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Gaelic: Cill Bhraonaigh
Kilbirnie Kirk.JPG
The Auld Kirk
Grid reference: NS315545
Location: 55°45’18"N, 4°41’10"W
Population: 7,642
Post town: Kilbirne
Postcode: KA25
Dialling code: 01505
Local Government
Council: North Ayrshire
North Ayrshire and Arran

Kilbirnie is a town and parish situated in the Garnock Valley area of Ayrshire. It is around 20 miles south-west of Glasgow and approximately 10 miles from both Paisley and Irvine. Historically, the town built up around the flax and weaving industries 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.[1]

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, and 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 inpouring of people and during the early to mid-20th Century the town grew to its height of around 10,000 people. However, the industry entered a decline and was eventually closed.

The town was hit particularly hard by the closure of traditional industries. The town has the 9th-lowest life expectancy among pensioners in the United Kingdom according to a report published in the Daily Mail newspaper in 2012.[2] In addition Kilbirnie has highest bankruptcy rate in Scotland. Kilbirnie has a rate of 71 insolvencies per 10,000 people, just ahead of Clydebank and Gorebridge.


Glengarnock Steelworks

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 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

These mills are famous for their nets, used by the British Army and BT Tower. They are one of very few companies in the United Kingdom who have expertise in this area. 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

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 for 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 Western Buses and McGill's.

Social history

Swinging Sixties and regeneration

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, 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

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

  • Jameson Clark, actor, starring in films such as Whisky Galore!
  • James Jameson, Surgeon General, Army Medical Service
  • Joanne Love, footballer
  • Gordon McQueen, former Scotland, Manchester United and Leeds United footballer and Sky Sports Presenter.
  • George Stevenson, former Scotland and Motherwell footballer, went on to be the club's most successful manager

Places of worship

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.

The Roman Catholic Church is St Brigids. 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.

There is also a Gospel Hall, tracing its roots back to 1889.



  • The town is serviced by Glengarnock railway station which runs regular services on the Ayrshire Coast Line: Three trains per hour to Glasgow Monday - Saturday and an hourly service on Sunday.


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


Lying two miles 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

Kilbirnie Loch is a mile and a half long and nearly half a mile 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.


("Wikimedia Commons" has material
about Kilbirnie)


  • 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)

Outside links