Carters moved materials from one part of Scotland to another - humble men with a skill in looking after their huge Clydesdale horses - on the road no matter what the weather - forming a Society in 1670 and formally instituted by Irvine Town Council in 1753.

Marymass as a festival is also celebrated (but not on the same date) at the towns of Ellon (Grampian) and Geddes (Nairn). We would be pleased to hear of any other Marymass festivals - please email us to tell us about them.

Although, in the 1910s, the trade of horse carter was destined to disappear in an era of motor transport, the Carters' Society survived, and the annual Marymass fair has gone from strength to strength. Entering the 21st century, the Irvine Carters Society is the only surviving carters society. No motorised vehicles are allowed in the parade.
For a copy of the Carters Millennium History Book, send a stamped addressed envelope (A5 size) to Mr D Kerr, Gardener's Cottage, Eglinton Park, Kilwinning


An Introduction to the Marymass Festival - by Mae McEwan

Irvine or the Carters - the Carters or Irvine - which came first? Historians would say 'Irvine', undoubtedly since legends state that the patron saint, St Inan, was in Irvine circa 839AD. Ask a member of Irvine Carters' Society and he would tell you the fact is "When the Ark was ready, Noah and his household flitted into it, and who ever had a flittin' without calling on a Carter?"

So, Irvine wasn't on the map in Noah's day, but the Carters must have been, so that answers the question.

Their oldest link with the past is 'Marymass' which is claimed to have been established in the twelfth century. This fair has gone from strength to strength over the years and is one of Scotland's most popular fairs to this day when Irvine exiles from all over strive to 'Come hame for Marymass'.

Claims that Irvine Carters rode from the town to fight for Mary Queen of Scots at the Battle of Langside in 1568 are not borne out by any of the Town Council's records nor indeed by the Society's records but it can be proven that Hugh, 3rd Earl of Eglinton fought on his Queen's side. Undoubtedly, local men from the Carters rode with him.

Irvine Carters Society was first of all formed for business and charitable purposes and their history is as old as the Incorporated Trades of the town. In 1753, 106 members subscribed to the 'Box' - this is said to have been the beginning of their charitable activities which continue to this day.

The Festival of Marymass dates back to the Middle Ages and it's the rich pageantry of this fair which draws old Irvinites home in August each year. Visitors too come from all over to enjoy the atmosphere and are never disappointed.

Interest in this fair appeared to be flagging a little in the late 1920s and credit is given to the then Provost of the Royal Burgh of Irvine, Peter S Clark, for first proposing that a Marymass Queen be chosen and crowned as a part of the ceremony. A meeting took place with the Captain of the Carters, James Sloan and members of his Society and so it was that Miss Martha McHarg, a pupil from Bank Street Primary School, was chosen to be the very first Marymass Queen in 1928. This added greatly to the event. Four local girls were also chosen to be the Queen's four Marys - as it was in the days of Mary, Queen of Scots - and two young boys were chosen to act as pages.

Can any old Irvinite over forget the magic of wakening up on Marymass Saturday morning? A quick lick of the face cloth was all that needed as children had been bathed and had their hair washed the night before after coming home from 'the shows'. New white socks, canvas shoes blanco'ed and all the wee boys had 'sheds' in their hair and wee lassies had slept with their hair in cloths to ensure curls on the great day.

Up early to go and see the Queen being 'lifted' at her home, then the parade itself would visit the four parts of the town. George Donaldson, grocer in Fullarton Street, would be out with his family to hand out his famous 'Cap' biscuits to everyone associated in and with this mounted parade. This gave them subsistence to last until after the crowning of the Queen which takes place in front of the Town's House at mid-day.

Then out to the Moor to the races, but not before going home to have a meat pie. That was also mandatory for Marymass Saturday. You dashed out to the Moor, because no one could miss the spectacle of 'Sclimin the Greasy Pole'. This is when the young men strive to be first to retrieve a ham that has been placed at the top of a pole which had been greased. This event is always hilarious and part of the pageantry.

Happily, this still continues. The parade is not to be missed with the richly decorated horses and floats increasing in numbers as years go by. Each Marymass Queen is more beautiful than ever before, each set of Marys more proud, each Captain of the Carters having more aplomb. The bands that march in the parade travel from greater distances each year, the organisations participating increase as do the vast crowds who attend the crowning ceremony.

Irvine or the Carters? The Carters or Irvine? Does it matter what or who came first because they can never be separated. The rich tradition of the Royal Burgh and the tapestry of history woven by the Irvine Carters' Society will always ensure that:

'Tradition is here - an' for o'er seventy years
They've crowned a wee lassie an' a' that
An' it disnae amaze - that tae the end o' oor days
We'll come home for Marymass an' a' that.

Mae McEwan

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