It is possible to date the Marymass festival to around the late 14th century, as this is one of the first instances of the festival being referred to in relation to the Virgin Mary. In 1386 the town rented land from Robert II to build a new tollbooth, the fee was one silver penny, which Robert II requested be paid on the banquette of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin.
The town had, for a long time, three fairs, all celebrated at the later months of the year. In the month of August each year a great feast was held in the honour of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The modern Marymass festival is still celebrated in mid August, although during the 18th century the festival was re-associated with Mary Queen of Scots in celebration of her alleged visit to the town in the 16th century. Along with this change came the pageantry we associate with the festival today. The tradition of the Marymass queen did not appear until 1928 when Martha McHarg became the first queen.
Today the Marymass festival is mainly held at the towns moor, with the Queen’s crowning ceremony taking place outside of the townhouse. In this photograph we can see that a fairground has been erected outside of the town house.
On the far left is Irvine Town house, which still has its perimeter fence. The decorative iron railings were removed and scrapped during World War 2 to help the war effort. The festival in this photograph is a much smaller affair with only a handful of stalls and games lining the High Street. This was before the introduction of the Marymass queen.