The Carters and Irvine

Historical background by Neil Stirrat

1960s Marymass memories
by Capt Alex Burns


Photo, from 1905/6/7: Capt. Walter Muir (on horse) inviting the Magistrates and Councillors or the Royal Burgh to the Moor to join the Carters in the Races, in the days before there was a Marymass Queen and entourage.

Irvine owes its existence to the small piece of land that is now the Pitch &Putt golf course at the northern end of the Low Green. Nine hundred years ago the high tide water mark reached as far as Seagate, and in this sheltered cove now the Pitch & Putt course, the fishermen found a safe place not only to shelter, but unload their catches also. There was no need to wait for the tide to proceed to sea again as they had to previously when it was necessary to beach the boat to unload, and wait for a suitable tide to re-float it.

Photo: Carters' skills are found in many other lines of work, as shown by Aberdeen Fire Brigade in the 1994 Marymass Parade

It was not long before houses began to appear in the area we know today as Seagate. Access to Irvine at that time from the south was only possible along the beach between Irvine & Troon, and old maps warn travellers to keep a sharp look-out for quicksands. Entry to the town itself was by crossing the river at the Puddlie-Deidly (Puddleford). As the river was still tidal (the weir was not built till much later) travellers sometimes found it necessary to wait for the sea to recede before they were able to cross. As a result houses began to appear on both sides of the ford (Kirkgate, Loudon St.), and it could be said that Irvine consisted of two villages.

The cove was soon to be Ayrshire's premier port and was recognised as the port for the city of Glasgow. If this small cove is credited with the birth of Irvine, the Carters must be credited with the growth and prosperity of the town, as they were responsible for the delivery of merchandise destined for the city, and delivering the manufactured goods for export, not only from the city but also Kilmarnock and the surrounding areas. This was no easy task, as roads as we know them today were non existent. One hundred and fifty years ago the Earl of Eglinton was accompanied by six followers whenever he travelled by coach to lift it back on to the highway should it slip off the road.

The Carters will tell you that they were at Noahs' Ark; "whoever heard of a flitting without a Carter?"  When the Irvine Town Council decided to move the statue of the Lord Chief Justice of Scotland David Boyle from his position in High Street to its present site in Castle Street, it was a Carter to whom the responsibility was given. A councillor approached the Carter and offered him eight pounds to carry-out the task. When the Carter and his load reached the Salt-store in Bridgegate, the councillor approached the Carter advising him that he hadn't confirmed the contract with the 'Cooncil' and he could only give him four pounds.


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Marymass Memories by Captain Alex Burns

Captain 1964-67, Alex Burns served the Royal Burgh of Irvine as a councillor from 1960 to 1975, latterly as a baillie. He was a magistrate and J.P. for 37 years.

Elected as Captain of Irvine Carters' Society in 1964 aged 33, I was the youngest ever Captain to be elected, the first bachelor and the first Captain not to come from the business or farming community. Being Captain of Irvine Carters' Society was a great honour and one of the foremost positions in the Old Burgh of Irvine. The financial implications associated with being the head of the Carters made it quite clear to myself why all my predecessors were from the fairly wealthy farming and business communities; nevertheless my Committee were a great support to me during my term in office.

During my four year term all the planning and organising of the annual Marymass celebrations was arranged by the Committee of Irvine Carters' Society who worked relentlessly to produce an event to be proud of with the continuous moral support of Irvine Town Council.

A very sad day was the loss of Old Irvine Bridge which stopped the annual parade visiting its fourth port at Irvine Harbour; this was one of the modernisations ofthe New Town Corporation. Realising that this development stopped the parade from going in the halfway direction of the town and especially that the residents of that area would be denied the Marymass Parade, I vehemently opposed this action.

Now, at long last, I can put the record straight after all those unfounded allegations, I did not fall off my horse in the paddock in 1965 due to having too much liquid cheer. The truth of the matter is that the gentleman leading my horse forgot to tighten the girth strap and unfortunately the saddle came unstuck and so did I! [Unfortunately we have not been able to track down the gentleman who was leading the horse to verify this story Editor.]

Finally, I hope that North Ayrshire Council will continue the excellent support they give both morally and financially in continuing the great tradition of Marymass and, as we claim, the oldest horse race meeting in the world.

I wish the Captain, Marymass Queen Elect and her Marys every success and may the sun shine upon them.

Alex Burns, Captain 1964-1967


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