947 Film. ssa.nls.uk.
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- "Beyond Plate Tectonics: Plumes, Hotspots, Supervolcanoes and Diamonds". Centre for Advanced Study at the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters. Retrieved 14 February 2014.
- Ailsa Craig Retrieved 2007-10-17
- "Ailsa Craig island in Firth of Clyde put up for sale". BBC News. Retrieved 1 March 2013.
- 'Ailsa Craig, granite jewel of the Firth of Clyde, finally finds a buyer'.
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- Pennant, Pages 217–218
- Robertson, George (1823). A Genealogical Account of the Principal Families in Ayrshire, more particularly in Cunninghame. Vol.1. Pub. Irvine: Cunninghame press. pp. 72–73.
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- Northern Lighthouse Board - Automation of lighthouse Retrieved on 2008-01-28
- Tait, Page 25
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- Tait, Page 24
- Tait, Page 14
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- Tait, Page 30
- National Geographic Retrieved on 2009-07-19
- http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/0/winter-olympics/26253664 10 things you didn't know about curling
- "About Curling/Stones". Anchorage Curling Club. Retrieved 4 August 2012.[dead link]
- "News". Kays of Scotland. Retrieved 4 August 2012.
- Tait, Page 27
- Pennant, Page 216
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- "RSPB stress importance of Ailsa Craig, but are not in negotiations to purchase iconic landmark". RSPB. Retrieved 14 July 2011.
- Tate, Page 76
- Tait, Page 38
- Clancy, Thomas Owen (2008), "The Gall-Ghàidheil and Galloway", Journal of Scottish Name Studies 2: 19–50, ISSN 1747-7387
- Haswell-Smith, Hamish (2004). The Scottish Islands. Edinburgh: Canongate. ISBN 978-1-84195-454-7.
- Iain Mac an Tàilleir (2003). "Placenames" (PDF). Pàrlamaid na h-Alba. Archived from the original on 21 August 2010. Retrieved 23 July 2010.
- Lawson, Roderick (1888). Ailsa Craig Its History & Natural History. Paisley : J & R Parlane.
- Monro, Sir Donald (1549) A Description Of The Western Isles of Scotland. Appin Regiment/Appin Historical Society. Retrieved 3 March 2007. First published in 1774.
- Paterson, James (1863–66). History of the Counties of Ayr and Wigton. V. - I - Kyle. Edinburgh: J. Stillie.
- Pennant, Thomas (1776). Tour in Scotland and Voyage to the Hebrides. Chester : John Monk.
- Purdie, David; McCue Kirsteen and Carruthers, Gerrard. (2013). Maurice Lindsay's The Burns Encyclopaedia. London : Robert Hale. ISBN 978-0-7090-9194-3.
- Tait, Norman T. (2005). Kirk on the Craig. Pub. Friends of the McKechnie Institute.
- 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)
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Ailsa Craig.|
- Photo Tour of Trip to the Island
- Entry on the Maybole Home Page
- Ailsa Craig Index — computer-generated virtual panoramas
- Pictures of Ailsa Craig
- Ailsa Craig, 1868 at the Historical Society of Philadelphia