The Irvings are associated with Bonshaw Tower in southern Scotland. This area of Scotland became known as Irving lands, and the lands around Drum became Irvine lands. Irvings are based in Dumfrieshire and the Irvines in Aberdeenshire. The split follows the unification of Scotland under Robert the Bruce. Robert was in fact a Norman with the family name de Bruis; his family were allocated the Ervine lands in SW Scotland and the Ervines, became loyal supporters and took on the name de Irwyn. William de Irwyn became the "armour bearer" to Robert and following Bannockburn was gifted the Drum estates. Later it was  politic to anglicise family names, so the name became Irvings around Bonshaw and Irvines around Drum.

Bonshaw TowerBonshaw tower is by the Kirtle Water, close to the English border. A tower was built in this area about 900 A.D.When King Malcolm introduced the parish system around 1000 AD, the Irvings' lands around Kirtledale became the Parish of Irving. This parish remained until 1600, when it was divided between the parishes of Annan and Kirkpatrick-Fleming.

The tower is believed to have come into the possession of the Irving around A.D. 1285, and remained in their possession ever since. Another account has the Irvings inheriting the property from the Corries in the 15th century. Attached to the residence is one of the few inhabited Pell towers. The clansmen lived in clachans within sound of the great bell which still hangs in the tower.

During the eleventh century the Irving family had extensive land holdings on the Border. The Irvings of Bonshaw were strong supporters of Robert the Bruce during his battles with the English. He is reported to have sought refuge on Bonshaw lands on a few occasions.     

Bonshaw TowerAn  attempt by the Douglas Clan and the Duke of Albany  to create a rebellion in the south of Scotland resulted in the battle of the Kirtle in 1484. It was fought just across the Kirtlewater from Bonshaw tower.

During the sixteenth century the Irvings of Bonshaw played a leading part in inter-clan and Border warfare. At the same time some members of the clan launched raiding parties across the Border. A long-time feud existed between the Irvings and the Maxwells, with the Johnsons supporting the Irvings. The Irvings were considered a strong clan, with military power considered as strong as the Johnsons.

The current standing tower is known to have been built around 1535-50. It is a solid rectangular keep. A 58-step wheel stair climbs from the prison floor to the parapet walk which is above the third floor. The first floor was the Great Hall with a great fireplace, second floor was the principal family room, serving as withdrawing room and bedroom. The third floor was a  garret.

Bonshaw TowerChristopher Irving of Bonshaw fought at the battle of Solway Moss in 1542 where he commanded the Light Horse of Scotland.  He survived the battle and continued to resist English forces. 

In 1547 the Earl of Lennox and Lord Wharton ravaged Annandale, burned many towers, including Bonshaw. This seems to have been one of the occasions on which most of the Borderers made an oath of allegiance to England but they did not comply with their allegiance.

Lord Wharton invaded the Border two months later with seven hundred horsemen and five thousand foot soldiers. This time they were met by a strong Scottish army. Christopher Irving of Bonshaw, having organized a large body of light horse, joined the forces of Douglas of Drumlanrig and the Earl of Angus. This Scots force, with the light horse in front, met the English at Durisdeer and drove the English back. A running battle ensued as the raiders were followed down the twelve miles of the Nith Valley to Dalswinton. The Scot’s army were caught unawares when the English rallied and made a flank attack, which resulted in heavy losses for the Scots. Christopher was taken prisoner and was released after he renewed his former oath of allegiance to England.

Bonshaw TowerThe Irvings supported Queen Mary during the earlier part of her reign. In 1566 they fell out of favor so they shifted allegiances and joined the Regent Moray.

During 1585-1586, the Irvings and Johnstons were at war with the Maxwells again. The tower successfully withstood four sieges by the Maxwells in 1585-6. After the end of the sixteenth century the Border conflicts eased considerably after the accession of King James VI of Scotland to the throne of England in 1603. As king of both countries James controlled both sides of the Border. King James ordered the destruction of all the outer defenses of the Border strongholds to prevent the frequent local feuds along the border. 

During the general registration of the armorial bearings of the nobility of Scotland during the years 1672-1677, William Irving of Bonshaw, registered the ancient armorial achievement of Irving of Bonshaw as:

William Irving of Bonshaw bears argent three holly leaves proper above the shield and helmet befitting his degree mantled vert doubled argent next is placed and torse for his crest and arm gauntlated holding ane branch of holly consisting of seven leaves all proper. The motto is ane escroll Haud Ullis Labentia Ventis.”

Three holly leaves are the current standard arms bearing for the Irvine Clans.

Written by Eric Irvine © 2007

Contributions of information and pictures are welcome. Email Eric at:

Chris and Claire Irving and their family welcome visitors (especially Irvines/Irvings/Irwins/Erwins etc) to Bonshaw tower. To arrange a good time to visit please email them in advance at the address below. Their phone number is also provided below.