|The sign that greeted us as we walked toward the castle.|
By Cindy Ervin Huff
My husband and I celebrated our 50th wedding anniversary with a trip to Scotland and Ireland to see the places our ancestors came from. Our travel agent referred to it as a bone hunting vacation. It was a bit of a challenge because some parts of our family history had limited information. Our roots digging resulted in little more than counties without specific locations except for one family line. My Ervin family shows up in the 1300s at Drum Castle.
Little wonder, Drum Castle became my must-see destination. However, no tour companies took people into Drum Castle. It’s not as popular as other much larger castles.There was a tour of its gardens along with two other castles available, but we wanted to go inside. Months earlier on the advice of our travel agent, Charley and I got a memberships with the National Trust of Scotland (NTS). This opened the door for us to go inside. The NTS oversees many historic sites, preserving them and making the grounds available as a National Park. Members can visit other NTS sites for free.
After landing in Edinburgh and spending a few days there we took a train to Aberdeen. The castle is just outside of this Medieval city. We boarded a public bus that took us ten miles outside of town, where we then walked a mile to reach the castle.
How did my ancestor inherit Drum Castle
The story goes that Robert the Bruce enlisted William Irvine as either his armor bearer or secretary around 1306. The English had been in hot pursuit of the Bruce, who started an uprising to overthrow English rule. Robert hadn’t slept for three days. Too exhausted to continue, he rested under a holly tree while William guarded him.
After Scotland won its independence and Robert the Bruce became King of Scotland, he reward all those who had aided him. William Irvine was given Drum Castle and the surrounding grounds. A few years later he was given the title Laird Drum.
A bit about Drum Castle
Originally, there was only one tall tower, (the keep). Later during the Jacobin period around 1745 the manor house portion was added and over the centuries other renovations were made. The keep is one of the oldest surviving tower houses in Scotland.
Because the tower was being repaired when we were there, we were not allowed to take the narrow stairs up to the battlement to view the gardens and grounds. However, Charley and I did take time to view the chapel. The Irvine Chapel is still a part of the Church of Scotland. It is booked as a wedding venue. It seats maybe 30 people. And there is no electricity. But with lots of candle light it could be quite romantic. The stain glass windows were magnificent.
We wandered through the Irvine cemetery. Many generations of the royal line are buried there. The current Laird is Alexander Irvine the 27th Baron of Drum, under the royal charter of 1323 and by Scottish tradition is referred to as Laird Drum and his wife as The Lady Drum. They have a private home on a section of the property not belonging to the Trust. And no, I did not get to meet him.
I informed the receptionist upon arrival that I was a descendent. She said welcome home, and we laughed. Standing in the foyer was so surreal. Generations of Clan Irvine had entered through those same doors. I couldn’t resist stroking the oak stair railing. How many of my ancestors had touch it?
As we meandered through the castle with a tour group, our guide, the same receptionist who greeted us, pointed out various ancestors and a bit of history about them, I was in awe. That painter, those soldiers, all the various Laird Drums through the centuries, were a part of my DNA.
As a writer and avid reader, I was impressed with the library containing over 4,000 books in various languages. According to our guide, many had never been read. A collection of books this size was a sign of wealth in centuries past. The books pressed close together on three walls of shelves. The smell of old books permeated the room. A self-portrait of my artist ancestor graced the other wall. The guide pointed to the oldest book written in Latin. It was one of those unread volumes. She said it was priceless and would remain in this collection untouched. My husband and I took copious pictures of the library and other rooms.
One bedroom set in a Medieval theme sat high above the floor because the stone floor radiated the cold. A small stool sat beside the bed so those too short could climb on the bed. The height was also to keep rodents and the like off the bed. That brought a shiver. The rest of the rooms were in the portion of the tower temporarily off limits. I wanted to touch the large china display, each piece handcrafted for the Irvine family.
An artist who’d never left Ireland was commission to paint a bear on one of the plates. (There are no bears in Ireland.) The bear looked more like an elephant. Each piece of furniture had some history and those portraits that could be identified had a story. My mind overflowed with al the information our guide gave as my heart filled with joy and wonder
A wonderful surprise
The castle is small compared to others we viewed later in Scotland and Ireland, but Drum captured my heart. The tour was over in under 30 minutes. Then the guide got our attention and quietly took the two of us to a room the tour had not explored. It was for Irvine descendants only. (Be still my heart.)
The guest book
The tiny room was filled with personal memorabilia from the coats of arms to a giant hand drawn genealogy hanging on the wall. I’d managed not to touch anything even though I wanted to so badly. Once we were done exploring the room, I was asked to sign the descendants’ guest book. That moment was the highlight of my journey to Scotland.
About my name
You may wonder how Irvine and my maiden name Ervin are linked as family. Ervin is one of 270 acceptable spellings. In the over 400 years since William Irvine was gifted Drum Castle the name has gone through many changes which is not uncommon for a clan as old as the Irvine.
Resources claim the Irvines originally emigrated to Scotland from Ireland centuries before and centuries after establishing Drum Castle my ancestors migrated back to Ireland during the reign of William and Mary, when land was gifted to loyal Scots who fought for England against the Irish around 1690.
In the 1800s, some of my ancestors made their way to North America, the West Indies, Australia and New Zealand. And according to letters dated in the 1830s that are in my cousin’s possession, we can confirm our ancestors settled in the US before the potato famine.
Next month I’ll post some interesting facts I learned about that very famine.
Have any of you ever visited your ancestral home? How did that make you feel? Have you visited Scotland?
Cindy Ervin Huff loves writing Historical Romance placed in the West post-Civil War. And there is often a Scot-Irish character to help the hero or heroine along the way. Here is a link to her author page.