The island, colloquially known as "Paddy's milestone", was a haven for Catholics during the Scottish Reformation in the 16th century, but is today a bird sanctuary, providing a home for huge numbers of gannets and an increasing number of puffins.
The island is owned by David, Marquess of Ailsa, but since May 2011 has been up for sale. By March 2013 the asking price was for offers over £1,500,000, down from the original asking price of £2,500,000.
Ailsa Craig lighthouse, foghorns and gas works
In 1881, petitions were received by the Commissioners of Northern Lighthouses from Lloyds and the Scottish vesselmasters Association requesting the erection of two fog signals and a lighthouse on Ailsa Craig. The Board of Trade and Trinity House both agreed to the proposal and work commenced the following year. The light was first exhibited on the night of 15 June 1886, an oil burning light which remained in use until 24 January 1911, when it was converted to incandescent. The construction was supervised by Thomas and David Stevenson, Engineers to the Board. (Thomas was the father of Robert Louis Stevenson). The Lighthouse was built between 1883 and 1886 by Thomas Stevenson; it is owned by the Northern Lighthouse Board. The lighthouse was automated in 1990 and converted to solar electric power in 2001; the island has been uninhabited since automation in 1990. Ailsa Craig and its lighthouse feature extensively in Peter Hill's book Stargazing: Memoirs of a Young Lighthouse Keeper.
Two substantial foghorns with concrete housings were built in 1866, one at the north end of the island near the Swine Cave reached by the 'The Loups' path and the other at East Trammins on the south end, both were powered by compressed air that was piped from the lighthouse where a gas powered compressor was housed until 1911 when oil-powered engines were installed. One of the compressed air pipelines can still be seen within 'The Loups' path that was constructed above it. The compressed air cylinders that held the required 'store' of air are still prominent features, especially at the Trammins foghorn. Both foghorns were decommissioned in 1966 and a Tyfon fog signal was used until 1987 when improvements in vessel navigation made it also redundant.
Siren fog signals were erected on the North and South ends of Ailsa Craig and were powered by gas engines until 1911, when they were replaced by oil driven engines. These fog signals were permanently discontinued in November 1966, and replaced by a Tyfon fog signal, which had a character of 3 blasts, each of three seconds duration every 45 seconds. It was sounded from a position close to the South East of the Lighthouse tower and not at either of the previous siren signals sites. This fog signal was discontinued in 1987.
The gasworks are still a prominent feature on the island and the cable-powered tramway was partly built to haul wagons full of coal up to it from the North Port. Two gasholders held the coal gas that powered both the compressed air pump and the lighthouse light, however in 1911 the light was converted to incandescent lighting which was powered by electricity. The gas works became redundant at this time. Lawson records that oil was used to produce the gas for the lighthouse light.
Until wireless telephone communications were established on Ailsa Craig in 1935, the lightkeepers and employees of Ailsa Craig Granites Ltd used to depend on pigeons for the conveyance of messages. A pigeon house was established at Girvan Green, where the town council established a parking place for cars and buses in 1935. The pigeons were provided by the Lighthouse Boatman at that time, who received an annual payment of £4.00. When a doctor or supplies were required urgently in stormy weather when it was impossible to have messages taken by carrier pigeon, a system of signals by fire was used. One fire on the castle path showing the Lighthouse to the North indicated "bring doctor for Lighthouse"; two fires on the castle path (one at the same place as the Lighthouse fire, and the other 20-30 yards above it), meant "bring doctor for Quarry Company"; one fire at the north end of the Castle Flat showing the Lighthouse to the South indicated the provisions were required.
The lighthouse was automated in 1990 and is now remotely monitored from the Northern Lighthouse Board’s offices in Edinburgh. In 2001 as part of the refurbishment and de-gassing programme Alisa Craig Lighthouse was converted to solar-electric power.
It should be noted that at some sites the Northern Lighthouse Board have sold some redundant buildings within the lighthouse complex and are not responsible for the maintenance of these building.
It was famous for a number of years for the curling stones fashioned from its rock. It was here that the curling stones used by the Scottish Women’s Curling Team, Winter 2002 Olympic Gold medal winners, were made.Ailsa CastleThe 12 meters high ruins of a 3-storey castle that stands on the eastern side of the island was built in the late 1500s by the Hamilton Family to protect the island from King Philip II of Spain. The island was used as a prison during the 18th–19th century. The castle has two vaulted storeys and an oven is located in a cellar with evidence of a spiral stairway that once ran to the top of the tower. Three cinquefoils arranged in a 'V' shape are carved on the tower and indicate that the Hamiltons were linked with the structure. There are indications of an adjoining building that ran to the north.
Character: Fl W 4s 18m 17M
(fl. 0.1s - ec. 3.9s)
|Engineer||Thomas Stevenson (1818-1887)|
|David Alan Stevenson (1854-1938)|
|Lat, Lon||55°15.109' N, 05°06.520' W|
|Established||1883 - 15 June 1886|
|Character||Flashing White every 4 secs.|
|Range||31.4 km / 17 nM|
|Tower||11 meters, 37 steps to top of the tower|
|Elevation||18 meters above sealevel|
|Fog horn||Discont. 1976 - 3 secs blast every 4.5s.|
|Authority||Northern Lighthouse Board|
|Remarks||Solar power (2001)|
|Cat.B listed - nr: 1151 - 15/02/1977|