THE LORDSHIP & BARONY OF KILMARNOCK
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The AYRE name (of that spelling) is comparatively rare throughout the world and has independent origins in England and Scotland.
In England, please ignore that Battle of Hastings origin; it is nonsense. The evolution of the name is believed to be le Heyr - le Eyr - Eyre - Eyres and the variations are Eyre(s) and Ayre(s).
The highest concentration of Ayre families (of that spelling) in the UK is in the north east of England, in neighbouring Sunderland, Houghton-le-Spring and Durham. Outwith Great Britain the geographical spread in descending occurrences is Northern Ireland, Australia, Canada, and the USA. There are no modern occurrences recorded in the Republic of Ireland.
The large EYRE and EYRES families in England were landed, armigerous and prosperous, which explains why they remained in locations such as Hope in Derbyshire. (The novel Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte was written at Hathersage, near Hope, where the choice of the Eyre name was apt, as local cemetery inscriptions indicate.)
In Ireland, the landed and armigerous EYRE family (Eyreville, Eyrecourt, Eyrecourt Castle) originated in England at Cromwellian times.
In Scotland, the name variations are Air, Ayr and Ayre, seen in early records as 'de Are' and 'de Ayr', which supports the claim of an Ayrshire territorial origin. The Ayr name distribution in Scotland on this 1881 National Trust Map shows that the Ayr families are historically from Kilmarnock, Ayrshire and nearby.
Those of the AYR or AYRE name of Scottish origin are few in numbers and widespread internationally. The explanation lies in the economic realities of historic Scotland. Much of it was, like Ireland, a poor agricultural economy, and vast numbers of the population of both countries emigrated in desperation to escape starvation and to seek prosperity.
The AYR(E) families were not of the highlands. Of the name variations AIR(E) and AYR(E), the former are seemingly associated with Angus and Berwick, and the latter near the river and town of Ayr in Ayrshire. There were, of course, clans in the lowlands. Living in such a community, a family would give allegience to a clan Chief in return for protection and social identity. It is believed that the AYR(E) families of Ayrshire were a sept of clan Boyd, but this has not been verified.
Of generations prior to c1900 many of the working population were unable to write, and on certificates they added their 'X' mark. A consequence of this is that the registrar wrote the name on certificates as it sounded. So, we have instances of 'i' becoming 'y', and an 'e' added. The paternal family name of the Baron of Kilmarnock was in fact Ayr - as shown underlined below on his grandfather's birth certificate - but an 'e' appeared on later documents.
An on-line visit to The General Register Office for Scotland for a free search of records between 1513 and 1956 shows the Scottish Ayre surname to be comparatively rare. The Census count in 1901 was 89, the highest for 60 years. A map showing the AYRE families distribution in Scotland from the 1891 Census can be seen here.
The table below was produced from the EllisIslandRecords.org records of passengers with these name variations arriving at Ellis Island between 1892 and 1924. Scotland and England columns show the recorded residency and not ethnicity.
It is clear from this sample that AYR is Scottish, AYRE is found more frequently in England than in Scotland, and that AYRES, EYRE, and EYRES are predominantly English. The AYER spelling seems almost exclusively American now. The original 'le Ayer' may have been the occupational (a judicial official) origin of Ayre in England, but in Scotland the name Ayer is listed as a sept of clan Hay.
In Ayrshire, Scotland, the county and the town take their name from the river Ayr. The origin of the name Ayr may be from Gaelic ar meaning clear, or derived from the Old Norse eyrr (a strip of shingle beach), or from an early pre-Celtic Indo-European stratum of river names. The river Ayr has had different spellings over time, namely Ar c.1177, Are 1197, Air c.1230, Ayre 1237, Aare c.1400, and Scottish surnames with these spellings could denote persons who came from Ayr.
Note the spelling is Ayre on the 1686 map by John Adair (1650 -1722) titled 'A mape of the west of Scotland containing Clydsdail, Nithsdail, Ranfrew, Shyre of Ayre, & Galloway'. Later, in 1777, a scarce map HERE by T.Kitchin & J.Barber named 'Airshire from the best Authorities' uses the Air spelling for the town and the river.
Robert Sibbald (1641-1722), in Theatrum Scotiae (1693) about the town of Ayr wrote "Aire, an ancient town, . . . . . . , it being the head town of that Sheriffdom, which bears the same name. It was of old called St.John's Town; but now that name is antiquated". When the town adopted the name of the river is unknown.
These persons, recorded at various dates, testify to the antiquity of Ayre surname variations in the lowlands of Scotland:
Robert Air of Hederslawe, Berwickshire, 1281.
Reginald of Ayr, Clerk in Ayr, 1287.
Johan Ayr of Ayton, Berwickshire, 1296 (visit the Ragman Rolls here).
John of Ayr, Chaplain of St.John the Baptist Church at Ayr, 1301.
Aubinus de Are, 1315-21.
Thomas Ayre, Provost of Kintore, 1331.
Elyas Ayr 1336.
Geoffrey Ayre, Baillie of Dundee, latter 1370s, mentioned in the Exchequer Rolls.
Margaret Stewart, Countess of Mar and Angus received a charter from Robert Ayre of Fastforeland, Berwickshire in 1375.
Walterus de Are, 1399.
Richard, Brice, Henry and William Ayre, 1401.
Dogall de Are, 1430.
Michael Ayr, Johannem de Ayr, Brechin, 1450.
William Ayr, lands in the Lordship of Dunbar, 1522, 1535.
William Ayre, Jacobite prisoner, transported to Maryland on 'Friendship', May 1716, arrived August 1716.
George Ayre, son of a Scottish immigrant, established the Ayrshire Plantation in Virginia, in 1821.
The only major recognisable Scottish cultural community outside of Scotland in the United Kingdom is in Ulster. It runs in a huge arch from the Ards peninsula of Co. Down, up through Antrim and north Derry, to taper out in the Laggan region of Donegal. In religion, music, literary tradition and especially language it is thoroughly Lowland and Scots speaking (see 'The Scots Ower the Sheuch').
The surname Ayre in Ulster (Northern Ireland) is of lowland Scottish origin, as would be expected from the vast emigration to the eastern counties of the province from 1400 onwards. It is estimated that at least 200 000 lowland Scots settled in Ulster during the Ulster Plantation scheme of 1605-97.
The emigration to Ulster included Huguenots in the 18th century, escaping persecution and torture in Catholic France for their Calvinist faith. The intolerant Louis XIV revoked the Edict of Nantes in 1685, so outlawing the Reformers (whom they called Huguenots in ridicule). Ireland's debt to the Huguenots is for their creation of the Irish linen industry, centered around Lisburn and Randalstown in Co. Antrim. The Huguenot names appearing in Parish Registers include Ayres (with an 's').
Whilst they shared the Presbyterian 'work-ethic' of the Scottish immigrants and worked together in religious harmony, the fortunes of those Huguenot Ayres in Ulster will probably remain unknown. Of those Huguenot Ayres who later reached the friendly American Colonies, some may be found in genealogies on the internet.
NOTE: There is no county called AYRESHIRE in Scotland. It is AYRSHIRE - without the 'e'.