Irving of Bonshaw and Carruthers; the sharing of an historical path

This article has been written by George Carruthers – Convenor, Clan Carruthers Society and contains some interesting and historical links between the two Clans – the Irvings of Bonshaw and Carruthers of Holmains.

This article is shared with kind permission from The Clan Carruthers Society

We know that of the 17 clans mentioned in the Act of Parliament of 1587 regarding the suppression of Unruly Clans, that not all currently have a Chief ie they remain armigerous. Of these, those that have official clan status are Elliot, Carruthers, Graham, Irving, Jardine, Johnstone, Moffat and Scott. Some others, however, are pursuing official status through the Lord Lyon and Clan Bell springs instantly to mind.

Todays blog is on one of our neighbours who came from the western side of Dumfriesshire and are fully recognised by the Lord Lyon through the confirmation of their Clan Chief, that of Irving of Bonshaw.

This piece is written with the permission and assistance of their Clan Chief, Rupert Irving of Bonshaw.

Rupert Irving, Chief of the Name and Arms of Bonshaw was recognised as such in Edinburgh on April 13th 2021, having inherited the title from his father, and his clan is seen as an independent branch of Clan Irving/Irvine, who are long established in the Scottish Borders at Bonshaw.

Along with our own Chief, Carruthers of Holmains, Irving of Bonshaw holds a hereditary seat on the Standing Council of Scottish Chiefs.

The Standing Council represents those who are head of the Name and Arms of their clan or family as recognised by the Lord Lyon King of Arms. Today, some 135 Scottish chiefs are in membership of the Standing Council.

Who are the Irvings of Bonshaw

This poem by James D Wright published in the turn of the 20th century, may offer a small introduction and insight into the ancient lineage of Bonshaw.

While Bonshaw’s ancient tower stands
By Kirtle’s bonny stream,
We Irvings yet may proudly view
Each richly storied scene
Where once our fathers bold held sway.
The Bruce their valour owned
And on his Bonshaw armour-bearer
Drum Castle did bestow.

James D. Wright, 1905

Currently there are two clans carrying the name Irving/Irvine. These are Irvine of Drum (Aberdeenshire) and Irving of Bonshaw, (Dumfriesshire). But this anomaly of duel clan names is not new with the Frasers, Campbells and Macdonalds springing to mind.

According to information passed to us, there is however an agreement between the two families that Drum were created by Royal Appointment in the 1300s, as was Carruthers of Mouswald in 1322, while again and in the same vein as our own family, Bonshaw is also a clan defined by its topographical name (Gallic in origin) dating back to the 1100s. However, unlike Carruthers who had two; Mouswald and Holmains, Bonshaw never had a barony.

So how does Irvine of Drum fit in? There has been a long standing legend in the Bonshaw line that William de Irwyn, second son of the then Chief of Bonshaw was taken into service by Robert the Bruce. This led to him holding various offices in the Royal Household and led to a charter of lands being presented to him in 1323 and named a feudal Barony in the forest of Drum – leading to the formation of the family of Irvine of Drum in the 1300s.

Although there are claims of a Royal connection to Irving of Bonshaw and again in a similar vein to those of our own family, if no evidence exists, no claims are made.

The Irving of Bonshaw family tradition states that the origin of the clan chiefs family is connected with the early Celtic monarchs of Scotland. Duncan ‘Irvine ‘settled at Bonshaw. Duncan was the brother of Crinan, who claimed descent from the High Kings of Ireland, through the Abbots of Dunkeld. Crinan married a daughter of Malcolm II of Scotland and their son was Duncan I of Scotland. However, and this always remains important, facts must reflect the truth and evidence of our history.


Research by the Irvings of Bonshaw themselves states: Tradition starts with the statement that the Irvings of Bonshaw are descended from Duncan of Eskdale, a younger brother of Crinan, father of Duncan I of Scotland.

One should point out that there is no known facts nor evidence to support this nor indeed any conjecture of Irving history up to the time of the 11th Century.This family has been around since the time of Carruthers and is mentioned in many annals of the area alongside our own family. As such we are proud to recognise them as the individuals they are, led by an extremely proactive chief under Rupert C Irving, Clan Chief, Chief of the Name and Arms of Irving Bonshaw, 20th of his line.

Historical similarities: Irving and Carruthers

Clan Tartan - Carruthers, Irving

Marriage: Outwith the many intermarriages between both families over time, there are many other similarities in our history line.

Brythonic Topographical Names: Carruthers comes from the Brythonic words Caer (fort of ) Ruthers. Irving comes from ‘Erin-vine/Erin-Feine which means ‘a true Westland man’, with the name of the lands taken by both the families who owned them.

Parishes of the Name: When King Malcolm Canmore (1031-1093), son of Duncan I of Scotland, introduced the parish system by the end of the 11th century, the lands of Irving in Kirtledale, became the parish of Irvine. This mirrors the lands of Carruthers, becoming a parish in its own right during same period. Both parishes however were absorbed with others to make larger parishes. Irving was merged with the parishes of Annan and Kirkpatrick-Fleming and Carruthers was merged with Middlebie and Pennersaugh, both in the early 1600s.

Links with Bruce/Brus: We all know that Carruthers became vassals under the Lords of Annandale, as did the Irvings. The Lordship of Annandale remained from its inception under the Bruce family until Roberts ascention to the Scottish Throne (1070-1304), with a break of one year when John Comyn held it (1295-1296). Carruthers gained their independence from Bruce when Thomas 1st of Mouswald in 1320 was given a Charter from King Robert, the Irvings had to wait a little longer, nearly 400 years, but eventually through their close alliance with the Johnstons, it happened.

Maxwell and Johnston Feud: This was a violent and bloody feud which lasted over 100 years, where both clan/families rallied support from their neighbours. In this instance, the Irvings and Carruthers on the norm were on opposite sides of the fence, as Holmains had always been staunch supporters of Maxwell, however it seems that in this instance, Carruthers may have fought on the side of the Johnstons in the battle of Dryffe Sands along with Irving.

Border Warfare: Both families were great supporters of their country and family, both fought and died in border wars and both rode as Reivers and again playing an integral role in their nations politics.

Battle of Kirtle (1484): Where Sir Simon Carruthers, then Warden of the West March and brother of Archibald 7th of Mouswald was killed, it is recorded that the Master of Maxwell was also killed across the Kirtle water viewed from Bonshaw Tower.

Battle of Solway Moss (1542): At this battle, Christopher Irving of Bonshaw commanded the light horse, luckily surviving the battle, sadly this was not the case for John, the son and heir of John Carruthers of Holmains and 2nd Baron who was killed at the battle. His brother George, being next in line became 6th of Holmains, 2nd Baron and 3rd named Chief of Carruthers from the Holmains line. The forays and clashes continued and there are accounts of Christopher Irving of Bonshaw leading a running battle with English forces from Durisdeer down to Nithsdale. He was eventually caught and in true borderer style renewed his former oath to the English king and was later released.

The Killing of Kirkpatrick : This is an interesting one as both Carruthers and Irving of Bonshaw claim that honour.   Our records show that in 1563 a feud broke out between the Carruthers and the Kirkpatricks of Closeburn although the reason for the feud is not mentioned. What is stated is that Roger Kirkpatrick of Closeburn was wounded and in some records died, with many of their family and retainers were killed. For this Holmains and his followers were summoned before Justace Ayre, Sir James Hamilton of Crawfordjohn, but the matter was settled amicably on the advice of Sir John Maxwell of `Terregles, March Warden at the time. We are aware that Edward Irving of Bonshaw was amongst the group.

What Clan Irving state is that during the truce between Scotland and England in 1550, many border clans returned to old family feuds. In 1554, the Kirkpatricks slew a younger son of Christopher Irving of Bonshaw. The Irvings bided their time until in 1563, when Edward Irving of Bonshaw, the new Chief, slew the chief of Kirkpatrick of Closeburn.

Whether both occurrences occurred in the same year, whether they were the same event, or whether they were two pictures of the same story, it clearly shows a strong bond existed between both families at that time.

Roll of Unruly Clans. In 1587, along with 33 clans of the Highlands and Islands, an Act of Parliament was enacted to suppress the unruly clans of the Scottish Borders. These included 17 Border ‘clannis. Four of these were from the Middle March of Scotland, while thirteen were from the West March and included both Irving and Carruthers.

Armorial Bearings: Along with other clan Chiefs, nobility and those deemed worthy to bear arms, William Irving of Bonshaw and John Carruthers of Holmains both registered the chiefly arms of their ancestors in 1672, after the Lord Lyons Act came into force.

The Bonshaw arms are blazoned Argent (Silver), three holly leaves Proper, which is interesting as the more simple in form the arms are, normally the more ancient they are and these are very simple arms as can be seen above. The Carruthers arms are of course Gules (Red) two chevrons engrailed between three fleurs de lis Or (gold).



Family Records: Where Carruthers has the ‘Records of the Carruthers Family by AS Carruthers FSA Scot and RC Reid, the Irvings of Bonshaw have their ‘Book of the Irvings by Col John B. Irving of Bonshaw.

Diaspora: The border Clan of Irving of Bonshaw has, like our own family, spread to many corners of the planet and in the same vein as all other other border riding names, they are happy to be differentiated from any relations elsewhere.

There is no doubt that the Reiver heritage remains strong in Border families, and most so in the those interlinked with each other throughout our history i.e. Bells, Ivings, Murrays, Douglas and Johnstone to name but a few.

Above is a chart recognising the 17 Border ‘Clannis” mentioned in the 1587 Act for the suppression of Unruly Clans.

As tartan, linked to a name, never existed prior to the early 1800s, the chart shows when the clan/family tartan was registered. On the tartan sits the clan badge reflecting the crest of the Chiefs arms and on the belt and buckle encircling it the motto of the Chief. It also shows whether or not the clan/family is officially recognised in Scots law through the auspices of the Lord Lyon by having a recognised chief or if not they remain armigerous (without chief).

Both Carruthers and Irving of Bonshaw have their Chiefs arms recorded in the Public Register of all Arms and Bearing of Scotland and in the same vein as all others, both have had supporters granted to reflect their status as Clan Chiefs; Carruthers has two fallow bucks rampant Proper, and Irving of Bonshaw has two snow leopards rampant guardant Proper.