Ailsa Craig

Ailsa Craig
Ailsa Craig
Ailsa Craig is located in Scotland
Ailsa Craig
Ailsa Craig shown within Scotland
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)
Area rank 149=
Highest elevation 1,110 ft (338 m)
(a Marilyn)
Population 0
Island group Firth of Clyde
Local Authority South Ayrshire
Flag of Scotland.svg Lymphad3.svg
References [1][2][3][4]
If shown, area and population ranks are for all Scottish islands and all inhabited Scottish islands respectively. Population data is from 2001 census.

Ailsa Craig (Scottish Gaelic: Creag Ealasaid) is an island in the outer Firth of Clyde, Scotland where blue hone granite is 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 10 miles (16 km) west of Girvan. Two miles (3 km) in circumference and rising to 1,110 feet (340 m), the island consists entirely of the volcanic plug of an extinct volcano that might have been active about 500 million years ago.[5]

Ailsa Craig from the north

It is part of the administrative district of South Ayrshire, in the ancient parish of Dailly.

The lighthouse 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 thereafter either tried to escape or deliberately drowned himself in the sea off Ailsa Craig.[6]

The island was used as a prison during the 18th-19th century.

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 is used to make curling stones. As of 2004, 60 to 70% of all curling stones in use were made from granite from the island.[7] The floor of the Chapel of the Thistle in St Giles Cathedral, Edinburgh is also made of this rock.

Ailsa Craig is now uninhabited, the lighthouse having been automated in 1990.[8] Ailsa Craig and its lighthouse feature extensively in Peter Hill's book Stargazing: Memoirs of a Young Lighthouse Keeper. 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.[9] The island is now a bird sanctuary, leased by the RSPB until 2050.[10] Huge numbers of gannets 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 Glunimore and Sheep Islands.

The island belongs to the 8th Marquess of Ailsa, 19th Earl of Cassillis. In May 2011 it was announced the island was for sale.[11]


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.[12] The modern name of the island is an anglicisation of the Gaelic, Aillse Creag meaning "fairy rock".[2] An alternative Gaelic name is Creag Ealasaid meaning "Elizabeth's rock".[2][4] The first element, Aillse may represent Allt Shasann, "cliff of the English", mentioned in the Book of Leinster as Aldasain.[13][14]

The island is sometimes known as "Paddy's Milestone",[4][15] 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.

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

  • A' Chreag: "the rock"[4]
  • Creag Alasdair: "Alasdair's rock"[2]
  • Ealasaid a' Chuain: "Elizabeth of the ocean"[4]
  • Alasan[4]
  • Carraig Alasdair: "Alasdair's Rock", (used in the Madness of Sweeney the tale of a legendary king of Ireland).[2]

The Bass Rock is sometimes nicknamed "the Ailsa Craig of the East",[16] although its prominence in the Firth of Forth is not as great as that of Ailsa Craig in the Firth of Clyde.

In the arts

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'.[17]



  1. ^ 2001 UK Census per List of islands of Scotland
  2. ^ a b c d e Haswell-Smith (2004) p.2
  3. ^ Ordnance Survey
  4. ^ a b c d e f Mac an Tàilleir (2003) p. 3
  5. ^ Ailsa Craig Retrieved on 2007-10-17
  6. ^ Robertson, George (1823), A Genealogical Account of the Principal Families in Ayrshire, more particularly in Cunninghame. Vol.1. Pub. Irvine: Cunninghmae press. pp. 72 -73.
  7. ^ National Geographic Retrieved on 2009-07-19
  8. ^ Northern Lighthouse Board - Automation of lighthouse Retrieved on 2008-01-28
  9. ^ Kays of Scotland website Retrieved on 2009-07-19
  10. ^ "RSPB stress importance of Ailsa Craig, but are not in negotiations to purchase iconic landmark". RSPB. Retrieved 14 July 2011.
  11. ^ "Ailsa Craig island in Firth of Clyde put up for sale". BBC News. Retrieved 14 July 2011.
  12. ^ Monro (1549) no. 2
  13. ^ Clancy (2008) pp. 33–34
  14. ^ Watson (1926) p. 173
  15. ^ PADDY'S MILESTONE 1947 Film.
  16. ^ "The Bass Rock". History of Leith. Retrieved 20 October 2009. 
  17. ^ "Portraits of the Artist" Retrieved 19 Feb 2011.


External links

Coordinates: 55°15′7″N 5°6′59″W / 55.25194°N 5.11639°W / 55.25194; -5.11639

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