Ailsa Craig

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Ailsa Craig
Location
Ailsa Craig is located in South Ayrshire
Ailsa Craig
Ailsa Craig
Ailsa Craig shown within South Ayrshire
OS grid reference NX019997
Names
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 150=[1]
Highest elevation 1,110 ft (338 m)
(a Marilyn)
Population
Population 0
Groupings
Island group Firth of Clyde
Local Authority South Ayrshire
Flag of Scotland.svg Lymphad3.svg
References [2][3][4][5]

Ailsa Craig (/ˈlsə/; 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",[6] 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.[6][7][8]

Etymology[edit]

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.[9] The modern name of the island is an anglicisation of the Gaelic, Aillse Creag meaning "fairy rock".[3] An alternative Gaelic name is Creag Ealasaid meaning "Elizabeth's rock".[3][5] The first element, Aillse may represent Allt Shasann, "cliff of the English", mentioned in the Book of Leinster as Aldasain.[10][11]

The island is sometimes known as "Paddy's Milestone",[5][12] 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"[5]
  • Creag Alasdair: "Alasdair's rock"[3]
  • Ealasaid a' Chuain: "Elizabeth of the ocean"[5]
  • Alasan[5]
  • Carraig Alasdair: "Alasdair's Rock" (used in the Madness of Sweeney, the tale of a legendary king of Ireland).[3]

The Bass Rock is sometimes nicknamed "the Ailsa Craig of the East",[13] although its prominence in the Firth of Forth is not as great as that of Ailsa Craig in the Firth of Clyde.

Geography and geology[edit]

Map of Ailsa Craig

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.[14]

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 has made the island's rock a great favourite material for curling stones.[15]

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

The only surviving buildings on the island is its lighthouse on its east coast facing the Scottish mainland, and a ruined towerhouse, that was built by Clan Hamilton to protect the area from King Felipe II of Spain in the 16th century.[7]

History[edit]

Ailsa Craig in the 1840s.
Ailsa Craig in the background with Dunure in 1840.

In 1590 the shipping of the Clyde was disrupted by pirates who were said to be Highlanders, quha lyis about Ailsay.[16]

The 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.[7]

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 either tried to escape or deliberately drowned himself in the sea off Ailsa Craig.[17]

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

In 1831, The 12th Earl of Cassilis became first Marquess of Ailsa, taking the title from the Craig, which was his property.

The Lighthouse was built between 1883 and 1886 by Thomas Stevenson; it is owned by the Northern Lighthouse Board.[7]

The lighthouse was automated in 1990 and converted to solar electric power in 2001; the island has been uninhabited since automation in 1990.[7][18] 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.[19] The island is now a bird sanctuary, leased by the RSPB until 2050.[20] 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.

An annual hunt of the solan geese or gannets took place in the days of Robert Burns as the flesh was considered a delicacy.[21] Robert Burns' maternal uncle, Samuel Burns was involved in the solan goose trade.[21]

The island has a fresh water spring but no electricity, gas, sewage or telephone connections.[7] The island currently belongs to The 8th Marquess of Ailsa.[6] 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.[6][8][22]

Curling stones[edit]

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 [23] and is one of only two sources for all stones in the sport, the other being the Trefor Granite Quarry in Wales.[24]

Ailsa Craig produces 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.[25] 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.[26]

Gallery[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Area and population ranks: there are c. 300 islands >20ha in extent and 93 permanently inhabited islands were listed in the 2011 census.
  2. ^ 2001 UK Census per List of islands of Scotland
  3. ^ a b c d e Haswell-Smith (2004) p.2
  4. ^ "Ordnance Survey". Ordnance Survey. 2012-07-03. Retrieved 2012-08-04. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f Mac an Tàilleir (2003) p. 3
  6. ^ a b c d BBC News (21 March 2013). "Ailsa Craig: Asking price reduced in Irish Sea island sale". Retrieved 23 May 2013. 
  7. ^ a b c d e f "Ailsa Criag". Media.primelocation.com. Retrieved 2012-08-26. 
  8. ^ a b "UK property for sale". Primelocation.co.uk. Retrieved March 1, 2013. 
  9. ^ Monro (1549) no. 2
  10. ^ Clancy (2008) pp. 33–34
  11. ^ Watson (1926) p. 173
  12. ^ PADDY'S MILESTONE 1947 Film. ssa.nls.uk.
  13. ^ "The Bass Rock". History of Leith. Retrieved 20 October 2009. 
  14. ^ "Beyond Plate Tectonics: Plumes , Hotspots, Supervolcanoes and Diamonds". Centre for Advanced Study at the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters. Retrieved 14 February 2014. 
  15. ^ Ailsa Craig Retrieved 2007-10-17
  16. ^ Paterson, Page 14
  17. ^ 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.
  18. ^ Northern Lighthouse Board - Automation of lighthouse Retrieved on 2008-01-28
  19. ^ Kays of Scotland website Retrieved on 2009-07-19
  20. ^ "RSPB stress importance of Ailsa Craig, but are not in negotiations to purchase iconic landmark". RSPB. Retrieved 14 July 2011.
  21. ^ a b Purdie, Page 22
  22. ^ "Ailsa Craig island in Firth of Clyde put up for sale". BBC News. Retrieved 1 March 2013.
  23. ^ National Geographic Retrieved on 2009-07-19
  24. ^ http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/0/winter-olympics/26253664 10 things you didn't know about curling
  25. ^ "About Curling/Stones". Anchorage Curling Club. Retrieved 4 August 2012. [dead link]
  26. ^ "News". Kays of Scotland. Retrieved 4 August 2012. 

References[edit]

  • 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. 
  • 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.
  • Purdie, David; McCue Kirsteen and Carruthers, Gerrard. (2013). Maurice Lindsay's The Burns Encyclopaedia. London : Robert Hale. ISBN 978-0-7090-9194-3.
  • 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)
  • Public Domain This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. 

External links[edit]

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