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Scottish Roots
by John Irving
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        For years I had seen a postcard size picture inscribed "Bonshaw Tower, Annan, 'Seat of the Chieftain of the Irving Clan.' In this picture, the Tower and the adjacent 2 story residence are partially covered by a vine. There is no date on the picture but I am aware that my uncle, Arthur Irving, a dentist in WWI, had traveled up to Scotland and had seen the Tower. It is my recollection that the picture depicts the way the Tower looked at that time.

        For several months, my wife and I had planned a trip to London plus a bit of the continent. Prior to our departure, my wife was in a bookstore looking at maps of the area where we would be traveling to determine maps we might like to purchase prior to our travels. She stumbled across the "Rand McNally Road Atlas of Britain. Looked further and found on page 69, near the village of Kirtlebridge, Bonshaw Tower (underlined) with a symbol that meant "Roman and pre-Roman Remains." Bonshaw Tower underlined meant that the property is in private hands and has restricted openings. With that "find," Dee and I decided to take 2 days out of our London time. We would leave extra bags in London, take a train north to Carlisle, England, drive across the border to Dumfries, Scotland and see what we could find out about the Tower.


Trip ( August 22 & 23, 1985)

In hunting for the Bonshaw Tower out of Annan we got mildly lost . . . asked a lady who gave pretty good directions if we had "talked the same language." We finally found the road to "The Tower" but also discovered a sign saying "it's a private residence and to make an appointment to see the Tower." We truly imposed on one family to get a phone number and then another gentleman in Kirtlebridge when John couldn't make their pay phones work. Tried to call #256 but got no answer . . . so, off to Dumfries to assure us of our room.

The room was in the Station Hotel. Dee went downstairs to pay phone to call Bonshaw again ( 925-256. Kirtlebridge exchange. Reached a lady and explained our desire to photograph the outside of the Tower. She ("you say your husband's name is Irving; you're only here through tomorrow, late afternoon") gave us an appointment for 12:00 noon ("just before lunch") for tomorrow (Thursday). Could hardly believe our good fortune. We're so excited!

We headed for our appointment at Bonshaw! We were about 5 minutes late. It was incredible to drive up a narrow road for 1/2 mile, lined with "green shrubs" (see 1993 visit) & then see the Tower & house as pictured on the postcard we have had all these years.

J ohn and Jackie Straton-Ferrier met us in the drive, and were immediately friendly & warm. We showed them the postcard, which they had not seen were - interested in the growth around it, which isn't the same now. Then John Straton-Ferrier suggested a tour of the Tower. He handed Dee a key about 5 1/2 to 6 inches long and heavy. It was the key to the Tower. Dee gave it to John, and he unlocked the door going into Bonshaw Tower.

The first room at the ground level on the left was to hold prisoners. Just outside the door of that room overhead is the "Crusader Stone" - hanging from the ceiling. Legend has it that when 2 people look at it together, they will be blessed. The winding stone steps go up a total of 4 levels. There is a strong rope banister to hold on to going up & down. The walls are about 7-8 feet thick at the bottom. The Tower is about 440 - 450 years old (in 1985). We went all the way to the top, and walked a portion of the parapet in the rain - then, back down to view the other rooms - one where the long wall has a plastic & cloth covering over a family tree record spanning the over 900 year history of the clan. The Great Hall is a room with huge fireplace and sofas & overstuffed chairs, and lots of books, etc. The young people's room for parties & gatherings. The Tower is infested with wood worms and so everything néeds to be removed, fumigated, etc.

We rejoined Jacqueline in the main house and had a glass of wine & then John took several pictures. Jacqueline had been looking over our papers & trying to make some connections. She has mounds of 8 1/2 X 11" separate records of different families. We are going to get our records organized and send them ( also copies of the picture postcard. We stayed for 2 hours, and left feeling so high we could have flown. They invited us to take holly leaves from the large (100's of years old) tree that "guards" the front, right entry to their home area - the holly leaf being part of the (crest or shield) of the Irving's & Irvine's. John Straton-Ferrier mentioned a book about the IRVING'S of BONSHAW that his mother had "complied and written" (about $20.00). We gave them 20.00£ because the funds go to the Bonshaw Preservation Trust for its future assurance. We later realized that his mother, E.Keys-Irving Straton-Ferrier, who is the current owner of the Bonshaw property, was responsible for reprinting and copyrighting the above book. They wanted copies of pictures so, we will send over prints of all of my transparencies.

I can't begin to express how moved we both were at the significance and warmth that the "whole Bonshaw experience" represents. We drove away reluctant to leave, yet hungry enough to eat a cow!





Trip - May 19 - 30, 1993

Our second trip to the Tower was in conjunction with "Roots '93," a celebration in the counties of Dumfries and Galloway of Scotland. The new owners of "Bonshaw" are Doctors John Bruce and Margaret Irving - Bruce's doctorate is in geology and Margaret is a pediatrician.

A few other Irving folks were there "looking." John took lots more pix of Bonshaw, including the many azaleas and rhododendrons - beautiful. There were campers and trailers scattered about the grounds. They have a game room. There is a consideration (according to Bruce) of turning the Castle into a time-share. Locals are divided - to see an historic building used that way - but would be good for the local economy. We didn't go in. John took a picture also of a tower high on a hill - called Repentance Hill. All of these border "Towers" have interrelated history. Later, Dee browsed through newly purchased Irving book. Found a Robert Waugh Irving of Australia - one that we had looked for as a tie to John's great grandfather. They were brothers. He is mentioned, as well as his wife, Lillian Rose and father, James of Dumfries! Excitement!

Saturday, May 22, - We took the tour of the Tower. Saw Jacque and John Straton-Ferrier, the previous "tenants" who were there when we went to the Tower in 1985. We had a nice visit and she, as always, was very gracious. They live in Thornhill, near where we go tomorrow for the festivities at Drumlanrig Castle. She said that they are very pleased about Bruce and Margaret being owners of the "Castle" (Bonshaw Tower, home and grounds). The reason that Straton-Ferrier on longer owned the property was because of "death taxes." When (If) Bonshaw becomes a National Trust, this will no longer be a problem.

Sunday, May 23, - Today is a "Roots '93" day with no specific "happenings" at Bonshaw. We went to the Irving tent at Drumlanrig Castle where today's celebration was taking place and visited and looked over some information on the family. The weather has been warm, the day beautiful. It was a memorable afternoon ( to a wonderful 40th anniversary day for us!

Monday, May 24, - We have arranged to leave one suitcase where we were staying in Lockerbie (but that is another story) as we travel to Edinburgh for genealogy stuff till Thursday, May 27.

Friday, May 28, - There is a lot of construction on the road (A-74) going to Annan at the turn off to Kirtlebridge, before going up the Bonshaw road. The little, narrow road going up to Bonshaw is hedged by rhododendrons of many colors and, as one gets closer, the height of some bushes is 25' - 30'. Spectacular! They are yellow, salmon, deep crimson and deep pink. Neither one of us have seen so many colors and so profuse before. Dee and John didn't expect the beauty of the plants! Margaret had said to come at 11:am. She wasn't in, but Bruce and Harry (Irwin) were there. We bought the complete (reprinted) Irving book (£70.00) by John Beaufin Irving of Bonshaw.

We got directions from Bruce Irving for Hoddom Castle, where we went next. We crossed an old bridge over a pretty stream, then soon turned up the road to Hoddom (also an Irving branch) where the long driveway was overgrown with azaleas and rhododendrons ( beautiful. There were campers and trailers scattered about the grounds. They have a game room. There is a consideration (according to Bruce) of turning the Castle into a time-share. Locals are divided ( to see an historic building used that way ( but would be good for the local economy. We didn't go in. John took pix ( also of a tower high on a hill ( called Repentance Hill. All of these border "Towers" have interrelated history. Later, Dee browsed through newly purchased Irving book. Found a Robert Waugh Irving of Australia ( one that we had looked for as a tie to John's great grandfather. They were brothers. He is mentioned, as well as his wife, Lillian Rose and father, James of Dumfries! Excitement!

Saturday, May 29, - Did some sorting of papers and read before going to Bonshaw to start bus tour of "Irving Lands." We turned into driveway and followed the bus up to the Tower. We parked in front of the stables and walked over to join about 45 others. Before doing anything else, we went to the "jail" where items to purchase were located and purchased 2 Irwin Tartan scarves ( one for Carol and one for Jan.

We visited for awhile and got on board at 2:30. First stop - Kirtle Church - Church of Scotland - Presbyterian. Met minister who said she had been there since Wednesday. New appointment. The Rev. John Irving of Bonshaw gave the land for the church. He was Episcopalian - Church of England. Our bus driver was named Mark. He performed little miracles with that huge vehicle - going through gates with only inches to spare, turning around in practically no space. We left the church after a tour of inside - some nice leaded glass windows, old small pipe organ - works well.

Next stop, Robgill Castle, neighbor's of Bruce and Margaret's - George and Diane Stewart. They have a Tower similar to Bonshaw, but they have modernized it, and it is decorated it beautifully. The grounds are beautiful - dozens of rhododendrons and azaleas and a more formal layout of stone (not cemented - just laid flat one on another) raised beds with herbs and flowers. The house is equally more formal, both in furniture and design. The house was built on to and is an integral part of the old "Tower" - very well done. Diane, with 2 or 3 helpers, served us tea and cakes of many designs. They were very tasty. For a few, she also served coffee.

Our next and last stop on our Irving Land tour was Stapleton Tower, which is in great disrepair. It had a building structure next to it at one time and, because of tax structures, the building was torn down and the roof removed from the Tower. It is our understanding that the current owner has permission to restore the Tower without tax consequences. We returned to Bonshaw and had just over an hour before the talk on the history of the Irving's. Bruce, who then introduced Alistar Irving, a cousin, who talked somewhat disjointedly on the Irving Clan to 1700, opened the talk. J. Bruce Irving then picked up with the 1700 to the present. He talked about the genealogy chart his father had worked on, how the Bonshaw property became his; the fact that there were 14xx acres to the Bonshaw property until 1893. He also shared his feelings for and the fact that Irving's are a Clan as well as a family. Back to the hotel and to bed about 11:pm.

Sunday, May 30, Off to the Church of Scotland (Presbyterian) services at Kirtlebridge at 10:am where there were perhaps, 25 of the Roots '93 participants in attendance. Because of the special attachment to Bonshaw, there is a box that holds 8 people; it contained holly leaves and a Bonshaw plate. In addition, there was a stained glass window in memory of a child, _____ Margaret Irving, who died about 1900. Bruce's wife, Margaret, invited us up to Bonshaw for coffee before the 12 noon Irving Clan meeting. The meeting was held in the Great Hall (mentioned in our '85 trip to the Tower). This was a meeting, about 90 years late (Bonshaw Book of Irving's), to set up an international Clan with a charter, by-laws, officers, etc. Those in attendance favored the proposal and voted Wylie Irving as Convenor and Bruce Irving as assistant. Every effort is being made to include Drum people, to include all spellings, and to make everyone who even has an interest welcome. Meeting was adjourned.

- by John Irving of San Jose, CA


John Irving is a native Californian, retired after 35 years in sales with a pharmaceutical company, he attended school in Burbank, then went into the Navy at the end of WWII and also served his country during the Korean conflict. He graduated from USC, with a BS degree. John has also accumulated post-graduate hours toward his MBA Degree.

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