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How many Duncans does it take to build a castle?

Drum Castle, Aberdeenshire

Drum Castle, Aberdeenshire
Photo: Ikiwaner (Licence)

One of Aberdeenshire’s finest, Drum Castle was bequeathed to the National Trust for Scotland in 1975, by Henry Irvine, 24th Laird of Drum. That’s a whole lotta Lairds.

Drum was possibly the oldest occupied castle in Scotland, and remained in the same family (almost) continuously for six and a half centuries. The Irvine, or Erivine, family go back even further than that. The earliest recorded member that I can trace is Duncan of the Eryvine, who was killed at Duncrub in 965 AD. One of his grandsons, Erinus, married into the family of King Malcolm II, but another grandson, also Duncan, seems to have been the ancestor of the entire Irvine clan. In 1018 he married some bird from the Borders who was heiress to great skelps of land to the south and east of Lockerbie.

Sorry. I’ve been researching my little heart out, but information’s a wee bit thin in places.

Anyway, a son of Erinus, also called Duncan (imaginative or what?), inherited the throne when Malcolm was assassinated in 1034. Now this Duncan was out and about fighting battles and such, and on his way home, he was attacked and killed by his cousin, MacBeth. MacBeth took over the throne, and reigned for seventeen years. Meanwhile Duncan’s sons, some of whom may have been called Duncan, were working in the background canvassing support, and in 1057, defeated and executed MacBeth.

Skipping forward to 1286, King Alexander III rode his horse over a cliff. Accidentally, I understand. He had no living (direct) male heirs, and an unseemly scrum ensued, with umpteen distantly related Irvines laying claim to the throne. The then King of England, Edward “Longshanks”, took control, and selected from among the claimants, John Balliol, apparently on the basis that he was the weakest contender (or in current parlance, link), and would kow-tow to the whims of the English king.

Next, Balliol’s nephew inherited, and he was disposed of in 1306 by Robert the Bruce. But Bruce was also an Irvine, and gathered many more Irvines around him in his many campaigns. One of his staunchest supporters was William de Irwyn, and following his assistance to Bruce at Bannockburn, William was awarded Drum Castle and surrounding lands. That was 1323, and Irvines owned Drum until, as I say, 1975.

Drum Castle was in the wars many times over. It was ransacked three times during the Covenanting Rebellion. And the 14th Laird was prominent in the Jacobite uprising of 1715, while the 17th Laird fought with Bonnie Prince Charlie at Culloden in 1745. That’s “fought with” in the sense of “alongside”, of course. Damned cunning, this language of ours.

The original tower keep is thought to date from the middle of the thirteenth century. The Tower of Drum is said to have been built by the first provost of Aberdeen, while the mansion house now surrounding the original tower was built by the 9th Laird, and completed in 1619.

As a visitor attraction, it is now a popular haunt in an area rich in castles. Courtesy of the NTS, it now contains a collection of paintings and antique furniture, as well as the restored great hall, 16th century chapel, and much more. Outside, the grounds are extensive, with woodland walks and picnic areas, and the gardens include a historic rose collection.

Drum Castle is on the A893, 8 miles west of Aberdeen. The castle is open every afternoon during the summer; the gardens are open all day during the summer; and the grounds are open every day all year round.

For current information, including admission prices, check out the NTS website at

I suppose you could say I’m “Drumming” up support for the National Trust…!

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