Irvine Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Irvine Surname Meaning

The surname Irvine is Scottish. Its root is uncertain. One explanation is that the name came from a Celtic word irfon, meaning “green water;” another is that it originated with the word erinviene, meaning “from the west,” and described men from Ireland who had settled on the west coast of Scotland around Dumfries. Its first recorded use was in the 12th century when Gilchrist, son of Eruini, witnessed a charter in Galloway.

There followed: the place-names of Irving in Dumfriesshire and Irvine in north Ayrshire; and clans of Bonshaw in Dumfriesshire and of Drum in Aberdeenshire. These Irvines and Irvings may have been related – through possibly a connection at the time of Robert the Bruce. But the relationship is not proven.

Irvine exists as a surname today, as does Irving, Ervine, Erwin and Irwin.

Irvine Surname Resources on The Internet

Irvine Surname Ancestry

  • from Scotland (Aberdeenshire)
  • to Ireland (Ulster), America and Australia

Scotland. William de Irwyne, a soldier, was granted the Forest of Drum in Aberdeenshire for his service from Robert the Bruce in 1323. He is considered the forebear to the Irvine Drum line.

Drum castle was their stronghold. Their early history was mainly clan feuds. Sir Alexander de Irwine in fact engaged in single combat with the chief of clan MacLean and, after a legendary struggle, both died of the wounds inflicted on each other.

There followed a period of stability and prosperity under Alexander Irvine the Ninth Laird in the early 1600’s. But these Irvines were Royalist against the Covenanters in the Civil War. Drum castle was looted and sacked no fewer than three times during the 1640’s. They were Jacobite supporters against the English in 1715 and again in 1745.

After Culloden, the Laird of Drum only escaped capture by hiding in his castle and then fleeing to France. Alexander Irvine spent some years in exile in Paris before being allowed to return home to Drum where, it was said, “he died after a tedious illness, universally loved.”

The other main Irvine branch, the Irvines of Bonshaw, were lairds in Dumfriesshire.

Ireland. There were Scots Irish Irvines in Ulster, some of whose descendants later emigrated. The earliest sightings were in Glenoe in county Antrim. These Irvines in Antrim often intermarried with the McDowells. They manufactured linen in a linen mill along the Ballywallog river in Glenoe from 1584 until declining business prompted their emigration to America in the 1720’s.

Then came Sir Christopher Irvine, a Bonshaw lawyer, was granted lands in Fermanagh and built himself Castle Irvine. He survived the Irish uprising of 1641 and from his line came the Irvines of Enniskillen and Rockfield. Meanwhile a penniless James Irvine left county Down in the 1840’s for California where he was to make his fortune.

America. Early Irvines in America have been Scots Irish, such as Christopher and David Irvine who came to Virginia around 1740. Christopher moved onto Georgia and David later settled in Kentucky.

William Irvine came in the 1760’s from Fermanagh along with his two brothers and settled in Pennsylvania. He had been a physician with the British army.; but during the Revolutionary War he fought on the American side and rose to be a Brigadier General. Thomas Irvine, also from Fermanagh, came over in 1797. The various Irvines in America at this time were covered in Lucinda Boyd’s 1908 book The Irvines and Their Kin.

Later, James Irvine fled Ireland during the potato famine and ended up in California during the Gold Rush. He subsequently bought into property and in 1868 built the Irvine ranch in southern California, at the time one of the largest private ranches in the United States. The Irvine family became one of the largest landowners in California and the town of Irvine was named after them.

Australia.  John Irvine, convicted of larceny in Lincoln in 1784, was on the First Fleet to Australia in 1788. He died only seven years later but his wife and son lived on.

In 1820 came one of the first free settlers, Captain Francis Irvine of the Bengal Native Infantry with his family. His son Francis later emigrated to New Zealand. Charles Irvine, an elderly widower, came from Fermanagh with three of his children in 1853. William Irvine then departed county Down later in 1879. He became the Premier of Victoria in 1904.

Irvine Surname Miscellany

Irvines and Irvings.  The Irvings of Bonshaw are said to have been descended from Duncan of Eskdale, a younger brother of Crinan the father of the King Duncan of Scotland who was murdered by Macbeth in 1040.  Duncan of Eskdale’s lands were extensive during the 11th century, stretching from Annandale to Liddesdale.

Robert the Bruce was a guest in Annandale in 1298 when he fled the English court of Edward I.  There is a cave in the Kirtle cliffs at Cove within which he is thought to have hid himself on more than one occasion.

William de Irwyn, said to have been the second son of the chief at Bonshaw, was taken into the service of Robert the Bruce.  He held various offices in the Royal Household and was rewarded with part of the Forest of Drum near Banchory in Aberdeenshire in 1323.  James Irvine-Fortescue in his Memorandum on the Origins of the Family of Irvine of Drum in 2000 concluded that the first Irvine of Drum did probably originate from the southwest of Scotland. 

Alexander Irvine the Ninth Laird of Drum.  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.

The laird 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 on other days, and gave 10,000 pounds for a scholarship at Aberdeen University – which survives today as the Drum Bursary.  He also gave a large number of other benefactions, including ‘32 bolls of meal’ for the poor people of nearby Drumoak.  His wife founded a hospital for spinsters in Aberdeen.

Irvines in County Antrim.  Irvines had been in Glenoe, county Antrim since 1584.  An old chronicle narrated their story as follows:

“A son named James was born to Christopher Irvine shortly after he fell at Flodden Field.  He had two sons, Robert and John, who fled to Ireland in time of the English persecution and settled at Glenoe. John afterwards removed to Cushandall and became a Presbyterian minister.  John Irvine had two sons, one named Abraham, the other Robert who went to America and Robert Irvine Sr. had sons who also went to America.”

A Tragic Love Affair.  While Alexander Irvine was at Glenoe in county Antrim he fell in love with a beautiful Irish girl of low degree and she returned his love.  They were in the habit of meeting at the Irvine and MacDowell mill at nightfall, beneath a tree which has ever since been called the “fatal trysting tree.”  The tree separated just where its immense bole came out of the ground and formed two large trees.

The love affair of these two young people was destined to end in tragedy. Some spy and informer, learning that they had plighted their troth, hastened to inform Alexander Irvine’s family of the danger of his misalliance with this beautiful girl, his first love, and he was called back to Edinburgh.

The night before he went away he and his sweetheart met, as was usual with them, beneath the trysting tree.  Alexander Irvine gave the girl a knife with a silver handle that had his name engraved in full upon it.  They vowed eternal love and parted.  In a short time after Irvine returned to Edinburgh he married a Miss Gault, removed to the north of Ireland where his three sons, Andrew, William and Christopher, were born, and then came to America.

After he was married a short time, the young Irish girl to whom he had vowed to be true unto death heard of his marriage.  One moonlight night she went to the trysting tree and stabbed herself in the heart and died, with the knife of her lover still in the wound. Her brother found her in that position. He drew the knife from her pulseless breast, and holding it aloft, vowed “to never sleep until he plunged the knife, stained by his sister’s blood, into Alexander Irvine’s heart.”

He started out that night, in a boat that was to cross the North Channel between Ireland and Scotland.  But the boat never landed and went down with all on board.

Thomas Irvine in Ireland and America.  Thomas Irvine was born in Fermanagh in 1775 and departed for America in 1797.  The stories about him were many. The following described the manner of his leaving:

“Thomas was importantly and seriously involved in the Robert Emmett Rebellion.  However, Emmett was caught, tried, and duly hung as the instigator of civil war.  Thus Thomas was an outlawed and hunted man.

In his previous escapades he had befriended Irish sailors. Through their efforts Thomas’s plight was made known to American sailors and Thomas was nailed up in a hogshead of sugar, unceremoniously rolled aboard ship, and stowed away. His new found friends released him when the ship was well out to sea and Thomas worked his way to America.”

However, the actual timetable does not bear this story out.  Robert Emmett was not in trouble with officialdom in Ireland until after 1800, was not apprehended until 1803, and was tried and executed in 1804.

In later life in America, in Knox county Ohio where he had settled, Old Tom Irvine had his detractors:

“He drank, kept a low hotel, would steal, lie, and whipped his wife regularly.  There was a story that a man died in his hotel.

Old Tom made his will after his death but put a fly in his mouth and swore there was life in the man when he made his will and Old Tom got all he had.

Old Tom’s wife, name of Tabitha Clark, was refined and cultured, and when Old Tom would whip her she would stand before the glass and say to herself “Is it possible?  Is this Tabitha Clark?”

James Irvine’s California Land Holdings.  James Irvine heard in Ireland about the gold discoveries in California and immediately decided to go there.  He booked passage on a boat sailing to the east coast of Central America; crossed the Isthmus of Panama by canoe, muleback, and on foot; and then boarded a Dutch ship which sailed from the west coast of Panama to San Francisco. His journey took 101 days.

Few miners became wealthy in the field, but those who sold goods and services to the miners fared well.  Irvine was one of the most successful of the merchants.  He began investing his rather large profits in income-producing San Francisco real estate and soon became a wealthy man.

In 1864 he and two partners acquired the Rancho San Joaquin in southern California from its Spanish owners for sheep ranching.  Four years later Irvine commissioned a house to be built that would be a suitable place for him to stay when he visited the ranch.  It was the first wooden house to be erected between Anaheim and San Diego.  It boasted a kitchen, dining room, parlor, four bedrooms and a porch that ran about the entire house.

The 1870’s was a period of drought in southern California and the ranch operations suffered. Irvine astutely bought out his business partners at that time and, despite various attempts by railroad companies and other outside parties, managed to keep his considerable estate intact until his death in 1886.

Irvine Names

  • William de Irwyne, who was granted lands in Drum in 1323, is considered the forebear of the Irvine clan.
  • James Irvine was the immigrant from Ireland who established a real estate empire in California.
  • Robert Irvine, born in England, is an American celebrity chef.

Irvine Numbers Today

  • 16,000 in the UK (most numerous in Fermanagh)
  • 3,000 in America (most numerous in California)
  • 15,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)

Irvine and Like Surnames 

These surnames originated from the northern part of Scotland, either the northeast of the country, the Scottish Highlands, or in one case (the surname Linklater) the Orkney isles north of Scotland.





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Written by Colin Shelley

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