Both on and off the stage, Irving always maintained a high ideal of his profession, and in 1895 he received the honour of knighthood, the first ever accorded an actor.
He was also the recipient of honorary degrees from the universities of Dublin, Cambridge, and Glasgow. His acting, apart from his genius as a presenter of plays, divided criticism, opinions differing as to the extent to which his mannerisms of voice and deportment interfered with or assisted the expression of his ideas. So strongly marked a personality as his could not help giving its own colouring to whatever part he might assume, but the richness and originality of this colouring at its best, and the spirit and intellect which characterised his renderings, was conceded by even his critics, as was his versatility in roles so widely different as Digby Grant and Louis XI, Richard III and Becket, Benedick and Shylock, Mathias and Dr. Primrose.
Leaving his legal education behind he built a career as a distinguished actor, finally returning to the law and becoming a respected author of papers concerning criminals and the legal system they operated in.