The Spelling, Pronunciation and Origins of our Surname
Early Irwin Traditions
The Lairds of Bonshaw
The Barons and Lairds of Drum
The Caput of the Barony of Drum
It is important to remember that genetic genealogy is just one of the tools that today’s genealogists can use to build and understand their family history. For various reasons this Study has not prioritised the collection of each member's family tree, but this deficiency is now being addressed by the Clan Irwin Association Family Tree Project, under the umbrella of the Wikitree Irwin Name Study, and members of this Study are encouraged to contribute their family trees to this on-line facility.
The findings of surname DNA studies also need to be reconciled with other tools such as traditions, printed histories and, most importantly, contemporary records. The following text, much of which I originally prepared for the Clan Irwin Association website, and which has since been expanded into the book The Irwin Surname (see Further Reading), gives some background to these aspects. It is written to reconcile what may be termed the “traditional” and “modern” schools of thought on our surname rather than to reflect my personal views.
2. The Spelling, Pronunciation and Origins of Our Surname
Over the years our surname has been spelt in many different ways. A lengthy list may be found at www.clanirwin.org. Some have even argued that Irvine, Irving and Irwin, three popular spellings, are in fact different surnames. Today the most popular spellings are Irving in the western Scottish Borders, Urwin in Northumberland and Durham, Irvine elsewhere in Scotland and England, and Irwin in Ireland and America.
Originally the name was probably usually pronounced Irwin, but today it is generally pronounced as it is spelt, although Irvine is generally pronounced Irvin (to rhyme with win), except in Belfast and Orange County, California, where it is pronounced as it is spelt (i.e. to rhyme with wine).
Our DNA Study has helped to show that the way the surname may be spelt or pronounced is not a reliable indicator of our ancestral origins.
In about 1680 Dr Christopher Irvin M.D., later Historiographer Royal in Scotland to King James VII, wrote a account entitled “The Original of the Family of the Irvines or Erinvines” (reproduced and reviewed in detail, with a biography in my book Dr Christopher Irvin and his 'Original of the Family of the Irvins'). In this account he claimed that etymologically the name came from Erin-veine, meaning a strong and hearty man from the west. Today the surname is generally thought to come from ir meaning green, pure or fresh, and vin or avon meaning river or stream, although experts differ. Most believe this refers to the river Irvine in Ayrshire. Strathirewin in Ayrshire was first mentioned in the 1120s, and the historian Hovedon mentioned a Castle Irvine there in 1184. There is also an Irvine Burn in eastern Dumfriesshire, first mentioned in the 17th century. Some writers have claimed the name can also come from the Old English personal name Erewinne, Erwinne or Eorforwine, from the Anglo-Saxon eofor meaning wild boar, and wine meaning friend, a name that today might be contracted as Everwin, but there is no genealogical or DNA evidence to support this claim.
The earliest reference to the surname in public records was to Gilchristo filio (son of) Eruini, who was a witness in Galloway between 1124 and 1165, but this was before hereditary surnames were in use in Scotland. The next earliest reference was to 14 merchants in Dublin in 1190-1255 whose second name was de Irewin or de Hyrewin, and there was a Robert de Hirewine of Kilwinning in Ayrshire who witnessed a charter in 1226. Though possible, it is unlikely that these men and others in the 13th century were using the name de Irwyn as a hereditary surname. The earliest confirmed hereditary use of the surname was by William de Irwyn in 1322/3 - see below.
As early as 1672 judge Sir George Mackenzie associated the Irvines of Drum with Ayrshire. In his 'Original' Dr Christopher Irvin recorded the tradition that the Irvines of Drum, Perth and Orkney are all descended from the Irvings of Bonshaw in Dumfriesshire, and that this family originally came from Ayrshire. Many American Irwins, although unable to trace their ancestry back to a specific Scottish source, have inherited a tradition that their paternal ancestors came from Ireland or Scotland.
Heraldically the Irwins of Bonshaw, Drum and Orkney share all share the armorial motif of holly leaves. In 1907 John Beaufin Irving of Bonshaw claimed “yet it was all the same name and referring to members of the one clan”. However today the Lord Lyon recognises Chiefs of the name of both Irvine of Drum and Irving of Bonshaw.
Modern genealogical research based on surviving contemporary records has confirmed, consolidated and expanded many individual lines of descent, and is challenging the traditional interrelationships of the various branches of the name. However these interrelationships can now be determined by yDNA tests of their descendants.
The above diagram shows the traditional ancestral lines of the Scottish branches of the Irwin surname, together with, in red, the additional evidence of our Surname DNA Study. Y-DNA tests of representative descendants of most of these lines do not, after all, share these traditional relationships, at least in the paternal line. More specifically, during the surname era, the Irwins of Drum, Perthshire, Forfarshire, Orkney and Shetland are not related, paternally, to the Irwins of the Scottish Borders/Dumfriesshire/Bonshaw. There are also branches of the Irwin surname descended paternally from other surnames of the Scottish Borders. It is now very clear that even within Scotland the surname is not a single-origin name but a plural-origin name.
Conversely our Y-DNA tests have confirmed that the Border Irwin branches of Eskdale, Bonshaw, Castle Irvine and Dumfries (and no doubt some other Dumfriesshire lines, as yet unidentified, but probably including Gretna, Hoddam, Luce, Pennersax, Skaill, Trailtrow etc.) all descended from some common ancestor, alas unnamed, who probably lived in Dumfriesshire in the 14th century. Many descendants of this ancestor still live in Dumfriesshire today (which is how their origin was determined). Many other Irwins migrated from Dumfriesshire to Ulster in the 17th century, some no doubt at the time of “the Plantation” of King James VI of Scotland and I of England. During the 18th century many of these Scots-Irish migrated from Ireland to the eastern seaboard states of America. Records of these migrations across the Irish Sea and across the Atlantic are very sparse, and associated genealogies extremely rare. However yDNA tests of many Americans who have inherited traditions of one or both of these migrations are consistently confirming paternal their descent from some single 14th century ancestor in Dumfriesshire.
Other Scottish and Irish Irwins migrated to Canada, Australia and New Zealand, some direct, some through Ireland. It is also apparent that some Irwins in the south of Ireland were not from Scotland at all, but had one or more gaelic names that were anglicised as Irwin. There is also the German name Erwin and the surname Arnwine which may have come from Germany, the Netherlands or Lincolnshire.
This Surname DNA Study welcomes all who use our surname, however spelt, and those with other surnames who share the DNA of its many branches. Similarly the Clan Irwin Association regards all who use our surname, regardless of spelling, and who respect its Scottish heritage, to be members of one clan. The Association has its own coat of arms registered by the Lord Lyon, as do several individual armigers. Under Scottish law no individual may use a coat of arms unless this personal right has been recognized by the Lord Lyon, but clansmen may use an appropriate buckle and strap, in our case that of Bonshaw or Drum, and the associated tartan, depending on their preferred allegiance.
3. Early Irwin Traditions
According to tradition recorded by Dr. Christopher Irvin in c.1680, the Irvings of Bonshaw are descended from 'Duncan of Eskdale', as he is known in the family. This Duncan was a younger brother of Crinan, the father of King Duncan I of Scotland. The paternal grandfather of Crinan and Duncan of Eskdale was another Duncan, hereditary Abthane of Dule and lay abbot of Dunkeld. It has been claimed that the latter Duncan was a direct descendant of Niall of the Nine Hostages, who was high King of Ireland early in the 5th century AD. This Duncan, as Abthane of Dule – an ancient title connected with St. Adamnan’s abbey of Dull – was of more consequence than any one of the seven Pictish ‘Mormaers’, being second only to the king himself in power and importance. He appears to have been appointed Governor of Strathclyde when that region was conquered by the Saxons and given to Malcolm I of Alban (the early name of Scotland) in 946 AD. His residence in Strathclyde is supposed to have been the old fort of Eryvine, or Orewyn, where the town of Irvine now stands. Both Duncan and his neighbour Dubdon, Mormaer of Athole, were killed at the battle of Duncrub c.965 AD, while leading their forces against a strong rebel army of their fellow countrymen.
Duncan was succeeded by his eldest son and heir, also Duncan, about whom little is known except that he also seems to have succeeded Dubdon as Mormaer of Athole, as he is called ‘Lord of Athole’. At the battle of Luncarty (of uncertain date), where the Danes were routed, Duncan commanded the left wing of the Scottish forces, under King Kenneth III. This Duncan is the progenitor of the oldest recorded families in Great Britain: the noble family of Dunbar is certainly descended from him, and traditionally so are the noble families of Irving and Home, all in the male line, not to mention the Royal Family and numerous other families by female descent.
This second Duncan was succeeded by his eldest son, Crinan who, according to the first edition of John Major’s Historia Majoris Britanniae written in 1521, married Princess Beatrix (or Bethoc) daughter and heiress of King Malcolm II of Scotland, and by her was father of Duncan I, who reigned as King of Scotland for six years. Crinan was the progenitor in the male line of all the kings of Scotland down to Alexander III (died 1286), and in the female line of all the sovereigns of Scotland down to the present day, with the sole exception of Macbeth, who murdered his son, King Duncan, in 1040, and reigned for the next seventeen years. Tradition tells us that Crinan maintained a residence at Eryvine, but that he was the last of his family to do so, the fortress being used solely for military purposes thereafter. He was killed by Macbeth’s forces in 1045, while trying to avenge his son’s death and grandson’s deposition.
About 1020, Duncan of Eskdale’s eldest son is said to have married an heiress of the ancient British royal line of Coel Hen and taken up residence at her ancestral home, the ancient hill-fort of Dumbretton (the name means ‘Fort of the Britons’). Shortly afterwards he, or one of his descendants, built a new castle in Kirtledale, two miles further east and on or near the present site of Bonshaw; he took up residence there and gave it the name Irwyn which had by then become firmly associated with the family – as Irewyn in Ayrshire, Owyrn in Eskdale, and Heryn (the seat of Crinan's brother Grim, Thane of Strathearn) in Strathearn.
Another tradition claims that the first castle of Bonshaw somewhere in Kirtledale was built about this time. Later the Bruce family were assumed to be the feudal overlords of Kirtledale. It is claimed that the Irvings and Bruces became very close friends and allies, and Robert the Bruce was a guest at Bonshaw in 1298. When he fled from the court of Edward I of England, in 1306, his first night back in Scotland was spent in the security of its fastness. There is a cave nearby in the Kirtle cliffs at Cove, in which the Irvings are reputed to have hidden Bruce from the English on at least one occasion around this time. Dr Christopher Irvin claimed that Bruce took William de Irwyn, a son of Irwyn of Bonshaw, to be his armour-bearer and secretary. William served Bruce faithfully and became the first Irvine of Drum.
Alas, apart from a William de Irwyn being the first Irvine of Drum and a clerk to Robert the Bruce, there is no documentary or DNA evidence to support any of the above traditions.
There was then a gap of two centuries before the earliest contemporary records that refer to Bonshaw. By the 15th century there were Irvings also living in other homesteads in the Scottish Borders, for example in Dumfries, Eskdale, Gretna, Hoddom, Luce, Pennersax, Skaill, Stakeheugh and Turnshaw. These Irvings were no doubt all relatives of the branch of the surname that settled at Bonshaw, though alas their genealogies have not survived. Many of the men of all these branches were “border reivers”, men who were engaged in feuds with other surnames in both Scotland and England, for the monarchs of both countries struggled to keep law and order in “the Borders”, and cross-border raids to plunder and steal cattle were commonplace until the early 17th century.
4. Bonshaw Tower
Bonshaw Tower stands 6 miles northwest of Gretna Green and English/Scottish border, close to the M74 motorway between Carlisle and Glasgow. The tower and the modern house adjacent to it stand on level ground, bounded on the east by a high cliff with the Kirtle Water washing its base; on the south by the steep ravine down which the Old Caul Burn runs to meet the Kirtle; on the west by rough ground and the farmyard of Bonshaw Mains where ramparts and ditches once stood. To the west lie the lands of Dumbretton, Robgill lies to the south, Woodhouse a little further downstream, and Cove beyond. Wysebie is across the river, and further upstream lie Braes and Old Kirkconnel. Of the numerous Irving towers that once guarded the central Irving territory of Kirtledale, only Bonshaw, part of Robgill (incorporated in a modern mansion), and the ruins of Woodhouse, Stapleton, and New Kirkconnel (at Ecclefechan) now remain.
Bonshaw Tower and mansion, from the west
The present tower is thought to date from c.1570. It is a solid rectangular keep 52 ft high. A 58-step wheel stair climbs from the ground level basement (prison floor) to the parapet walk above the third floor. The first floor was the Great Hall with a great fireplace, 9ft wide x 7ft high; the second floor was the principal family room, serving as withdrawing room and bedroom; the third floor, former garret, now serves as the history room, having a long, handwritten ancestral chart hanging on the wall. Mounted just below the top of the north gable is the old clan bell which once summoned the clan in times of danger.
Bonshaw Tower is still privately owned and prospective visitors should first contact the laird (see www.bonshaw.org).
5. The Lairds of Bonshaw
The earliest surviving contemporary reference to Bonshaw is not until 1506, when William Irving of Bonshaw was laird, although a subsequent reference implies he had entered into an agreement in 1484. William was succeeded by his eldest son Edward, who had died by 1522, when Christopher Irwyng of Bonshaw had title to lands in Boneschaw and Dumbretton. In the 1540s the tower of Bonshaw is presumed to have been a timber peel, for in 1544 Boonshaw and Robgyll were amongst many towers reported burned by Lord Wharton, “wyth all the corne fownde by the way”. Wharton burned Bonshaw again in 1547. Dr Christopher Irvin claimed that his namesake was killed while commanding the Light Horse at the Battle of Solway Moss in 1542, but it is now known that Christopher lived until 1556 when he was succeeded by his son Edward.
Click here for a pedigree chart of the Lairds of Bonshaw
For nearly 50 years of his chieftainship, Edward and other members of the surname played a leading part in inter-surname feuds, Border warfare and even in national politics. Throughout this period a feud existed between the Johnstons, Irvings and their supporters on one side, and the Maxwells, the Kirkpatricks and their supporters on the other. In 1554 Kirkpatrick slew a younger son of Christopher, and in 1563 the latter’s brother Edward, the new laird, slew the Chief of the Kirkpatricks. A year later the Privy council forbade the marriage of Edward’s son Christopher to the daughter of Johnston of that Ilk, but the marriage nevertheless went ahead in 1566. About this time the Laird of Bonshaw could call 63 horsemen and over 500 clansmen under his command. In 1570 Bonshaw was one of several Border towers destroyed with gunpowder by raiding Englishmen, and shortly afterwards Edward was briefly imprisoned. The present Bonshaw Tower, “one of the strongest howses of that border”, was built c.1570, and it seems likely Edward later built several other Border towers for members of his family, implying his reiving activities had been particularly profitable. In 1583 Douglas of Drumlanrig with 50 men forcefully entered Bonshaw and “maisterfullie sett at libertie” some eighteen Bells and Irvings, “notorious offendouris, rebellis and dissobedient personis”. From 1585 the Irvings and Johnstons were openly at war with the Maxwells, who laid siege to Bonshaw four times. An Act of Parliament in 1587, naming the chief of the Irvings as one of the Border chiefs made accountable for all persons of the surname, was one of several attempts about this time by parliament and the Privy Council to counter lawlessness in the Borders. In 1592 Edward and three of his sons were amongst 60 Borderers who supported the Earl of Bothwell in his unsuccessful coup against the king in Falkland Palace. In 1593 the Johnstons and Irvings inflicted a crushing defeat of the Maxwells at Dryfe Sands, the last clan battle to be fought in Scotland. Edward was one of many to be granted a respite by the king a year later. The king spent a night at “Boneschaw” in 1602 during a military expedition to the area to punish rebels.
Bonshaw Tower and mansion, from the east
The way of life on the Borders quietened down considerably after the accession of King James VI of Scotland to the throne of England in 1603. Edward died in 1605, succeeded by his grandson William. William acquired the lands of Sarkshields in 1610, and of Allerbeck and Bellorchard in 1635.
After the death of William in 1646 Bonshaw passed to his eldest son, Edward, a Royalist and anti-Presbyterian, who two years later handed the estate over, at least nominally, to a younger brother, Herbert Irving of Hairgills, in order to save it from the Covenanters. Edward died in 1649, his rights inherited by James, “the Wild Bonshaw” who died without issue in 1682, a year after capturing Donald Cargill, a prominent Covenanter. Meanwhile Herbert had died in 1660, to be succeeded by his eldest son William who in 1673 registered the ancient armorial achievement of Irving of Bonshaw even though he himself had no right to the undifferenced arms, not being the heir of line.
On the death of the Wild Bonshaw, Sarah Douglas, daughter-in-law of William Irving the elder, a brother of Herbert, began legal proceedings to recover Bonshaw on behalf of her young son William who finally won the case and took possession in 1696, the displaced laird William (the armiger) moving to Allerbeck. The new laird embarked on a new building at Bonshaw despite have been crippled financially by the protracted litigation. Masonry bearing the date ‘1696’ and the initials ‘W.I.’ was later reused in the walls of the nearby Bonshaw Mill. In 1699 William married Æmelia, daughter of Lord Rollo, by whom he had 14 children including Dr James Irving of Ironshore in Jamaica, ancestor of John Beaufin Irving, a later laird of Bonshaw, and Paulus Æmelius Irving. The latter commanded the 15th Regiment of Foot under General Wolfe at the capture of Quebec in 1759 and was the father of General Sir Paulus Æmelius Irving who was made Baronet of Woodhouse and Robgill in 1810, a title which became extinct on the death of the third baronet in 1859.
William in died in 1742 and was succeeded by his eldest son John. John died five years later, to be succeeded by his son William who entailed the estate in 1765 and built the present mansion of Bonshaw in 1770. He died in 1772, leaving as heir his only son the five year old John Robert. This laird studied law, was admitted to the Faculty of Advocates in 1793, and was a Professor of Civil Law at Edinburgh University from 1800 to 1827. He neglected Bonshaw and fell heavily into debt, leaving the estate virtually ruined when he died in 1839 without a male heir.
John Robert was succeeded by his first cousin once removed, Rev. John Irving, an army chaplain who had to sell land to meet outstanding debts and afford improvements to the tower and house, and to build the church at the entrance to Bonshaw. Rev. John disentailed the estate in 1853 and died without male issue in 1870. The estate then passed to his second cousin, Lieutenant Robert Nasmyth Irving who served in the Kaffir War. Robert Nasmyth died unmarried in 1894, having neglected the estate and bequeathed it, together with a heavy mortgage, to his housekeeper, Mrs Benyon Barton.
John Beaufin Irving, a great-grandson of James Irving of Ironshore, second cousin of Robert Nasmyth, successfully contested the will. He too was in the army, serving in Abyssinian campaign of 1868, and becoming a Major of the 3rd Battalion (and later honorary Colonel), The Manchester Regiment. Later he was a member of the Royal Company of Archers, the Sovereign’s bodyguard in Scotland. He devoted the rest of his life to restoring Bonshaw and enjoying his chieftainship even though he was never formally recognized as such by the Lord Lyon. In 1907 he wrote, with help from his kinsmen, his famous and monumental work The Book of the Irvings.
Col. John Beaufin Irving, Laird of Bonshaw 1894-1926
On his death in 1926 Col. Irving was succeeded by his second surviving son, Captain Sir Robert Beaufin Irving, KB, OBE, RD, JP, DL, RNR (Retd.). He served on the cruiser HMS Yarmouth at the Battle of Jutland, where he was mentioned in dispatches. After the war he returned to the Cunard company and later commanded RMS Acquitania, Majestic and, in 1937, Queen Mary. The following year he was appointed Commodore of the Cunard White Star Line, won the Blue Riband from the Normandie (retained by the Queen Mary until 1952), and achieved further acclaim when he docked the Queen Mary without tugs during a dock strike in New York. He was knighted in 1943, retired in 1944 and died without issue in 1954.
Captain Irving was succeeded by his niece’s husband, Commander RIS Irving RN, formerly RI Snow, who four years later sold the estate to Mrs Eileen Mary Irving Straton-Ferrier, a descendant of the last male Irving of Wysebie. On her death in 1986 the estate was bought by Dr. Bruce Irving, a descendant of the Irvings of Dumfries and Gribton and his wife Margaret. Bruce died in 2005 and Bonshaw today is owned and occupied by his elder son Christopher Irving, a former army officer who is a member of the Royal Company of Archers. Christopher and his wife Claire have four children.
In 2014 the Lord Lyon accepted a petition by Captain RAS Irving RN, son of Commander RIS Irving, that he be recognized as Chief of the Name and Arms of Irving of Bonshaw, “for aught yet seen”, i.e. subject to a successful rival claim not being recognized during the next 20 years.
6. Drum Castle
Ten miles west of the city of Aberdeen, the tower of Drum is now thought to have been built in the early 14th century, probably shortly after the award of the forest of Drum to William de Irwyn in 1323. Its construction is thought to have spanned four seasons, not necessarily consecutive. It is 70ft high, with gently sloping walls and smooth, rounded corners.
The castle of Drum, one of the most beautiful of Royal Deeside, is special because it combines the tower, a Jacobean mansion house, and a Victorian extension in a uniquely pure form. In the grounds are a 16th century chapel and a formal 18th century garden. They in turn are surrounded by the Old Wood of Drum, part of the royal forest whose upkeep Robert the Bruce entrusted to William de Irwin, produced timber that was thought to have been used in the roof of St. Macher’s Cathedral in Aberdeen in 1435 and to build a large ship there in 1606. The castle is a living building, whose story is packed with historical incident and personal drama. For most of its seven centuries it has been occupied by one family, the Irvines; it has the qualities of a family home, lived in through times good and bad by twenty-four generations. Its occupants may often have been warlike, but with one notable exception they were rarely cruel; its lairds were talented, vigorous, never quite at the top, but in nearly every generation contributed solid service to Crown, country and community.
The Tower (left) and Mansion (right) of Drum, from the north west
Today the Castle and its grounds are maintained by The National Trust for Scotland (http://www.nts.org.uk/Visit/Drum-Castle). One of Royal Deeside’s top tourist attractions, the Castle, Chapel and Historic Garden are open to the public throughout the summer and most weekends during the winter. The Irvine Room in the Castle contains an exhibition co-sponsored by the Clan Irwin Association.
7. The Barons and Lairds of Drum
In February 1323 King Robert the Bruce granted William de Irwin a feudal charter of much of the royal forest of Drum. With this came the office of forester. The king confirmed this charter six months later, adding the Barony of Drum, giving William power ‘of pit and gallows’ – to drown or hang local wrongdoers.
It is now generally accepted that William de Irwin received other grants of land and was Clerk of the Rolls and later Deputy Chamberlain in the courts of King Robert and his son King David. However there is less consensus on William’s origin. A long-standing tradition, recorded by Dr. Christopher Irvin about 1680, claims he was a son of William of Bonshaw who accompanied the Bruce throughout his times of adversity and became his secretary and, others say, his armour bearer. But in the 1990s I suggested that William may have come from Kilwinning in Ayrshire as a young protégé of the Bruce’s Chancellor Bernard of Arbroath, a witness to the 1323 charters. Certainly DNA evidence now shows there was no paternal connection between the ancestors of the Irvings of Bonshaw and the Irvines of Drum.
After the death of William de Irwyn, probably in 1333, his sons were too young to defend Drum during the turbulent 1340s and 1350s, and the custody of the park and tower of Drum was entrusted to Sir Walter Moigne and then his son John. Meanwhile it is now apparent that William had at least two sons. The elder, Thomas, inherited the Barony, the three single holly leaves as his arms, and the right to attend Parliament which he did on three occasions between 1368 and 1370, at each of which he is recorded as having held additional responsibilities. After the death of King David II he was a witness on behalf of the powerful Archibald Douglas to three charters, in 1374, 1378 and 1381. He probably died soon after this, apparently with no surviving sons. William also had a son Alexander who seems to have inherited his father’s military skills. In 1357, or perhaps earlier, the Abbot of Arbroath granted him the lands of Forglen, and with them the prestigious “service” of the Brecbennach, traditionally carried into battle before the Scottish army. To difference his arms from those of his elder brother he seems to have adopted three bunches of holly as his arms. Alexander is thought to have died in about 1380.
Click here for a pedigree chart of the Barons of Drum
His son, also Alexander, thus inherited the lands of his father, the Barony of his uncle, and the arms of both. And although he lost his rights to Forglen in 1388, between then and 1393 he recovered possession of the park and Tower of Drum from John de Moigne.
It was probably during the time of this 3rd laird that a feud arose with his neighbours the Keiths, hereditary Marshals of Scotland. Legend has it that the Irvines burned down Halforest Castle, stronghold of the Keiths, in revenge for their burning to death in the fields one of the Irvine children. There was also a pitched battle at Keiths’ Muir, near the Dee, in which many of the Keiths were drowned at a place called Keiths’ Pot. One was cut down while clinging to a stone which occasionally still appears above the water and is known as Keiths’ Stone.
The 3rd laird died in 1410, leaving two sons. The elder, Alexander, supported the Earl of Mar, the Stewart General, and followed him to the French wars, where he was a commander in the successful but bloody capture of Liege in 1408. On the eve of the battle, Alexander was knighted and later given additional lands by Mar. On succeeding to Drum, he became the 4th laird, but to preserve the long-established numbering given by previous historians, who had believed Sir Alexander to be the 3rd laird, it has become customary to refer to "the gude Sir Alexander" as the first 4th laird.
Three years later this laird was to serve his master the Earl of Mar for the last time. Donald MacDonald, Lord of the Isles, appeared on the mainland with a large army to challenge the royal authority. After razing Inverness, he headed towards Aberdeen to do the same. Mar was deputed to defend the city with a small local force - prominent amongst his officers was Sir Alexander Irvine. It is said that midway between Drum and Harlaw, Sir Alexander stopped at a place now called the Drum Stone and, foreseeing death in combat, made his final will in favour of his brother Robert.
So, in 1411, the two Irvines came to the Battle of Harlaw, a mere twenty miles north of Drum, one of Scotland’s bloodiest ever acts of civil war and a desperate battle between the rising power of the Western Islands and the stolid, more settled world of the East Coast. One of the Islanders’ senior chiefs was Maclean of Duart, Red Hector of the Battles, and at some point in the battle he met Sir Alexander Irvine. The two great warriors locked in single combat; neither would yield and in the end both died still fighting each other.
Robert Irvine survived the battle and is believed to have exchanged swords with the son of Red Hector in token of peace between their families. He changed his name to Alexander and complied with his late brother's wish to marry Elizabeth Keith, thus ending the feud of their forefathers. This second 4th laird was an important figure in the London negotiations to ransom the young King James I of Scotland, who had been held captive there by the English for eighteen years. He was knighted by the grateful king after his eventual release and attended him at the Inverness parliament.
The fact that he was arrested there and briefly held by the king, along with many other barons, need not be regarded as too sinister; it was part of a general trawl for traitors. When the somewhat intolerant King James I was eventually murdered in 1437 it was Sir Alexander who was chosen to be governor of Aberdeen during the period of crisis. In his later years he built St. Ninian’s Chantry in St. Nicholas’ Church, Aberdeen, and in 1457 was buried there with his wife in Drum’s Aisle. The armorial keystone of the canopy over his tomb was subsequently moved to the Chapel at Drum, but the couple’s stone effigies and their memorial brass, a most unusual feature in Scotland at this date, can still be seen at St. Nicholas’ Church.
The 4th laird’s son had died before him, so the new Alexander who succeeded as 5th laird was his grandson, described in contemporary documents as ‘stout and vitious’. Despite being Sheriff of Aberdeen, he made furtive night attacks on one Walter Lindsay of Beaufort for which crime he was deprived of his office and sent to prison. Seventeen years later he was in trouble again when he ambushed and killed two men at the Brig o’ Balgownie, for which he later paid compensation of 100 merks. In c.1480 he found his chaplain St. Edward Macdowall in flagrante delicto with his wife, and was so enraged that he had the man castrated in the Tower of Drum. For this he eventually received pardons from both King James II and the Pope.
The 6th laird was more on the right side of the law and in 1527 was rewarded by King James V for helping to arrest ‘rebels, thieves, reivers, sorcerers and murderers’. But great sadness was to overwhelm his later years. His eldest son, Alexander, went south to fight the English invaders at Pinkie and was killed there, leaving nine young children. It is recorded that he took with him to Pinkie a large cannon from Drum known as the ‘Great Falcon’.
The next two lairds seem to have led comparatively quiet lives, but in the 9th laird the Irvines produced yet another notable character. This Alexander, known as ‘Little Breeches’ because he followed the Continental fashion of short trousers, was responsible for the building of the Jacobean mansion of Drum in 1619. He was Sheriff of Aberdeen and he and his wife, Marion Douglas, were noted local philanthropists. He was rich enough to lend money to King James VI. He asked for a special dispensation to eat meat on Wednesdays and Fridays as well as other days, gave £10,000 for a scholarship at Aberdeen University – which survives today as the Drum Bursary – and a large number of other benefactions including ‘32 bolls of meal’ for the poor people of nearby Drumoak. His wife also founded a hospital for spinsters in Aberdeen.
Sir Alexander, the 10th laird, was an ardent Royalist supporter of King Charles I when most around him were Covenanters, the Scottish equivalent of Roundheads. He, too, was Sheriff of Aberdeen and with him the family’s prosperity and prestige reached its peak. The king ordered he should become the Earl of Aberdeen but this was never enacted because of his opposition to the Covenant. As the Civil War spread, Alexander was away from Drum fighting when the castle was besieged. In the face of General Monroe’s heavy siege equipment, Lady Irvine decided to surrender, promising that her husband would give himself up. So Drum Castle received a hostile garrison, the first of four it was to endure during the Civil War.
The laird’s two soldier sons were also active Royalists: young Alexander was later to become one of Drum’s most colourful lairds. He fought for the Marquess of Huntly and was excommunicated by the Church of Scotland for ‘popery’, with a reward of 18,000 merks put on his head for his capture, dead or alive. He and his brother tried to escape by sea from Fraserburgh, but high winds drove them back to the Scottish coast and capture. Robert, the younger brother, died a miserable death in the depths of Edinburgh Castle, but the laird and his elder son survived their imprisonment. Their wives were besieged and captured in Drum, this time by the Marquess of Argyll who turned both women out of the castle with nothing but ‘two grey plaids and a couple of work nags’.
This time Drum Castle was completely ransacked. Twice captured, four times garrisoned, Drum and its lands had been severely ravaged during the war: animals were killed, crops ruined, silver, jewellery and furniture stolen and its prosperity destroyed.
When young Alexander, the 11th laird, who had won a small cavalry encounter towards the end of the war, at last succeeded to his impoverished estates he was soon offered a peerage by the newly restored King Charles II. But he turned down the honour when the king refused to provide financial compensation for damage done to the Drum estate while supporting his cause. So, twice the Irvines had missed becoming great magnates of the crown.
The 11th laird’s first wife had apparently been somewhat aristocratically aloof but, after she died, he spotted a young shepherdess on his estates, some forty-seven years his junior. Sixteen-year-old Mary Coutts was not one to sell her virtue short so, despite general disapproval, the two were married and the old laird enjoyed six years of bliss before dying not long before his seventieth birthday in 1687. This story is recorded in the traditional ballad ‘The Laird of Drum’.
Alexander, his son by his first wife, was to be the 12th and last member of this line of Irvines. He died suddenly, leaving a pregnant wife, and an entail which gave Drum to his ruthless cousin, Irvine of Murtle. The 13th laird, Alexander Irvine, moved into Drum before his predecessor was even buried and confined the unfortunate widow to a small room.
His son, Alexander, the 14th laird, was a Jacobite and fought for the Old Pretender at Sheriffmuir. He was severely wounded in the head and died insane some years after the battle, leaving no heir. Now Drum passed to the late laird’s uncle, John Irvine, the 15th laird, who had lived and worked for many years in Jamaica and South Carolina. He had returned to Scotland in about 1723.
In 1736 William, Earl of Aberdeen and Patrick Duff of Premnay bought the encumbered estate, which included lands from Cromar to just north of Dundee. They gave back to the family the ancestral seat and a small amount of land that surrounded it. The rest they parcelled out between them. The Drum estate never again grew to its former size or importance.
Alexander, 15th laird’s successor was Alexander Irvine of Crimond, the 16th laird. Alexander, his son, was the 17th laird, a Jacobite who fought for Bonnie Prince Charlie. He escaped after the Battle of Culloden, sheltered in a secret room at Drum and was saved from capture by the Redcoats only by the presence of mind of his sister, Miss Mary Irvine, who misdirected them. The soldiers did, however, make off with more Irvine family wealth, having spotted where it was buried by the newly dug earth.
After some years of exile in Paris, Alexander was allowed to return home and ‘died after a tedious illness, universally loved’. The head gardener of Drum had fought with him at Culloden and is reputed to have made a fortune out of selling ‘horse nails’ and other booty after the battle.
Of Alexander, the 18th laird, little is remembered except that he lived for a very long time and was Master of Drum for eighty-three years. His son was Hugh Irvine, the painter, whose Archangel Gabriel (allegedly a self-portrait) hangs in the library. The family name became Forbes Irvine in deference to his wife Jane Forbes, heiress of Forbes of Schivas, who died when Alexander was only 32. He never remarried and lived a retired life at Drum, dying in his ninety-first year.
Most of the 19th century lairds were distinguished lawyers, serving at the Bar or as sheriffs in various parts of Scotland. At least one younger son was a Major-General and many others held senior posts in the army or Indian Civil Service.
The 19th laird, Alexander, inherited Schivas in right of his mother and assumed the name of Forbes before Irvine. On succeeding to Drum he effected an excambion (exchange) of land whereby Schivas passed to Lord Aberdeen, and Kennerty, a former Drum property, was restored to the estate. He was responsible for the creation of the elegant library in what had been the lower hall of the tower. He was succeeded by his eldest son, Alexander, the 20th laird.
Alexander trained as a lawyer, and played a prominent part in the administration of the County of Aberdeenshire. He married Anna Forbes Leslie, an amateur artist of some distinction. He was succeeded by his third son, Francis Hugh, the 21st laird, who married Mary, only child of John Ramsay of Barra and Straloch. These two estates were to pass to a junior line of the Irvines of Drum.
He was succeeded by his eldest son, Alexander, the 22nd laird, who fought with the Grenadier Guards in the First World War and died in 1922. The 23rd laird, a bachelor, died in 1940 whilst serving with the Gordon Highlanders and his brother, Henry Quentin Irvine, fought with the King’s African Rifles. Some ten years before Quentin’s death this popular 24th laird entered into an agreement with The National Trust for Scotland so that Drum and its 411 acres could be bequeathed to the trust and held for the benefit of the nation.
He was succeeded in 1975 as Baron of Drum and chief of the name Irvine of Drum by his younger brother, Lieutenant-Colonel Charles Francis Irvine, 25th Baron, who lived in Cheshire. In 1992 the latter’s son David Charles Irvine succeeded as 26th Baron. After a business life in the north-west of England, David and his wife Caro returned to Deeside to live near Drum. David died in January 2019 and is succeeded by his son Hugh, a lawyer then living in Qatar, who changed his name to Alexander and is now known by his friends as Sandy .
8. The Caput of the Barony of Drum
CAPUT is a Latin word literally meaning “head, and in Scotland is used to denote the seat of a Barony”.
The Barony of Drum was granted to William de Irwin and his heirs in 1323 by Robert the Bruce, King of Scotland. It continued uninterrupted from 1323 until 1975, when the 24th Baron of Drum, Henry Quentin Irvine died without issue. By his unilateral decision, taken without the agreement of his younger brothers and heirs, he had arranged that the Castle and House of Drum, together with some 400 acres of land, be transferred to the National Trust for Scotland in perpetuity. This effectively ended the rights of the Irvine family to reside at Drum and own the land.
However, the Barony of Drum and the position of Chief of the family could not be transferred to an institution as opposed to an individual in the same manner as was the property. With the encouragement of the Lord Lyon King of Arms and the active assistance of the National Trust for Scotland, it was arranged for a small plot of Drum land to be conveyed to the next in line, his brother, Charles Francis Irvine. In a reciprocal transaction, Charles Irvine transferred the title of the land. This enabled him to matriculate his Coat of Arms to include the Baronial artefacts and thus preserve the unbroken line of Irvines of Drum as Barons of Drum. On his death in 1992, the position of Chief of the Name and Barony of Drum passed to his son, David Charles Irvine.
Provided future successors continue to matriculate their Arms at the Lyon Court in Edinburgh, the transfer of the Barony is now assured for future generations. The Rights over this small plot of land are now enshrined in Legal documentation. The present Chief's successor is Hugh Irvine, Younger of Drum, who in turn has a young son, Thomas Alexander Irvine.
In 1998, with funding provided by the Irvine family and the Clan Irwin Association of America, the site of the Caput was encircled by a drystone wall and a commemorative granite stone was erected, bearing a short explanation of its historical significance. The Dedication ceremony on 2nd August 1998 was conducted by the Right Rev. Bishop Fred Darwent, Bishop Emeritus of Aberdeen and Orkney, and attended by nearly 50 Clan members from Scotland and America.
During the summer of 2002, the Clan Irwin Association funded the finishing touches to the Caput, when the grass was replaced with landscape chippings, and stepping-stones were added.
Updated March 2020.