Locations of the Orrs.  Did we begin in Kirkcudbrightshire ?

It is likely that the Orrs took their name from a parish in  the south west of Scotland which is to some extent substantiated by the existence of the Parish of Urr (Pre 1975 Parish ref.884 in Dumfries and Galloway Region ) to the north west of the town of Dalbeattie. Around the 11-12C it became practice for people, particularly land owners and gentry at Court, to add the location of their home and property to their names. Landmarks and specific locations were similarly named . There is the earthwork called the Motte of Urr nearby, and several other Urr features - Urr Water which flows to the sea from Loch Urr, Haugh of Urr and the Old Bridge of Urr.  Go to this page The Land of Urr in the Stewartry of Kirkcudbrightshire for my thoughts on our origins.

The 12th century Motte of Urr  is said to be the most extensive motte and bailey castle in Scotland. Its position in the valley of Urr Water is not especially commanding from a military standpoint now but in its day was probably a more dominant feature and may well have been built on the site of an Anglo Saxon fort. Excavation at the top showed that the topmost 2 metres had been added after a 12th century fire had destroyed timber fences and houses. Coins and pottery indicate that there had been occupants until the 14th century.

The earliest records show the lordship of Urr in the possession of Walter de Berkeley (died ca 1194) who was Chamberlain to King William I. Two witnesses to a Balliol of Urr Charter of 1262 were described as burgesses of Urr, but how long it lasted is not known. The region itself was close to many of the Border Reiver families and an area of ongoing conflict with England, - perhaps the settlement was caught up in those events.

It is of interest that the run of the river valleys is generally north west- south east and this would have influenced communications, trade and migration - leading to Ayrshire, Renfrewshire and Lanarkshire, where Orrs are to be found in number in later centuries. Dalry is about 20 miles and Dalmellington about 35 miles north west of Dalbeattie; and the nearby Nithsdale route runs from Dumfries to Kilmarnock , Lanarkshire, and to the River Clyde and Glasgow.


Lochwinnoch is a small town in Renfrewshire on the side of a Barr Loch and Castle Semple Loch. Just 4 miles south of Lochwinnoch in Ayrshire, is Kilbirnie which faces the town of Beith across Kilbirnie Loch, and Dalry is about 3 miles further south. These are the parishes in which the Orr name appears time and time again.

Andro Crafurd [ Andrew Crawford ] wrote ( ca 1836 ) in his notes for "The Cairn of Lochwinnoch " : "Lochwinnoch was the headquarters of the Orrs for above 500 years " and that Orrs were tenants of Paisley Monastery since the 1300s. Although the period from then to ca 1700 is vague there is a rich vein of Orr ancestry to mine in the locality as shown by the Orr residents listed in  Fowlers Directory 1831/1832. The main occupation was farming and it is there we find some significant family records of the Orrs of Risk and Kaim farms.

Shall we go to Ireland ?

There was much change in Scotland and Ireland as the populations moved about driven by political, economic and religious pressures. In Scotland there were a number of campaigns to force clearance of areas conducted directly by the English Crown and also by substantial landowners evicting the residents of all persuasions whether Highlander, Lowlander or Border people. In 1513 Henry VIII defeated James IV of Scotland at Flodden Field and there followed years of disruption and war as Henry sought control including the defeat of James V at Hadden Rig near Berwick in 1542, and the `rough wooing ` in 1544 and 1545 which drove the population out of southern Scotland. The accession of James VI of Scotland as James I of England in 1603 merged the two crowns  and led to further political and especially religious pressures that had a direct impact on migration to Ireland. 

Life was difficult rather than dangerous for the Presbyterians under James VI/I but became more deadly with Charles I and his drive to impose his supremacy and episcopacy ( the rule of bishops) on the Kirk. Rebellion in Ireland in 1641 saw a reverse flow of refugees that hard pressed the mainland Scots who had to cope with a huge influx of essentially charitable causes. The firm hand of Cromwell in 1649 -1650 saw some further disruption and reallocation of land in Ireland while the Irish bishops continued to harass the Presbyterians. The persecution that really drove the Scottish Presbyterians to Ulster followed from the Restoration of Charles II in 1660 through to the `Killing Time` in 1685. But we get ahead of ourselves.

It should be remembered that the West Coast of Scotland has very many lochs and two belts of islands; the Inner and Outer Hebrides. The coast of Ireland is very close to Scotland - a mere 21 miles at its nearest, and there was always the interplay between the local fishing industry and small-scale trading.  In times of crisis, famine or war it was sometimes safer to move family and flocks to another and more economically attractive residence. Such escapes were often followed within a generation by a return to the original homeland once conditions had returned to normal. Against this background came the opportunity of permanent settlement in Ireland with land on offer at reasonable rents on the estates of two Scottish landlords, Sir Hugh Montgomery and Sir James Hamilton ca 1606, and subsequently elsewhere under the Plantation of Ireland 1610 - 1630.


Orr Name Study Ulster Scots Reference material