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East Ayrshire

A town in the Cunninghame district of East Ayrshire, Kilmarnock lies on the Kilmarnock Water and River Irvine, 12 miles (19 km) northeast of Ayr. Said to have been established in the 7th century by the Irish missionary Mernoc or St. Ernan, Kilmarnock developed in Mediaeval times around the Laigh Kirk. Nearby Dean Castle, built c.1300 by the Earls of Kilmarnock, later fell into the hands of the Boyd family to whom Kilmarnock was chartered as a burgh in 1591. The town expanded in association with the manufacture of knives, clothes and shoes and by the mid-18th century was regarded as the leading centre of Scottish woollens in Scotland. Coal mining, iron-founding, engineering, malting, whisky blending and the manufacture of shoes, carpets and railway locomotives later became important. In 1820 a licensed grocery was established by John Walker whose company later adopted the whisky brand name Johnnie Walker in 1907. Having eventually been acquired by merger by the multi-national Diageo in 1997, the blending and bottling plant closed in 2012, ending a 192-year link with Kilmarnock. The Saxone Shoe Company was bankrupt by the early 1980s and the Galleon Sports Centre now occupies the site of their works. Engineering, packaging, spinning and baking are still important industries. The Killie Pie is a savoury beef delicacy developed by a local bakery for Kilmarnock Football Club and now favoured by football fans across the country. Andrew Barclay and Company were important railway locomotive manufacturers, established in Kilmarnock in 1840, building steam and, later, diesel engines. The company became Wabtec Rail Scotland in 2011 and still represents an important employer in the town, refurbishing diesel and electrical multiple units at their Caledonia Works.

Places of interest include the Kay Park with its monument to Robert Burns (1879), the Laigh Park, the Dick Institute and Dean Castle. The first edition of the poetic works of Robert Burns was published in 1786 in Kilmarnock which was the birthplace of a number of poets and authors including John Goldie (1717 - 1809), Gavin Turnbull (1758 - 1801), James Thomson (1775 - 1832), George Campbell (1761 - 1818), Alexander Smith (1829-67), John Kennedy (1789 - 1833) and William McIlvanney (b.1936). The artists James Tannock (1784 - 1863) and William Tannock were also born here, as was the gardener and broadcaster Jim McColl.

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