Old Parish Church

irvine old 1900-w600-h800The church in the distance is Irvine Old Parish Church, which was built in 1773 to replace an earlier chapel known as St. Mary’s, at a cost of £1300 excluding the spire. The spire, “whose silent finger points to Heaven” , was finished in 1778 at a cost of £400 and was based on the one at St Andrew’s Church in Dundee.

At this time, the church was one of the largest churches in Ayrshire, and became known as the “Big Kirk”. It could seat about 1800.

The church is still open for worship.

The history of Irvine Old is as long as the history of the town itself with the earliest religious building church being recorded in the 9th century.

The present church is probably the third built on the site with the latest being built in 1774 after the medieval one was found to be in a perilous condition.

The church has played an integral part in the life of the town in the past and in the present with all the local civic bodies still attending Irvine Old for their annual ‘kirking’, Armistice, Veterans Day and other local and national celebrations.

In the time of the Royal Burgh many of the prominent men in the town also served as Elders in the Church and so the records show that there was a number of issues resolved by them having a foot in both the church and town council i.e when gas lighting was to be installed in Bank Street, the Town Council requested a loan of £80 from the church which, with many councillors also on the Kirk Session, was agreed .

Ministers of Irvine

Since the Scottish Reformation the following people have served God as Ministers of Word and Sacrament to the people of the town and parish.

Their names are inscribed on a plaque in the vestibule of the church.

In 1603 the Patronage of the Church of Irvine, on the collapse or downfall of the Kilwinning Abbey, passed to Hugh, 5th Earl of Eglinton. The Lord of the Manor exercised this right until the ministry of Dr. Sommerville.

1 1562 – John Lynd
2 1567 – Robert Hamilton
3 1570 – John Young
4 1584 – William Strang
5 1589 – Alexander Scrimgeour
6 1618 – David Dickson
7 1642 – Hew Mackaile
8 1650 – Alexander Nisbet
9 1662 – John Grant
10 1669 – George Hutchison
11 1676 – John Stirling
12 1684 – William Hamilton
13 1688 – Patrick Warner
14 1709 – William McKnight
15 1751 – Charles Bannatyne
16 1774 – James Richmond
17 1805 – James Henderson
18 1820 – John Wilson
19 1844 – Andrew Browne
20 1853 – James Sommerville
21 1893 – Henry Ranken
22 1928 – Alexander Macara
23 1978 – James Greig
24 1999 – Robert Travers
Royal Connections
Written by David Whitelaw
On the west wall of the Old Parish Church can be seen a unique remnant of Pre-Reformation Irvine.

Above the door a cream coloured stone can be seen in stark contrast to the surrounding masonry. Time has weathered the carved initials MQ and the date 1506 engraved immediately beneath. It is said to commemorate a visit to mIrvine of Margaret Tudor (1489-1541), Qheen of Scots.

This relic would have originally been built into the wall of the small Chapel of St. Mary that was located on what is now the south east extension of the graveyard, to be afterwards transferred to the pre-Reformation building which was later demolished in 1772.

At the construction of the present church in 1773/4 it was then relocated in the position it now occupies.

Margaret Tudor was Queen Consort of James IV, King of Scots (1488 – 1514) and sister of Henry VIII of England. When she was just a little girl her marriage to the King of Scots was arranged and, in 1503, she journeyed north to her groom’s homeland. The marriage ceremony took place at Holyrood Abbey on August 8th of that year.

The poet, William Dunbar termed this union “The Thistle and the Rose”, which was farsighted as their great-grandson, James VI Kiing of Scots, would become the first monarch of Great Britain following his asending the throne of England on the death of Elizabeth Tudor.the

In the early summer of 1506 the king and queen went on a pilgrimage to the shrine of St. Ninian at Whithorn in Kikcudbrightshire. On route they lodged at the Carmelite monastry in Friars Croft, Irvine. Arnold McJannet writes in his history of the Royal Burgh of Irvine that “James IV (that sporting and generous King) and his Queen Margaret were often paying guests at the convent, at a cost of each visit 14 shillings.”

And further , “The monatery played the part of a modern hotel with good and varied food and drink. The cooking and accommodation were far superior to those that could be got at an inn; the bread was whiter, the beer of better quality, and the feather beds in the guest chambers softer, the sanitary arrangements far in advance of the time.”

Margaret Tudor’s first child James, Duke of Rothesay was born on February 21st, 1507 but sadly died at just over 1 year old.

Written by David Whitelaw
The church, 1774 by David Muir, is the third to occupy the site. A large classical building with round-headed windows lighting the gallery. The clock in the 6-stage octagonal steeple was presented by Irvine Volunteers in 1803. The stained glass windows are a fine example of Keir brothers work. The graveyard contains fine classical monuments.

On 8th February 1772, a meeting of the Magistrates, Town Council and Heritors of Irvine, approved a plan for the new church, with a steeple of the same height as the church walls.
The Burgh was to contribute 75% of the expense of the kirk and the Heritors were to be at the remaining 25% of the cost of the building of the kirk.At a later meeting of the Town Council, held on 11th September 1773, it was decided to have the side-wall high steeple carried 10 feet higher for conveniency of finishing off the passage from the same into the roof. To this the Heritors agreed. As the original height of the walls and steeple was 30 feet, this extra 10 feet, gives the height of 40 feet from the level of the floor of the vestibule , and which is the height at which the Heritors responsibility for the joint upkeep of the steeple ceased. All above that was to be kept in repair by the Town Council at its own expense as it was the Council’s private property. (With the cost of maintenance, oh, that it was still so!!)
The Town Council of the Royal Burgh of Irvine instructed architects to submit sketches of some of the finest steeples in the country. The Council finally selected a sketch based upon a steeple at Dundee.
The architect raised doubts as to the weight of the full structure upon the foundations. A tier had to be omitted accounting for the ‘semi-dome’ above the belfry.

The steeple was completed in 1778 and is considered to be one of the finest in the Church of Scotland.

The steeple, side wall high, built of ashlar on the outside, with rustic corners, the same as the kirk, all ‘droved’, and a stone 3 feet long of ‘headed’ ashlar, at every 6 feet in the height and breadth; and crossed in the inside by stones of the same length, at some distance, with a Venetian window in the vestry.

The thickness of the walls of the four sides are 4 feet, and 14 feet square, clear, within the walls, with a stone stair to the second story (where is the vestry).

The ashlar was all from Smithstone quarry with all iron stained stones being rejected.

Written by David Whitelaw
Windows BurnsIrvine Old Burns Bicentenary Window

A stained-glass window, designed and created by Susan Bradbury FMGP was donated by Irvine Burns Club and presented to Irvine Old on 2nd June 1996 during the Bicentenary Year of the death of Robert Burns (1759-1796).

Finding comfort in the Bible at a time of crisis, Burns wrote a verse paraphrase of the 1st Psalm, which describes the righteous man a “like a tree planted by the rivers of water”. The stone at lower left bears the first three verses of his paraphrase.

The setting is the Scottish landscape – the tree growing beside a stream, “clear as crystal” (Revelation 22:1); the image of “a falling crystal stream” is one to which the poet frequently returned.
The artist is Susan Bradbury, who first came to Ayrshire as Irvine New Town artist in 1981. Susan chose the colours of autumn – green, gold and brown – the warm golden-orange of a bracken-covered hillside, the grey-gold mixes of lichens on stonework. The gold colours and the blues of the sky provide links with the windows on either side. The sparkle in the stream is achieved by differing degrees of acid-etching of the top green layer of the special glass used here.

The stream and tree are also the River of Life and the Tree of Life of Revelation 22:1-2, 14 & 17); it “bare twelve manner of fruits”; the artist has chosen grapes, a pomegranate, fig, orange, lemon, olive, date, apple, pear, cherries, plums and hazelnuts. “The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations” makes us recall Burns’ expression of brotherhood in “A man’s a man for a’ that”.

Burns twice referred to Revelation 7:15-17, which promises a much better life in the hereafter. The Lamb at the throne of God will lead those that serve God “unto living fountains of waters: and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes”. The 22-year old Robert told his father how these verse inspired him, and nine years later, in a letter to Peter Hill, his Edinburgh agent and friend, he wrote that, if he could, he would “wipe away all tears from his eyes”. These verses are on the stone at lower right.
The stone tablets, with their balancing Old and New Testament test, could be the golden gates of the entrance to heaven (Revelation 22: 14); they could also be standing stones forming an invitation to walk righteously by a crystal stream.

The window combines rich visual images of the natural world with symbolic links to beautiful passages and to the life and works of Robert Burns.

Windows BurghIrvine Old Royal Burgh Window

As a consequence of the implementation of Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973, in 1975 local government in Scotland changed to a new, two-tier system of District and Regional authorities which led to Town Councils ceasing to exist. Irvine became part of Cunninghame, one of the four district council areas within the Ayr sub-region of Starthclyde.

Irvine had been created a Royal Burgh by King Robert II in 1372 and in order to commemorate the 600 year link which had existed between ‘town and gown’, the last Town Council of the Royal Burgh of Irvine presented a stained glass window to the church. The window was dedicated by Rev. Macara following the presentation by the last Provost of the Royal Burgh, Alex Rubie.

The window’s central figure is the Celtic Saint Inan or Ninian, patron saint of Irvine.
At the top of the window is a scene of the harbour, which until the dredging of the River Clyde, had been one of Scotland’s major ports.
Inan is flanked by the shields for the Irvine Incorporated Trades, which is composed of Hammermen, Weavers, Cordiners, Wrights, Tailors, Skinners, Coopers. Also depicted is an insignia of the Carters Society.
The text is ‘I am among you as he that serveth’ taken from Luke c 22 v 27.
Below is the arms of the Royal Burgh of Irvine and the dates 1372 and 1975.
Wording and symbols of Alpha and Omega.
The window was designed by John Blyth of Glenrothes and glazed by W. Blair.

Macara Memorial Window

Memorial  macara50 years Minister of Irvine: Old from 1928 – 1978
MA Hons Glasgow, Freeman of the Royal Burgh of Irvine

Gifted by Rev Macacra’s son, Sir Sandy Macara, and daughter, Frau Ann Reige
The window is also, in memory of their mother Marion Mackay (died 1972) and stepmother Annie Munro (died 2006).

The site for the window was chosen in the upper gallery, where the light is good.
It can be seen in its entirety from the lower part of the church and it is near to the pulpit from where Rev Macara for so long preached. It is adjacent to the other new stained glass windows by Susan Bradbury and John Blyth.

Sir Sandy said of his father, “I know he would wish to be remembered for his stewardship of the Parish, his preaching of the word, his pastoral care and his love of nature, especially roses.”


The window is primarily seen from a distance and with this in mind was designed with boldness; its main features are broad sweeps of symbolic colour set on a blue background.
The underlying symbolism of the three dominant forms is the Trinity, chosen to represent the preaching of the word.
The columns of rich pinks and reds resonate on a background of deep blue, representing the spiritual realm.
The window is scattered with fifty lenses of clear crystal celebrating the fifty years of Ministry. These sparkling points of light are more than just a marker of passing time, they also represent the truths, the inspirations and the comforts that Rev Macara passed to his parishioners.

The reds and pinks also represent the fine roses Rev Macara grew and for which he was renowned and his presidency of Irvine Burns Club, (My love is like a red, red rose).
The blue represents the Royal Burgh of Irvine of which Rev Macara was a Freeman. It also represents the Boys’ Brigade of which movement was a great supporter.
The variance of the colours from dark to light represents the way Rev Macara made no difference between the station of those he was minister.


The stained glass window uses hand made glass throughout and are set into leadwork using traditional techniques. The lenses are of cast crystal


The interior of the Church bears witness to the craftsmanship and devotion of many generations.

The Organ

Furnishings organ pipesAn organ was installed in the church in 1878. It was made by Peter Connacher of Huddersfield, and cost £705, and was erected under the supervision of Dr. Peace, the organist of Glasgow University Chapel, and was completed on 1 June 1878.

When the introduction of the organ into the Church was being considered, Rev. Sommerville made a personal canvass of the congregation with the following result:
700 voted for, 13 against and 6 declined to vote.

The motive power was originally a gas engine, but which, not proving altogether satisfactory, was, in 1882, replaced by a hydraulic engine, which acted satisfactorily for some years till developing certain defects, was replaced by a new hydraulic engine (with nearly 3 miles of piping) in 1911, which was sunk in a pit under the floor level so as to deaden any noise when at work. This new engine was purchased at a cost of £545 from Messrs Ingram & Co. of Edinburgh

In the 1970s, due to the excessive costs to repair the organ, a electronic organ was installed. This was purchased from Allen Organs. When this organ is played it produces real pipework, reproduced digitally. There are also no synthesized sounds.
The speakers are placed above the existing organ pipes and give the impression that the sound still comes from those pipes.
All the original workings are in place should finance ever be available to restore the original organ.

The Baptismal Font

An elegant marble font stands at the foot of the chancel. It bears an inscription on a small silver shield: “Presented to the Church of Irvine by the Right Hon. the Earl of Eglinton and Winton, November 1873”.

Furnishings font1Furnishings font


The Communion Table

Furnishings tableIn 1929 and again in 1930 Rev. Macara expressed surprise that there was no Communion Table in the Sanctuary, but the Kirk Session turned down his suggestion that a Table and Chairs be installed.
He then approached the Woman’s Work Party , as The Guild, was then known, and the ladies readily agreed to his suggestion that they offer the gift to the Church. A vote of Kirk Session was taken and the gift was accepted.
Quotations were taken from three firms and Hugh Stevenson of Beith submitted excellent sketches of Georgian design to harmonise with the pulpit – one of the few Gothic pulpits in the Church of Scotland.
The gift was dedicated by the Very Rev. John White, D.D. L.L.D. on December 9, 1934.

Written by David Whitelaw
There are eight memorial Tablets within the Church.

Memorial Ferguson1. To the memory of the philanthropist, John Ferguson of Holms of Caaf and Cairnbrook. John Ferguson was born in Irvine in 1787. His mother, Mary (nee Service) was widowed in 1802 and was supported by her five brothers, who had emigrated to America and were all doing well. Each brother died intestate leaving their money to John Ferguson, who now found himself the owner of nearly £250,000. When he died in 1856 £500,000 was set aside for educational and religious causes of one kind or another throughout the 6 western counties of Scotland. In addition Irvine benefited further with £1000 going to Irvine Academy, £1,000 to the poor of Irvine, £1,000 to the poor of Halfway (River Irvine to Harbour), £10,000 to the aged of Irvine. The ‘Ferguson Bequest Fund’ still continues to support good causes in the town.
Note: 2009 value of £500K is equivalent to £33.5million (£1000 is £67,100)

2. To the memory of David Frew, mason in Edinburgh, son of David Frew, mason in Irvine. The former David Frew died, aged 50, on 17th July 1764 and “left £1,000 Scots for the support of distressed brethren, their widows, and orphans of masons and wrights in Irvine.”

At the Union of 1707, Scottish pounds were officially replaced by pounds sterling, at the rate of £12 Scots to £1 Sterling, but values were often expressed in pounds Scots for most of the eighteenth century. David Frew’s £1,000 Scots was equivalent to £83 6s 8d sterling, which, in 2009 values, is equal to £9,620.

Memorial  Cunningham3. To the memory of Andrew Cunninghame, who was born in Irvine on 4th May 1808 and died 24th September 1888. He was Town Clerk-depute and Keeper of the Sasines in Glasgow. “He made many bequests for Educational and Charitable purposes in this Parish, and elsewhere, including an annual sum of £170 to the Minister and Kirk Session of Irvine, for supporting a Missionary, for the Sabbath Schools, and for the benefit of persons in reduced circumstances in Irvine.”
Note: 2009 value of £170 is equivalent to £14,000

It may be claimed that Scotland was the first country to establish a national system of registration giving rights to the public rather than particular groups. Registers were kept in Edinburgh Castle from about the 13th century. The Register of Sasines, a public register of deeds covering all of Scotland, was set up by an Act of the Scots Parliament in 1617. The important element about any system of land tenure is evidence to support the claim of the person entitled to the land. In the early days of the feudal system this evidence was provided by the ceremony on the ground of ‘giving sasine’. The word sasine being derived from the old-French word ‘seiser’ meaning to seize, this ceremony was performed every time a feudal grant of land was made.

Memorial Victoria Cross4. A memorial tablet in bronze is in memory of captain Harry Sherwood Ranken, V.C., Chevalier of the Legion of Honour, M.B., Ch.B. (Glasgow), M.R.C.P. (London), Royal Medical Corps, and attached to the 1st Battalion King’s Royal Rifle Corps (60th), who died, aged 31, at Braisne, in France, of wounds received in action on 25th September 1914. He was awarded the Croix de Chevalier, for gallantry during the operations between August 21st and 30th, 1914. He was awarded the Victoria Cross for tending the wounded in the trenches under rifle and shrapnel fire at Hautresnes on 19th-20th September 1914, continuing to attend the wounded after his thigh and leg had been shattered. Capt. Ranken was the elder son of the minister of Irvine, Rev. Henry Ranken (1893-1928).

5. To the memory of Rev. Henry Ranken, minister of Irvine between 1893 and 1928

6. To the memory of the wife of Rev. Henry Ranken.

Memorial  Guilliland7. A memorial was erected by the people of Irvine to the memory of Bryce Gulliland. He was a native of Irvine and had been press ganged into the navy, where he rose to be 1st lieutenant on HMS Royal Sovereign. He died, aged 36, on 21st October 1805 at the Battle of Trafalgar. As the memorial states, “He fell at his post, in his Country’s cause, and with Nelson.”

8. A brass memorial to the memory of Alexander Longmuir of Roseholm, J.P., who was born in Irvine on 1st April 1824 and died there on 24th May 1913. An elder of the Church of Scotland, in Irvine Old Parish, for over 58 years and Kirk Treasurer for 37 years. His wife, Eliza Findlay, who died on 17th October 1903 is also recorded on the memorial.

Facebook Comments