Irvine lies on the River Irvine as it makes its last meander before joining with the River Garnock to flow into the sea. There's been an established settlement here at least as far back as 1140 when it was given Burgh status by Hugh de Morville, Great Constable of Scotland under King David I.
Its long history sits oddly with Irvine's designation as a New Town and its acquisition of a Development Corporation in 1966. This had much to do with the decline in the traditional industries on which the town's wealth had been built.
Coal mining had been especially important to Irvine, both in terms of the employment directly provided in the pits, and the historical reliance of Irvine Harbour on coal exports.
By the early 1980s Irvine's economy was in a parlous state with unemployment at 22% following the demise of the coal industry and a series of other industrial closures. But the tide was starting to turn.
Volvo invested heavily through the 1980s in its truck and bus plant in the town (though this later closed in 1999), while in 1989 the UK's largest paper mill was opened just south of Irvine by Finnish company Kymmene.
Irvine Harbourside's regeneration has been spectacular, with Scotland's largest leisure centre and major developments by the Scottish Maritime Museum: though the closure of the new Big Idea Millennium Project also on the Harbourside was a blow.
To the west of the Rivergate Centre is Irvine's Railway Station, effectively forming the link between the town centre to its east and Irvine Harbourside to its west, and well placed to serve both.
Irvine today is a bustling town. Its Harbourside area takes most of the plaudits, but the town itself also has an attractive feel.
The Rivergate Centre makes more of a contribution to the appearance of the town that you'd normally expect of a modern shopping centre. The slight shame is that the wonderful Trinity Church overlooking the square in front of the centre is derelict, a brief existence as a community centre having come to an end.
Dominating the east side of Irvine is the Town House, built in 1859, complete with its tall octagonal lantern. A little to the south is the third feature on the distant skyline of Irvine (setting aside the more recently added line of tower blocks). This is the spire of Irvine Parish Church, built in 1774.
Linking the Parish Church to the main shopping area is Hill Street, a wonderfully preserved evocation of an earlier age, where even the outside lights have an original appearance.
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