One of Scotland's five New Towns, the burgh of Irvine is situated 7 miles (11 km) west of Kilmarnock and 12 miles (19 km) north of Ayr in North Ayrshire. It straddles the River Irvine as it flows into Irvine Bay in the Firth of Clyde. Originally a harbour town, it received its charter in 1308 from King Robert I (and possibly earlier c.1240 from Alexander II). The Royal Burgh of Irvine functioned as the chief port for Glasgow until the 18th Century when the River Clyde was deepened and Port Glasgow developed. It exported coal and chemicals, while its industries have included shipbuilding, engineering, chemicals, foundries and sawmills.
Seagate Castle, now in the centre of the town, may have been visited by Queen Mary in 1563. Robert Burns lived in Glasgow Vennel in Irvine (1781-3) and the town was the birthplace of the author John Galt (1779 - 1840), the poet James Montgomery (1771- 1854), and the sect leader Elizabeth Buchan (1738-91).
Irvine was designated a New Town on 9th November 1966 and was the last of the five created in Scotland. The only New Town sited next to the sea, Irvine was also the only one built around an existing population. It became one of the most successful of the five in providing an attractive place to live with a mixture of large and small businesses if not the number of people originally anticipated (116,000). There is a railway station at Irvine with trains to Ayr and Glasgow. The town also provides a home to the Scottish Maritime Museum and the Magnum Centre, the largest sports centre in Scotland.
The Marymass Festival has been organised by the Irvine Carters Society since Mediaeval times, originally a celebration of the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary on the 15th August, but later also celebrating Mary, Queen of Scots, who the Irvine Carters had supported at the Battle of Langside in 1568. The parish church of Irvine was dedicated to St. Mary as early as 1205 and her image appears on the Seal of the Royal Burgh. Reinvigorated in the 1920s, the festival features a parade of a Marymass Queen, supported by her four Mary's, and a horse race on the Towns Moor.