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Kilbirnie is located in North Ayrshire
Location within North Ayrshire
Population7,170 (mid-2020 est.)[1]
OS grid referenceNS315545
• Edinburgh60 mi (100 km)
• London348 mi (560 km)
Council area
Lieutenancy area
Sovereign stateUnited Kingdom
Postcode districtKA25
Dialling code01505
UK Parliament
Scottish Parliament
List of places
55°45′18″N 4°41′10″W / 55.755°N 4.686°W / 55.755; -4.686Coordinates: 55°45′18″N 4°41′10″W / 55.755°N 4.686°W / 55.755; -4.686

Kilbirnie (Gaelic: Cill Bhraonaigh) is a small town of 7,280 (as of 2001)[2] inhabitants situated in the Garnock Valley area of North Ayrshire, on the west coast of Scotland. It is around 20 miles (30 km) southwest of Glasgow and approximately 10 miles (16 kilometres) from Paisley and 13 miles (21 kilometres) from Irvine respectively. Historically, the town's main industries were flax production and weaving before iron and steelmaking took over in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The suburb of Kilbirnie in the New Zealand capital of Wellington is named after the town.


Kilbirnie Place, where the Scots mustered under Alexander III before the Battle of Largs[3]

Archaeological digs conducted in the 19th century have shown that the area was inhabited during the Bronze Age. A crannog with a connecting causeway was discovered in Kilbirnie Loch. The town derived its name from the parish church, the "Auld Kirk". In 1740 there were only three houses; the population grew to 959 people by 1801. Half a century later, the town had grown substantially; in 1851 Kilbirnie contained 5,484 people, due to the Industrial Revolution, hastened by the locality of the Ayr and Glasgow railways. During this time the town was a hub of industrial activity with two flax-spinning mills, linen-thread mills, wincey factories, five fishing-net factories, two rope-works, engineering works, mines and ironworks. The steelworks opened in 1841 and quickly became the main industry in the area, causing an inrush of people; during the early-to mid 20th century, the population grew to around 10,000.

The 1913 networkers' strike in Kilbirnie was agreed at a National Federation of Women Workers meeting in late March. It lasted from April to September 1913, and was the longest recorded strike of women workers at that time. The strike, which enjoyed community support, was led by Kate McLean. In May 1913 there was a meeting in Kilbirnie where 10,000 supporters were present. The networkers' dispute was resolved on 2 September 1913 with improved wages and working conditions.[4][5]

The Decoy Bride, a film starring David Tennant and Kelly Macdonald, was partially filmed in Kilbirnie.

The town was hit particularly hard by the closure of traditional industries. In addition, Kilbirnie has the highest bankruptcy rate in Scotland. Kilbirnie has a rate of 71 insolvencies per 10,000 people, just ahead of Clydebank and Gorebridge.[citation needed]


Glengarnock Steelworks[edit]

Glengarnock Steel Works opened its blast furnaces around 1841 which caused a massive influx of people from all over the country, as well as all over the world. Initially, these works were owned by Merry & Cunninghame before being taken over by David Colville & Sons and eventually nationalised as part of British Steel Corporation and finally closed in 1985. The steelworks in Glengarnock provided employment for most men of the community. The entire collection of staff magazines of the steelworks at Glengarnock have been preserved and are held at the Mitchell Library. This provides content such as spotlights on employees and departments and contains photographs over 100 years old.

Moorpark House.

W & J Knox Threadmills[edit]

These mills are famous for their nets, used by the British Army and BT Tower. They are one of the very few companies in the United Kingdom who have expertise in this field. W & J Knox Threadmills was owned by the Knox family who were prominent, not only in Ayrshire but in the South of England too, becoming important members of society. Some of the mansion houses they built still remain, the Knox Institute was donated by a member of the Knox family and housed Kilbirnie's first public library and one of the cemeteries in the town contains an underground vault where the family are interred, next to the main Knox monument. Who's Who editions of the period list many members of the family.

Modern day[edit]

Since the closure of the steel works in the 1980s, the area has been an unemployment blackspot with distinct social problems. The town has very few local employers, and people generally commute out of the town to work. Glengarnock railway station serves the town and has three trains per hour to Paisley and Glasgow. There are regular bus services to Glasgow, Paisley, Largs and Irvine provided by Stagecoach West Scotland and McGill's.

Social history[edit]

Swinging Sixties and regeneration[edit]

Amongst many other old buildings in the Town, stands the Walker Hall, a memorial hall dedicated to Dr Walker, one of the first physicians in the town. In the 1950s and '60s it was a famous concert venue, coming second only to the Barrowlands. Famous bands to have played the hall include Gerry & The Pacemakers and Bill Haley & His Comets. These days, however, it houses the town's Citizens Advice Bureau. Other sources of entertainment in the 1950s and 60s included two cinemas, both of which have long since closed. One of these cinemas is now the Radio City [1]. An Association was formed in 1998 to identify ways of providing much needed local facilities. During the 1997 election campaign, Brian Wilson met with a group of local teenagers who stressed the need for facilities, and plans were developed to provide a Healthy Living Centre which would include fitness facilities, internet access, a healthy eating cafe and child care. Bids for funding were made to private organisations and the National Lottery.

Saint Brennan's Day Fair and Robert Burns[edit]

The fair was considered the largest horse market in the west of Scotland. Robert Burns refers to the town in his poem "The Inventory" about a plough-horse that he purchased at the fair:

"My furr-ahin 's a wordy beast, As e'er in tug or tow was traced. The fourth's a Highland Donald hastle, A damn'd red-wud Kilburnie blastie!"

Local football team Kilbirnie Ladeside F.C. derive their sobriquet "the blasties" from the poem, a suitable appellation and an epithet which remains to this day due to the town's past of steel and iron production, as a reference to the blast furnaces.

Notable residents[edit]

Places of worship[edit]

The Auld Kirk

Auld Kirk[edit]

The "Auld Kirk" is one of the oldest churches in Scotland still in use both pre-and post-Reformation. Robert Burns allegedly came to the blacksmiths near the Kirk. It is from this Church that Kilbirnie takes its name.

Roman Catholic Church St Brigids[edit]

Father Thomas P Lee, a young Irish priest, was sent in 1859 to be the resident priest in Kilbirnie. It is unclear how he raised the money to build the church. He chose St. Brigid (devotion to the poor) to be the patron saint of the parish. Opened in 1862. The current parish priest is Father Mark Kelly.

Gospel Hall[edit]

Tracing its roots back to 1889, a full history of the assembly can be found in the middle if the article here:-


Primary education[edit]

  • Moorpark Primary School, accessed from Milton Road or School Road by students, was opened in 1978 to replace Ladyland School built in 1869 and Bridgend School, built in 1893. The school is located east of its namesake Moorpark House and is adjacent to the former site of local secondary school Garnock Academy. The new Moorpark Primary School is currently under construction on the site of Garnock Academy, due to open in Autumn 2022.[6]
  • Glengarnock Primary School has from 10 January 2017 been situated in the Garnock Community Campus.[7]
  • Saint Bridget's Primary School, located on Hagthorne Avenue, educates local Roman Catholic and Christian children. This location opened in October 1963 replacing the 1894 building. Secondary level Catholic pupils attend the Secondary school, St Matthew's Academy in Saltcoats.

Secondary education[edit]

  • Garnock Academy[8] is a secondary school that was formed in 1971 by the amalgamation of Beith Academy, Dalry High School, Kilbirnie Central School and Speir's school. Opening in September 1972, it was situated on School Road adjacent to Moorpark Primary, However, as of January 2017, the school moved into the new Garnock Community Campus in the Glengarnock area alongside the Primary school, Community Pool and library and other public offices and areas. It is a non-denominational co-educational school serving Barmill, Beith, Dalry, Gateside, Glengarnock, Kilbirnie, Longbar and the surrounding area. It has around 1,100 pupils.[9]



Bus Services[edit]

The area is served by Stagecoach West Scotland and McGill's Bus Services.


Air crashes[edit]

The hills between Kilbirnie and Largs were often black spots for aircraft passing over and many crashed due to low fog. The crash sites are available to visit, with wreckage still visible and some of these now form part of Clyde Muirshiel Regional Park.


Glengarnock Castle, looking towards Kilbirnie Loch and the northern suburbs of Kilbirnie.

Lying two miles (three kilometres) north of Kilbirnie on a promontory overlooking the wooded ravine of the River Garnock is Glengarnock Castle, a ruined 15th century keep. Ladyland Castle, mostly demolished, lay nearby and Ladyland House still survives as designed by David Hamilton.

Kilbirnie Loch[edit]

Kilbirnie Loch is 1+12 miles (2.4 km) long and nearly 12 mile (800 m) broad. Part of the area around the Loch is sliding, possibly due to the old mining shafts under the area. A social centre built on the shores of the loch began to sink and had to be demolished.


  1. ^ "Mid-2020 Population Estimates for Settlements and Localities in Scotland". National Records of Scotland. 31 March 2022. Retrieved 31 March 2022.
  2. ^ "Kilbirne and Beith Electoral Ward". Retrieved 13 August 2021.
  3. ^ Knight, James (1936), Glasgow and Strathclyde. London: Thomas Nelson & Sons. pp. 83–84.
  4. ^ "McLean [married name Beaton], Catherine [Kate] (1879–1960), trade unionist". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. 2004. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/54413. Retrieved 6 August 2020. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  5. ^ "The Strike in Irish and Scottish History" (PDF). Journal of Irish and Scottish Studies. 8 (2): 36–. Spring 2015 – via Aberdeen University.
  6. ^ North Ayrshire Council Retrieved 22 November 2021. {{cite web}}: Missing or empty |title= (help)
  7. ^ "Glengarnock Primary School". Retrieved 12 March 2017.
  8. ^ Welcome to Garnock Community Campus, Garnock Community Campus
  9. ^ "School league tables: Breakdown of every Scottish school's performance". STV News. Retrieved 4 October 2014.


  • Strawhorn, J. & Boyd, W. (1951) The third statistical account of Scotland: Ayrshire. Edinburgh: Oliver & Boyd.
  • Wylie, William (1851). Ayrshire Streams. London : Arthur Hall, Virtue, & Co.
  • "Un Hombre bueno, La Vida De Jaime Clifford" (AC Thomson)

External links[edit]