The small parish of Irvine lies around the town of that name. Irvine is sited at the confluence of the irvine and Garnock rivers that produced a sheltered anchorage - making it one of the safer harbours on the lower parts of the Firth of Clyde. The town became extremely prosperous in the 16th to 19th centuries, based on expanding trade in coal and other commodities between Irvine, Ireland and more distant shores. The town survived the Earl of Eglinton's attempts to establish a rival seaport at Ardrossan. Outside the burgh boundaries and across the River Irvine, Fullarton became an established industrial and ship-building suburb. However the falling coal production and the decline in other industries in the early 20th century severely reduced the revenues from the port and thus the town's prosperity.
The Town Council was successful in attracting new industry. Recognition of this initiative allowed the Scottish Office to designate Irvine as a `New Town' in 1966. The plans for the New Town extended as far as Kilwinning and Dreghorn. (See the respective pages.) The burgh now had a population in 1991 of 33,000. Irvine overlooks the Isle of Arran, and is a holiday resort. Irvine's industries used to be iron foundries, chemical works and a hosiery factory. Today they include light engineering and pharmaceuticals.
For earlier history see extracts from late 19th century history of the Royal Burgh of Irvine.
Seagate Castle, built between 1562 and 1585 as the town house of the Montgomeries of Eglinton, commanded the old Irvine harbour at Seagatefoot. The house, which had no defensive capability, was abandoned by the family in the 1740s. It is now an open ruin.
In Fullarton, the Scottish Maritime Museum has been established in the late Victorian offices once occupied by Laird's Forge. The Museum has a collection of a wide variety of seagoing craft, both commercial and leisure vessels. The Museum has re-erected to 1872 Engine Shop, which was originally in the Stephen's of Linthouse yard at Govan. A restored shipworker's flat lies close by.
At Irvine, Robert Burns spent some time (1781-3) as a flax-dresser; both his shop and the house in which he stayed have been burned down. Lesser links with literature were the Scottish novelist John Galt, who was born in the town in 1779, and James Montgomery, the Irvine poet.