Hstorically,the primary mail garment used by a knight was a simple shirt, called a byrnie or birnie. The flexible short sleeved, waist length shirt was made of interlocking metal rings that protected from slashing attacks, and was the precursor to the haubererk. The haubererk was often rather long, falling well past the waist and sometimes as far as the knees. In old Irish “ birnie” was defined as the knight in shinning armour. See Nordic Origins for insight.
As a story, it is written that in 838 A.D., while serving as a Knight to Kenneth McAlpine (Scotland's first King), Birnie and his two sons were captured by the Picts. Birnie as a descendent of the Dalradians, was facing an automatic death penalty. The three escaped the stocks by cutting off their legs. As a reward for bravery in the war that united Scotland, Birnie was bestowed the title of Baron, and was awarded the lands south of Elgin.
Artistically,poetic license has created a few Scottish legends (McBeth to Hollywood’s Rob Roy)! And although the story supporting the Claim to title of Lord Hamilton may be bit creative, it may contain, surprisingly, a tiny grain of truth. Read the fascinating story as recorded by John Birnie, Lord Hamilton.
Geographically, the area was named as a moist, oozy place that had abundant hazel nut trees. (Birnie, before 1200 was "Brennack"), simply G. Broanach, a moist place. The dative-locative is "braonaigh", which becomes "birnie" in Scots by the usual metathesis (from History of Celtic Name places in Scotland by W.J. Watson, 1926).
There are many historic variations concerning the origin of our name. And naturally, the variant name spellings often changed during the lifetime of our early ancestors.
However, it is classed as a Place Name derived from a small area located along the Lossie River, just south of Elgin in Morayshire. The original settlers were of mixed local tribes (i.e. Celts, Picts, Scots, and Nordic) who had evolved from the traditional hunter gatherers to basic farming and the trading of artisan goods.
The Old Parish Records and modern GRO Records, provide a remarkable history of our survival and migration within Scotland. Encouraged by over population & poverty, we became thriving immigrants and indeed, a global family.