Clockwise from top-left: Place De Saint-Germain-en-Laye, Robert Burns statue, Wellington Square Gardens, The Wallace Tower and Burns Statue Square.
Coat of Arms of Ayr
|Population||46,490 (est. 2015)|
|Urban||62,440 (est. 2015)|
|OS grid reference|
|o Edinburgh||66 mi (106 km)|
|o London||330 mi (530 km)|
|Sovereign state||United Kingdom|
Ayr (; Scottish Gaelic: Inbhir Àir, "Mouth of the River Ayr") is a town situated on the southwest coast of Scotland. It is the administrative centre of the South Ayrshire council area and the historic county town of Ayrshire. With a population of 46,490 in 2015, Ayr is the largest settlement in Ayrshire and the 14th largest settlement in Scotland. The town is continuous with the smaller town of Prestwick to the north.
Ayr was established as a Royal Burgh in 1205. It served as Ayrshire's central marketplace and harbour throughout the Medieval Period and was a well-known port during the Early Modern Period. On the southern bank of the River Ayr sits the ramparts of a citadel constructed by Oliver Cromwell's men during the mid-17th century. Towards the south of the town is the birthplace of Scottish poet Robert Burns in the suburb of Alloway. Ayr has been a popular tourist resort since the expansion of the railway in 1840 owing to the town's fine beach and its links to golfing and Robert Burns.
Ayr was represented by a Conservative MP continuously for a period of 91 years - from 1906 (as part of the Ayr Burghs constituency) until 1997, followed by Labour from 1997 to 2015, and the Scottish National Party from 2015 to 2017. The town forms part of the Ayr constituency in the Scottish Parliament, the first Conservative constituency seat in the Parliament, which has been represented by Conservative MSP John Scott since a by-election in 2000. In the UK Parliament, Ayr is situated within the Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock constituency which has been represented by Conservative MP Bill Grant since the 2017 general election.
Ayr is one of the largest retail centres in the south of Scotland and was recognised as the second healthiest town centre in the United Kingdom by the Royal Society for Public Health in 2014. Ayr has hosted the Scottish Grand National horse-racing steeplechase annually since 1965 and the Scottish International Airshow annually since 2014. The town also accommodates the headquarters of the Ayr Advertiser and Ayrshire Post newspapers.
The name Ayr can be traced back to a pre-Celtic word meaning "watercourse" or "strong river". This name was used before the establishment of the Julian calendar in reference to the River Ayr. The town was formerly known as 'Inverair' or 'Inverayr', meaning "mouth of the river Ayr", yet this was later abbreviated to 'Air', and then to 'Ayr'. Elements of the old name remain present within the Scottish Gaelic name for Ayr - Inbhir Air.
The areas surrounding modern day Ayr were known to have been occupied by Mesolithic hunter-gathers more than 5,000 years ago. There is also a Neolithic standing stone at the end of Stonefield Park in Doonfoot, which is believed to have been upended as a place of sun worship by Stone Age men.
In 1197, King William the Lion ordered that a new castle be built between the River Ayr and the River Doon. It is believed that the castle was a wooden structure built around Montogomerie Terrace. Ayr was later established as a royal burgh and market town on 21 May 1205 by King William the Lion. At its establishment, the burgh encompassed a single street (The Sandgate) and the Church of St John. By 1225 the town reached as far as Carrick Street and Mill Street along the south side of the River Ayr. The town grew quickly to become the main seaport, marketplace and administrative centre for Ayrshire.
The King gifted fishing rights to the burgh for the River Ayr and the River Doon in 1236. In the following year, a timber bridge was built across the River Ayr, linking the town to the north side of the River. Since 1261, annual fairs were held in the town. At this time the town had a recorded population of 1,500 and served as a major port on the west coast. The town was unsuccessfully attacked by Norwegian forces in 1263 and invaded and occupied by English forces from 1296 until 1312 as part of the Scottish Wars of Independence. In 1298 the original castle at Ayr was destroyed by Robert The Bruce's forces. On 26 April 1315, a Parliament of Scotland was held in Ayr by Robert The Bruce at St. John's Tower by the sea.
As a Royal Burgh, Ayr was afforded various privileges relating to trade, tolls and fishing rights, which allowed the town to out-compete the neighbouring free burgh of Newton which was established in the 14th century and situated on the north side of the River Ayr.
Ayr was continuously hit by a number of plagues from 1545 to 1647, resulting in the town's port being quarantined and plague victims being removed from the town on pain of death. Mary, Queen of Scots visited the town in 1552 and 1563.
Ayr remained a significant port throughout the 16th century, exporting goods such as fish, hide and wool and importing salt and wine.
Ayr played a pivotal role in the Plantation of Ulster throughout the 17th century, in which a significant number of British people settled in present-day Northern Ireland. The town provided the largest share of colonists from Great Britain, with many colonists from Ayr joining the Earl of Eglinton, Hugh Montgomery's, plant in the Ards Peninsula (particularly around Newtownards), and others going on to settle around Belfast.
In 1652, the town was used as a base and fortress for some of Oliver Cromwell's men. They established a large fortress along the mouth of the River Ayr and erected walls around the area just south of the River's mouth - most of these walls remain present to this day. St John's Tower, which sat around the centre of the fortress, was originally part of a large church yet this was knocked down during the construction of the fort with the tower being used for military practice; it is now protected by "Friends Of Saint Johns Tower" (FROST) residents in the "Ayr Fort Area" which sits atop the former site of the citadel.
The lands occupied by the fort were granted to the Earl of Eglinton, Alexander Montgomerie, in 1663, who established the separate Burgh of Regality named Montgomerieston around the fort, which was eventually absorbed into the Burgh of Ayr. The separate village of Alloway to the south-east of Ayr was also annexed by the town in 1691, despite numerous petitions against this to Edinburgh from residents of the village.
Although the importation of French wine continued to be Ayr's most important trade during the 17th century, the port was one of the first in Scotland to establish regular trade links with the English colonies in the Americas. This commenced during the 1640s when the English Civil War disrupted established colonial trading arrangements, and during the Cromwellian occupation there was free trade between Scotland and the English colonies. Following the 1660 Restoration of the monarchy, the Navigation Acts excluded Scottish ships from this trade apart from a few exceptional cases. Several English merchants had settled in Ayr during the Cromwellian occupation, and they collaborated with local merchants in circumventing the Navigation Acts by disguising Ayr ships as English vessels. Tobacco, sugar and indigo were imported, and salted fish, meat, clothing and indentured servants were exported.
Deposits of coal were found and mined in Newton during the 17th century, resulting in the town becoming a base for the industry, with coal being exported abroad from its harbour. At this time, Ayr's population is estimated to have been at around 2,000.
"The capital of this country is Air, a sea-port, and as they tell us, was formerly a large city, had a good harbour, and a great trade: I must acknowledge to you, that tho' I believe it never was a city, yet it has certainly been a good town, and much bigger than it is now: At present like an old beauty, it shews the ruins of a good face; but is also apparently not only decay'd and declin'd, but decaying and declining every day, and from being the fifth town in Scotland, as the townsmen say, is now like a place so saken; the reason of its decay, is, the decay of its trade, so true is it, that commerce is the life of nations, of cities towns, harbours, and of the whole prosperity of a country: What the reason of the decay of trade here was, or when it first began to decay, is hard to determine; nor are the people free to tell, and, perhaps, do not know themselves. There is a good river here, and a handsome stone bridge of four arches."
The formation of the Kingdom of Great Britain through the Acts of Union 1707 was initially harmful to Ayr, due to the importance to its economy of the wine trade with France. The terms of the English Methuen Treaty of 1703, which favoured the importation of Portuguese and Spanish wines and was accompanied by punitive duties on French wines, were extended to Scotland. However, the Union provided Ayr with significant trading opportunities with Britain's colonies around the world and resulted in improvements to the town's infrastructure, with Ayr's textile, wool, linen and shoemaking industries thriving as a result. A small lighthouse was constructed on the River Ayr in 1712, followed by a quay in 1713. Repairs to the town's Harbour and High Tolbooth took place between 1724 and 1726, with funding provided by the Convention of Royal Burghs. Street lighting was installed around the town centre in 1747. A sugar refinery at the harbour was in operation during the 1770s.
The grounds of Alloway were sold in 1754 to help pay off Ayr burgh's public debts, resulting in the establishment of the Belleisle and Rozelle estates to the south of the town, which are now public parks. Rozelle was acquired by Robert Hamilton, who named his estate after one of his plantations in Jamaica. In 1760, Wallacetown was formed to the east of Newton by the Wallaces of Craigie House. Ayr Racecourse was established in 1777. The "New Brig" of Ayr was constructed in 1785-88 and rebuilt in 1877 after severe flooding. In 1792 and 1817, Parliament passed acts to deepen and maintain Ayr's Harbour. During this period Ayr's population was estimated to be around 4,000.
In 1801, the parish of Ayr had a recorded population of just under 5,500, with the adjoining burgh of Newton to the north having a population of just under 1,700 people. By 1826 Ayr's streets were lit by gas and by 1842 Ayr had a water supply, with sewers being dug soon after. Ayr was connected to Glasgow, and thus the rest of Great Britain, by rail in 1839, with the first service operating in August 1840 to a terminus on North Harbour Street. This led to a significant expansion in Ayr's tourist industry due to its attractive, sandy beach and links to Robert Burns. In 1857 a line was built from Dalmellington to export iron from Waterside and a new station was built to replace the old station called "Ayr Townhead Station". In 1877 a line was built between Newton and Mauchline for the export of coal.
By 1851 Ayr's population was 21,000 and by 1855 between 60,000 and 70,000 tonnes of coal were being exported to Ireland from Ayr's Harbour each year, with imports of hide and tallow coming into the harbour from South America and beef, butter, barley, yarn and linen being imported into the harbour from Ireland. In 1854, 84,330 tonnes of goods were exported from the town and 36,760 tonnes were imported into the town. Other prominent industries in Ayr at this time included fishing, tanning and shoemaking, with several sawmills, woollen mills and carpet weavers located in the town as well. Timber and tobacco were also traded between Ayr's Harbour and North America.
The Burgh of Ayr Act 1873 resulted in Newton and Wallacetown being absorbed into the Burgh of Ayr. Newton's more industrial character has left the town today divided into two distinct areas, with areas south of the River Ayr incorporating a mixture of affluent Victorian residential suburbs and modern suburban developments, in contrast to more deprived and industrial areas to the north of the river. The Carnegie Library was opened in Ayr on 2 September 1893. By the turn of the century, Ayr's population was around 31,000 people.
On 26 September 1901, a tram service was opened between Prestwick Cross in Prestwick and St Leonards in Ayr. This was expanded south the following year to Alloway, and east in 1913 to the Racecourse at Whitletts. The tram service was eventually shut due to expensive repair costs, with the last tram running on New Year's Eve in 1931.
817 men from Ayr died during the First World War. A memorial was unveiled at Wellington Square in 1924 dedicated to those who died, with other memorials being put up at Alloway Village Hall and Whitletts Cross.
Ayr's growing population following the war resulted in significant slum clearance and redevelopment around the town centre, with the development of new housing estates on the periphery of the town. The lands surrounding Woodfield House were acquired by the council in 1919 to build council housing on, with the first residents moving in 1921. In 1929 Ayr was designated as a large burgh and its boundaries were expanded to include Alloway, Castlehill, Doonfoot and Whitletts. In the 1930s, council estates were also developed at Lochside and Heathfield. The mining villages of Dalmilling and Whitletts were also cleared and developed into sizeable council estates.
Following the Second World War, more council housing was developed in Ayr at Kincaidston, with the Wallacetown and Whitletts estates being expanded. Suburban housing was also developed at Alloway, Doonfoot and Holmston, and many disused industrial buildings throughout the town were redeveloped into flats.
Ayr forms part of the UK Parliamentary constituency of Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock. This constituency includes Carrick and Coylton in South Ayrshire in addition to Doon Valley, Cumnock and New Cumnock in southern East Ayrshire. The seat is currently held by Conservative Bill Grant, who was elected as the Member of Parliament at the 8 June 2017 UK general election.
The Central Ayrshire constituency runs north of the Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock constituency. It takes in the towns of Irvine, Kilwinning, Prestwick, Troon and rural Kyle, running into Annbank. It also incorporates the Woodfield area of Newton-on-Ayr and is represented by SNP MP Philippa Whitford.
In previous elections Ayr was represented in Westminster as part of the Ayr Parliamentary constituency, the boundaries of which included elements of Prestwick, Troon and rural South Ayrshire. The seat was abolished in 2005 to be replaced by the Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock and Central Ayrshire constituencies which were subsequently represented by MP's belonging to Labour, and later, the SNP. From the seat's creation in 1950 until the 1997 general election Ayr was continually represented by MP's from the Conservative Party. George Younger served as Member of Parliament for the constituency for most of this period - serving as MP for Ayr from 1964 to 1992. In 1997 the boundaries of the constituency were altered in a move which saw the Conservative areas of Alloway, Doonfoot and Masonhill alongside parts of Kincaidston and Forehill being transferred to the neighbouring Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley constituency, benefiting the Labour Party.
Prior to this Ayr formed part of the Ayr Burghs constituency which combined various towns along the Ayrshire coast such as Irvine, Troon, Prestwick, Ardrossan and Saltcoats: this seat was held by the Conservatives from 1906 until the constituency's abolishment in 1950, making Ayr the longest seat to be held by the Conservatives in Scotland at over 100 years.
At the Scottish Parliament Ayr exists as a constituency seat and has been represented by Conservative MSP John Scott since 2000. It was the first constituency in the Scottish Parliament to elect a Conservative MSP. The constituency also includes the towns of Prestwick and Troon. Regional MSPs that represent the South Scotland electoral region, and by extension represent the town of Ayr, are: Joan McAlpine (Scottish National), Emma Harper (Scottish National), Paul Wheelhouse (Scottish National), Brian Whittle (Conservative), Michelle Ballantyne (Conservative), Claudia Beamish (Labour) and Colin Smyth (Labour).
Ayr is represented by 11 elected councillors on South Ayrshire Council, of which five belong to the Scottish Conservatives, four belong to the Scottish National Party and two belong to Scottish Labour. Below are a list of councillors elected to serve Ayr, sorted by ward:
|Ayr North||Laura Brennan-Whitefield||Scottish National Party|
|Douglas Campbell||Scottish National Party|
|Ian Davis||Scottish Conservative Party|
|Ian Cavana||Scottish Labour Party|
|Ayr East||Mary Kilpatrick||Scottish Conservative Party|
|Chris Cullen||Scottish National Party|
|Brian McGinley||Scottish Labour Party|
|Ayr West||Martin Dowey||Scottish Conservative Party|
|Lee Lyons||Scottish Conservative Party|
|Darek McCabe||Scottish Conservative Party|
|Siobhian Brown||Scottish National Party|
As a former Royal Burgh, Ayr had a Provost as chief magistrate of the burgh council and the earliest recorded Provost is Nicholas de Fynvyk. The title of provost was retained by Kyle and Carrick District Council and South Ayrshire Council for their civic heads. The role of provost is now apolitical and carries a number of duties including chairing meetings of the council, acting as civic head representing South Ayrshire Council, promotion of South Ayrshire Council and networking with various organisations such as local businesses.
A chain and robes are worn by the provost while undertaking their ceremonial duties. The Provost's chain was donated in June 1897 by James McLennan who was a Glasgow wine and spirit merchant who was born in Coylton and lived in Ayr. The official provost's robes have been provided by the council since 11 June 1923. In addition, South Ayrshire Council erects lamp posts with the Royal Burgh Coat of Arms emblazoned on the diffusers outside the official resident of the provost - this has been undertaken since 1854.
Each newly elected provost enters their name into a Bible at the "Kirkin 'O The Council" service at Ayr Auld Kirk after each council election. The Bible in which the names are entered was acquired by the Kirk during the Provostship of Hugh Miller (1841-1855). The names of the provosts entered into the Bible are as follows:
|1855-1861||Primrose William Kennedy|
|1888-1891||James Murray Ferguson|
|1894-1897||Hugh Douglas Willock|
|1909-1912||James Shaw Hunter|
|1918-1922||I M Mathie-Morton|
|1924-1927||James Robertson Gould|
|1927-1930||John S Stewart|
|1958-1961||William Sidney Lanham|
|1967-1970||Alexander S Handyside|
|1984-1988||Gibson T Macdonald|
|1992-1996||Gibson T Macdonald|
|1998-2003||Elizabeth A Foulkes|
|2003-2006||Gordon S McKenzie|
|2006-2012||Winifred D Sloan|
|2012 - present||Helen Moonie|
The current provost is Labour councillor Helen Moonie. List of Provosts of Ayr from 1560-1692, See Annals of Ayr in the olden time, 1560-1692, By John Pagan. Ayr: Alex Fergusson, 18 High Street, 1897. Online link: https://archive.org/stream/annalsofayrinold00pagauoft#page/n7/mode/2up
Ayr is a coastal town which lies on the mouth of the River Ayr. The river then flows out into the larger Firth of Clyde estuary. From the coast, the Isle of Arran can be seen, and on a very clear day, the northern tip of Northern Ireland. It is within the region of Strathclyde. Much of the land in and around this area is very flat and low lying, used for rearing dairy cattle. Towards the south of Ayr, however, the land is higher than most areas in the county of Ayrshire, an example of this being the Brown Carrick Hill which is situated due south of Doonfoot. Ayr lies approximately 35 miles (55 km) southwest of Glasgow.
- Laigh Glengall
- St Leonard's
The nearest official Met Office weather station to Ayr is Auchincruive, about 3 miles (5 km) to the north-east of Ayr town centre.
|Climate data for Auchincruive 48m asl, 1971-2000, Extremes 1960-|
|Record high °C (°F)||14.4
|Average high °C (°F)||6.7
|Average low °C (°F)||1.6
|Record low °C (°F)||-11.7
|Average precipitation mm (inches)||97.3
|Mean monthly sunshine hours||44.3||66.1||91.5||143.7||198.4||178.5||167.4||152.8||118.2||86.2||57.3||37.8||1,342.2|
|Source #1: MetOffice|
|Source #2: Royal Dutch Meteorological Institute/KNMI|
The area experiences very cool summers and somewhat mild winters. The air is cooler during the summer due to its proximity to the sea as water has a major cooling effect on summer temperatures. During the winter months the reverse happens and the sea air has a major warming effect on the climate. The area rarely sees extremes, owing to the effects of sea air. Rainfall is generally plentiful throughout the year due to Atlantic weather systems sweeping in from the west. Compared with the rest of Scotland, the area rarely sees much mist and fog. This is because the land is relatively flat and low lying and with the wind blowing across the flatter land, this generally hinders fog from developing widely. This has made Glasgow Prestwick International Airport particularly well known as one of the less fog-prone airports in Scotland. Snowfall is rare in this part of Scotland because of the mild sea air.
The north side of Ayr Harbour still operates as a commercial port, mainly exporting coal, and extensive railway sidings still lead down from the main railway line near Newton-on-Ayr station.
Ayr developed as the central retail hub in the south-west of Scotland after the opening of the town's first department store, Hourstons, in 1896. In the 1970s the opening of stores such as Marks and Spencers and Ayr's first shopping centre, the Kyle Centre (1988), encouraged an expansion in the local economy. Heathfield Retail park, an out-of-town retail park, opened in 1993 with shops such as Halfords and Homebase. Ayr Central Shopping Centre opened in March 2006, housing shops such as Debenhams and H&M and under-parking for 500 cars. In December 2014 Threesixty Architecture received planning permission to refurbish the Kyle Centre by reinventing it as a centre of leisure through the creation of a new cinema complex among other new features. As of 2014 Royal Society for Public Health found Ayr's High Street to be the second healthiest in the United Kingdom behind Shrewsbury. In 2016 research conducted by the Local Data Company suggested that Ayr had among the highest number of shops per head in the United Kingdom at one shop for every 270 people.
During the 19th and 20th centuries, Ayr became a popular holiday resort. This was due to its fine sandy beach and the construction of the rail link to Glasgow which was completed in 1840.
To the north of Ayr is the adjoining town of Prestwick, which is known for its golf and aviation industries thanks to the presence of Glasgow Prestwick Airport. Only 5 miles (8 km) north of Ayr is Troon, a golf and seaside resort which regularly hosts the British Open Championship. Ayr has three golf courses in Bellisle, Seafield and Dalmilling, as well as a private course called St Cuthberts. The area is synonymous as a seaside resort, with the south of the town housing the Craig Tara and Haven (formerly Butlins) holiday parks. The suburban village of Alloway to the south of the town is also well established for its associations with the poet Robert Burns. Further south, the fishing village of Dunure takes in a ruined castle which was formerly owned by the Kennedy family.
Ayr is served by several major roads:
Eight local bus services operated by Stagecoach West Scotland serve Ayr and Prestwick. Express coaches to Glasgow Buchanan Street operate every 30-60 minutes. Ulsterbus operate bus services to Belfast via Stranraer Ferry service on Stena Line.
The railway station provides rail and sea connections via Stranraer for the connecting bus to Cairnryan for either the Stena Line ferry service to the Port of Belfast or the P&O Ferries service to Larne Harbour connecting with Northern Ireland Railways via Carrickfergus and Jordanstown to Belfast Central and Belfast Great Victoria Street. There is also the connection via Troon on P&O Ferries on a seasonal basis to Larne Harbour.
The town is served by the Glasgow Prestwick International Airport just 2 miles (3 km) north from Ayr, which offers regional and domestic air services across Europe and the British Isles. Further destinations are available from Glasgow Airport, which is accessible by train to Paisley Gilmour Street for the connecting bus to the airport. In relation to Ayr, Glasgow Airport is 35 miles (56 km) away.
Although the town does not have any ferry services from its harbour, it is in close proximity to ferry services to Northern Ireland. Cairnryan, 60 miles (100 km) south of Ayr, has up to eight daily departures to Belfast and up to seven daily departures to Larne.
The Church of Scotland is the main denomination in Ayr with nine churches spread throughout the town. The Roman Catholic Church has two churches, St Paul's, Belmont and the Cathedral Church of St Margaret the successor to The Good Shepherd Cathedral which has been demolished.
There is also a Free Church of Scotland, a Baptist Church and Evangelical church in John Street, a Latter-Day Saints Church at Orchard Avenue and the Southside Christian Fellowship in Ayr Town Hall. Ayr is also home to two Orange Lodges.
At the United Kingdom Census 2001, Ayr had a population of 46,431, a fall of -3.2% on 1991. Mid-2008 population estimates placed the total resident population at 46,070 making Ayr the 12th largest urban area in Scotland. The 2011 census found that Ayr's population had grown by around 0.9% since the 2001 census - surpassing the total population growth of Ayr and Prestwick, which only grew by 0.63%, falling short of the national population growth of Scotland of +4.61%.
|UK Census 2011||Ayr||Ayr & Prestwick||Scotland|
|Population growth 2001-2011||0.90%||0.63%||4.61%|
|Under 16 years old||16%||15.9%||17.3%|
|Over 65 years old||21.9%||22.1%||16.8%|
|'British' national identity||28.5%||29.2%||26.7%|
|UK Census 2001||Ayr||Ayr & Prestwick||Scotland|
|Population growth 1991-2001||-3.19%||-0.07%||1.3%|
|Under 16 years old||17.2%||17.4%||19.2%|
|Over 65 years old||20.4%||20.5%||16.0%|
Ayr has two nursery schools:
There are also several partnership centres and nursery classes held within primary schools within Ayr.
Ayr is served by fifteen primary schools:
Ayr has one school which provides education for those with Additional Support Needs:
Ayr is served by four secondary schools:
Prestwick Academy is located within the neighbouring town of Prestwick and provides education to pupils who are resident within Ayr but fall within its catchment area. Mainholm Academy was a former secondary school located within Ayr and was closed due to safety concerns.
Ayr has four further education establishments:
The NHS Ayrshire and Arran Health Board serves South, East and North Ayrshire - a part of Ayrshire and Arran's departmental headquarters is located in Ayr. Ayr is also the regional headquarters of the Scottish Ambulance Service for south-west Scotland that is located in Heathfield, next to the site of the old Heathfield Hospital.
Ayr previously had four hospitals: Heathfield Hospital (originally a fever hospital, but latterly medical and ophthalmic), Seafield Hospital (a children's hospital), Ayr County (originally a voluntary hospital, and latterly confined to surgery) and Ailsa Hospital (a psychiatric hospital). Ayr Hospital was built in 1993 which replaced all but Ailsa Hospital which is still open.
Currently, three hospitals active hospitals lie adjacent to Ayr running along the A713 towards Hollybush in East Ayrshire, these are:
Hollybush House on the outskirts of Ayr is used by a charity for the mental health welfare of ex-members of the UK Armed Forces.
Ayr has two community centres, these are:
Ayr is home to The Gaiety Theatre. Built in 1902, reconstructed after a fire in 1904, its façade remodelled in 1935, and further reinstated after a fire in 1955. In 1995, an annexe was constructed, including a new café, box office, dressing rooms and studio space. After a faltering start, which saw several years as a cinema after WWI, the theatre was bought by Ben Popplewell, from Bradford, who already had a track record of success running the Pavilion theatre on Ayr seafront. For fifty years the Popplewell family ran the theatre - latterly as part of the Glasgow Pavilion business. During this time the Gaiety developed a reputation as a variety theatre with a 'summer' variety show - the Gaiety Whirl - which ran for 26 weeks at its height. Many British stars appeared regularly on its stage, and several started their careers there. The programme offered more than a summer show, however, with several weeks of Shakespeare and regular transfers from Glasgow Citizens theatre, being part of a varied offer.
After seventy years of private ownership, the local council acquired the Gaiety Theatre freehold in 1974. It then operated as a municipal theatre under direct local authority management. After many years of successful operation, the theatre began to lose audiences and the council felt the revenue subsidy it provided and the requirement for capital investment required a new approach. In January 2009 the theatre closed, leaving Ayr without a theatre. The closure was met with considerable opposition and dismay among many Ayr residents, particularly since it appeared that the required capital and revenue investment to reopen the theatre would not be available. A public meeting attracted over 400 attendees, the future of the theatre was a key issue in the local press, many Scottish performers expressed their dismay and there was extensive discussion on social media. In early 2009 South Ayrshire Council invited tenders to take on the theatre management. The Ayr Gaiety Partnership (AGP), a charity formed for the purpose in Summer 2009, secured preferred bidder status. Just over three years later, having secured financial backing from the council and Scottish Government, as well as from local fundraising, AGP took on a 99-year lease of the theatre.
Ayr is served by three libraries plus a mobile library. These are:
The radio station West FM was based in Ayr until mid-2017 and broadcasts on 96.7FM. West FM is the main broadcaster in the Ayrshire area. The Ayrshire Post, serving all parts of Ayrshire, and Ayr Advertiser, serving the towns of Ayr and Prestwick, newspapers are also based in Ayr. The Ayr Advertiser is Scotland's oldest weekly newspaper. West FM's move from Ayr marks the first time in 35 years that local radio has not been broadcast from Ayrshire.
Ayr Racecourse is a well-known racecourse in Scotland and hosts both National Hunt and flat racing. It has the largest capacity in Scotland for horse racing. Notable events include the Scottish Grand National (April) and Ayr Gold Cup (September) as well as several night meetings. It was recently put up for sale by the owners and included the Western House Hotel as part of the potential sale.
Ayr has a senior football team, Ayr United F.C., who play at Somerset Park in the Scottish Championship. They reached the final of the 2001-02 Scottish League Cup competition. The club was formed in 1910 with the merger of Ayr F.C. (who were formed in 1879 by the merger of Ayr Thistle and Ayr Academical football clubs) and Ayr Parkhouse F.C..
Whitletts Victoria F.C. are a Junior side from the Whitletts area of Ayr.
The town has a strong history of ice hockey, but no longer hosts a professional ice hockey team. The most recent professional team were the Ayr Scottish Eagles who played in the British Superleague between 1996 and 2002 based at the Centrum arena. During this time they have success most famously their grand slam season in 1997-98 winning all four titles available and becoming British Champions. The following season saw them compete in the European Hockey league with famous victories home and away to Russian champions AK Bars Kazan. Eagles finished 3rd in a group also containing clubs from Germany and Czech Republic. The Centrum closed in 2003 and was demolished in 2009 to make way for a Sainsbury supermarket.
Ayr's rugby union team, Ayr RFC, play at Millbrae and are reigning Scottish Cup Champions and Scottish Premiership Champions 2012/2013, and won the 2008/09 Scottish Hydro Premiership. Ayr RFC has twice competed in the British and Irish cup involving clubs from Scotland, England, Wales and Ireland.
A rugby league team, Ayr Knights ARLFC, play at Auchincruive.
Ayr only has one leisure centre, the Citadel, which opened in 1997, at the mouth of the River Ayr and at the seafront at the South Harbour area. Its facilities include a main hall measuring 34 m × 27 m (112 ft × 89 ft). This hall can accommodate various sports including 5-a-side football, basketball, volleyball, netball, indoor hockey, indoor cricket practice, badminton and short tennis.
As well as individual sports, sporting events and competitions, the hall has hosted exhibitions, concerts, trade fairs, election counts and awards ceremonies. The Citadel is an expansion of the Ayr swimming pool, which opened in 1972. The Citadel features a Dance Studio approx 124 m2 (1,330 sq ft). It is predominantly used for dance or exercise classes but also accommodates martial arts groups and drama workshops and two glass backed squash courts. The Citadel Leisure Centre in Ayr is home to South Ayrshire Volleyball Club as well as being the town's only public swimming pool and diving pool.
The leisure centre has squash courts, a gymnasium, dance studio, cafeteria and adjacent salons and youth club. An Ayrshire basketball team, the Troon Tornadoes, play their national league matches at the Citadel, despite not being an Ayr team. Additionally, Ayr has a Strathclyde league basketball team, Ayr Storm.
Ayr is also home to Scottish Bowling. The greens at Northfield host the Bowls Scotland and SYBA finals each year as well as the Hamilton Trophy final. Both the Ladies and Gents World Championships have been held at the Northfield complex as have international series and the Atlantic Rim Championships. Ayr Indoor Bowling Green is the oldest existing indoor bowling stadium in the world. Ayr Cricket Club play at Cambusdoon, and occasionally act as host for Scotland matches.
Speedway was staged at Dam Park in 1937, when two meetings, organised by Maurice and Roland Stobbart from Cumbria took place, featuring riders who raced in the north of England, at venues such as Workington and Hyde Road in Manchester.
Ayr has a sandy beach with an esplanade. This is very popular with joggers and day-trippers. Whitletts Activity Centre also serves the town of Ayr. It has an 11-a side outdoor soccer pitch and an indoor 5-a-side football pitch. Near Whitletts Activity Centre there is also a 5-a-side football complex called "Pro Soccer".
Ayr is twinned with: