Erewine and Erwinne are old English personal names, and Gilchrist, son of Erwini, witnessed a charter of the Lord of Galloway sometime between 1124 and 1165. The Brythonic ‘ir-afon’ means ‘green water’. The lands which first bore the name of Irvine appear to have been in Dumfriesshire. Family tradition asserts that the origin of the chiefly family is linked with the early Celtic monarchs of Scotland. Duncan Eryvine, was the brother of Crinan, who, through the lay Abbots of Dunkeld, claimed descent from the High Kings of Ireland. Crinan married the daughter and heiress of Malcolm II, and their eldest son became King Duncan, whose murder forms the basis for Shakespeare’s Macbeth.
It was King Robert the Bruce who first brought the Irvine family to Drum. For many years legends have suggested that William was armour-bearer and secretary to the King, however recent detailed research of contemporary charters and documents, by members of the Irvine family have challenged these legends. It is now more probable that William de Irwyn hailed from the town of Irvine in Ayrshire. Later he was a clerk in the royal chancellry, where he was a protégé of Bernard, Abbot of Arbroath, Chancellor of Scotland. Nevertheless he was sufficiently well regarded in the royal household, to have been worthy of being made the King's representative in the Royal forest of Drum. He was given ownership of the Tower of Drum and was granted the Barony of Drum in 1323.
There was already a Tower at Drum probably built before the end of the 13th century as a royal hunting lodge. From this was to grow the stately Drum castle, with Jacobean and Victorian extensions. It remained in the continuous occupation of the Irvine family until 1976, on the death of the 24th Laird, it was presented to the National Trust for Scotland for the benefit of the nation. It remains one of the most beautiful castles in Scotland.
The Irvines were not easy neighbours. The River Dee separated them from the powerful Keiths. Each conveted the others' lands. In 1402 at the battle of Drumoak the Irvines slaughtered an invading Keith Warband.
The third Laird of Drum, the first of twelve Irvines who successively bore the name Alexander, was a knight of almost legendary prowess who followed the Earl of Mar to the French wars. He later fought at the Battle of Harlaw in 1411. This battle marked the last challenge by the Lords of the Isles to royal authority, and was fought only twenty miles from Drum itself. Sir Alexander de Irwyne engaged in single combat Maclean of Duart, the famous ‘Hector of the Battles’, and after a legendary struggle both died of the wounds each inflicted upon the other. The next Laird figured prominently in the negotiations to ransom James I from the English. When the king’s release was secured he knighted de Irwyne. After the king’s murder in Perth, Sir Alexander took control of the city of Aberdeen to try and restore order. The sixth Laird was also a peace maker, and was rewarded by James V in 1527 for his efforts to suppress ‘rebels, thieves, reivers, sorcerers and murderers’. His eldest son was killed resisting the English invaders at the Battle of Pinkie in 1547. Alexander, the tenth Laird, was a staunch royalist and supporter of Charles I.
He was sheriff of Aberdeen, and was offered the earldom of Aberdeen, but the king was executed before he could confirm the grant. Drum Castle, a royalist stronghold in a predominantly Covenanting district, was an obvious target. A strong force with artillery surrounded the castle, and after Lady Irvine’s surrender, it was occupied and looted. The laird’s sons also fought in the civil war, and both were captured: Robert, the younger son, died in the dungeons of Edinburgh Castle, but his brother, Alexander, was set free after Montrose’s victory at Kilsyth in 1645. Drum Castle was yet again assaulted, and this time not only was the castle completely ransacked but the ladies of the house were ejected and the estate ruined. Alexander survived the war to succeed his father as eleventh Laird, and yet again the royal offer of a peerage was made. This time the laird refused it when he discovered that the king was unwilling to offer reparation for the destruction of the Drum estates which had been endured while the family supported his cause. He later caused a local scandal when after the death of his first wife, he married a sixteen-year-old shepherdess from his estates, who was forty-seven years his junior.
The fourteenth Laird was a Jacobite and fought at the Battle of Sheriffmuir in 1715. He received a severe head wound in the battle and never recovered, dying after years of illness and leaving no direct heir. The estate passed to his uncle, John, and then to a kinsman, John Irvine of Crimond. The Irvines continued in their adherence to the Jacobite cause, and the seventeenth Laird, another Alexander, fought for Prince Charles Stuart at Culloden. He only escaped capture after the prince’s defeat by hiding in a secret room at Drum. He then spent several years in exile in France, before being allowed to return to his estates.
Most of the nineteenth century Lairds were eminent lawyers, serving at the Bar or as Sheriffs in various parts of Scotland. Alexander, the twenty-second Laird, was badly wounded, fighting with the Grenadier Guards in France in 1916, and died in 1922. He was succeeded by his eldest son, Alexander (Sandy), who died aged 33, unmarried. Quentin, the second son and twenty-fourth Laird, fought in the second world war with the King's African Rifles in East Africa, and on his death in 1975, Drum Castle and surrounding land, passed to the National Trust for Scotland. He was succeeded by his younger brother , Col. Charles Irvine M.C, who like two of his other brothers, fought in World War II with the Gordon Highlanders.
The present Laird of Drum and twenty-sixth Chief of the name, David Irvine, succeeded on his father's death in 1992. After a business life in the north-west of England, he returned in 1999, to live on Deeside, close to the ancient family home.
In 2002 the Chief entered into a peace treaty with the 13th earl of Kintore, Chief of Clan Keith, at an elaborate ceremony on the banks of the River Dee to end their 600 year feud.