THE IRVINGS OF BONSHAW
HISTORY. According to ancient family traditions (which are largely supported by known historical fact; and which are first recorded in the very short family history, “The Original of the Family of the Irvines or Erinvines”, written in 1678 by Dr. Christopher Irvine, M.D., Historiographer Royal of Scotland) the Irvings of Bonshaw are descended from DUNCAN, known in the family as 'Duncan of Eskdale', a younger brother of Crinan, the husband of Princess Beatrix and father of King Duncan I of Scotland. The paternal grandfather of Duncan of Eskdale and Crinan was DUNCAN, hereditary Abthane of Dule and lay abbot of Dunkeld. The latter Duncan is now believed to have been a direct descendant of NIALL OF THE NINE HOSTAGES, who was high King of Ireland early in the 5th century A.D and progenitor of the oldest recorded families in Europe that are still extant in an unbroken male line. The Duncan, as Abthane of Dule-an ancient title connected with St. Adamnan’s abbey of Dull, and dating from nearly 200 years before the union of the Scottish and Pictish crowns in 843 A.D.-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. His residence in Strathclyde is supposed to have been the old fort of Eryvine, or Orewyn, where the town of Irvine now stands, so we refer to him the ‘1st of Eryvine’. Both Duncan and his neighbour Dubdon, Mormaer of Athole, were killed at the battle of Duncrub c. 965 A.D., while leading their forces against a strong rebel army of their fellow countrymen.*
DUNCAN, 1st of ERYVINE, was succeeded by his eldest son and heir, also DUNCAN, about whom we know little 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.
DUNCAN, 2ND OF ERYVINE, was succeeded by his eldest son, CRINAN, who 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.
*A standing stone on the battlefield just north of the village of Dunning, in Perthshire, still marks Duncan’s tomb.
**This article was copied from “THE IRVINGS OF BONSHAW, Chiefs of the Noble and Ancient Scots Border Family of Irving”, written by Alastair M.T. Maxwell-Irving, B.Sc., F.S.A. Scot. (of the House of ‘Irving of Dumfries’), printed in 1968, and partially reproduced here, only changing fonts and style to fit our site.
THE NAME. About 1020, DUNCAN OF Eskdale’s eldest son married an heiress of the ancient British royal line of Coel Hen and took up residence at her ancestral home, the ancient hill-fort of Dumbretton (the name means ‘Fort of the Britons’). Shortly afterwards, either she, 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.
BRUCE'S CAVE. The Irvings and Bruces became very close friends and allies. Tradition relates that “The Bruce” was a guest at Bonshaw in 1298, and 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 in the Kirtle cliffs at Cove, in which the Irvings ae reputed to have hidden Bruce from the English on at least one occasion around this time.
BONSHAW TOWER. Bonshaw Tower and the modern house adjacent to it stand on a piece of 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 (one barn there is dated ‘1764’ and initialed ‘W.I’) 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 lies Braes and Old Kirkconnel. Of the numerous Irving towers that once guarded the central Irving territory of Kirtledale, only Bonshaw; the ruins of Woodhouse, Stapleton, and New Kirkconnel (at Ecclefechan); and part of Robgill, incorporated in a modern mansion; now remain.
The present tower at Bonshaw is now known to have been built around 1535-50, and probably between 1542 and 1548, the latter date being the known date of erection of the Irvings’ lesser stone tower at Kirkpatrick, (a dated armorial stone from the tower is preserved there.) further down the Kirtle. It successfully withstood four sieges by the Maxwells in 1585-6, during at least two of which cannon was used.
The Tower is a solid rectangular keep. 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; second floor was the principal family room, serving as withdrawing room and bedroom; 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, the only one of its kind known to exist, which once summoned the clan in times of danger.
This article was written by Betty Irvin, using some excerpts extracted from 'The Irvings of Bonshaw' by Alastair M.T. Maxwell-Irving, B.Sc., F.S.A. Scot