Irvine Surname Meaning, History & Origin
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
when Gilchrist, son of Eruini, witnessed a charter in
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 Resources on
- Irvine Genealogy. Irvine clan genealogy.
- The Irvine Clan. Irvine clan website.
- James Irvine Foundation. The Irvine Ranch in
- Irvine/Irving DNA Project.
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
Victoria in 1904.
Irvines and Irvings. The Irvings
of Bonshaw are said to have been descended from Duncan of Eskdale, a
brother of Crinan the father of the King Duncan of Scotland who was
Macbeth in 1040. Duncan of Eskdale’s lands were extensive during
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
Kirtle cliffs at Cove within which he is thought to have hid himself on
than one occasion.
William de Irwyn,
said to have been the second son of the chief at Bonshaw, was taken
service of Robert the Bruce. He held various offices in the Royal
Household and was rewarded with part of the Forest of Drum near
Aberdeenshire in 1323. James Irvine-Fortescue in his Memorandum
Origins of the Family of Irvine of Drum in 2000 concluded that the
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
meat on Wednesdays and Fridays as well as on other days, and gave
for a scholarship at Aberdeen University – which survives today as the
Bursary. He also gave a large number of
other benefactions, including ‘32 bolls of meal’ for the poor people of
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:
son named James was born to Christopher Irvine shortly after he fell at
Field. He had two sons, Robert and John, who fled to Ireland in
the English persecution and settled at Glenoe. John afterwards removed
Cushandall and became a Presbyterian minister. John Irvine had
one named Abraham, the other Robert who went to America and Robert
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
degree and she returned his love. They
were in the habit of meeting at the Irvine and MacDowell mill at
beneath a tree which has ever since been called the “fatal trysting
tree.” The tree separated just where its
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
plighted their troth, hastened to inform Alexander Irvine’s family of
danger of his misalliance with this beautiful girl, his first love, and
called back to Edinburgh.
before he went away he and his sweetheart met, as was usual with them,
the trysting tree. Alexander Irvine gave
the girl a knife with a silver handle that had his name engraved in
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
where his three sons, Andrew, William and Christopher, were born, and
After he was married a short
time, the young Irish girl to whom he had vowed to be true unto death
his marriage. One moonlight night she
went to the trysting tree and stabbed herself in the heart and died,
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
“to never sleep until he plunged the knife, stained by his sister’s
into Alexander Irvine’s heart.”
started out that night, in a boat that was to cross the North Channel
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
“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
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
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:
drank, kept a low hotel, would steal, lie, and whipped his wife
regularly. There was a story that a man
died in his
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.
Tom’s wife, name of Tabitha Clark, was refined and cultured, and when
would whip her she would stand before the glass and say to herself “Is
possible? Is this Tabitha Clark?”
James Irvine’s California Land Holdings. James Irvine
heard in Ireland about the gold discoveries in California and
decided to go there. He booked passage
on a boat sailing to the east coast of Central America; crossed the
Panama by canoe, muleback, and on foot; and then boarded a Dutch ship
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
In 1864 he and two partners
acquired the Rancho San Joaquin in southern California from its Spanish
for sheep ranching. Four years later
Irvine commissioned a house to be built that would be a suitable place
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.
William de Irwyne, who was granted lands in Drum in 1323, is
considered the forebear of the
Irvine was the immigrant from Ireland who established a real
estate empire in California.
Robert Irvine, born in England,
is an American celebrity chef.
Select Irvine Numbers Today
- 16,000 in the UK (most numerous
- 3,000 in America (most numerous in California)
- 15,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)
Select 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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