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Claim Gathering 2000 (Monday 18th September 2000)

By: Jimmy Kavanagh


Well I have just returned from my first Clann gathering and it was a great success though very tiring and due to other commitments I could only stay for two of the four days! I was a little anxious as I travelled to Ferns that things might be awkward. Many of the attendees would be hardened veterans of previous events and I (despite the name) might be considered an outsider.

In my experience meetings with your immediate relatives can be awkward the first time never mind people that have to go back 5 or 6 generations to find a common link. Add to the mixture the fact that I was bringing my partner who has only met my mother twice and you can see the reasons for my nerves. Thankfully things turned out splendidly.


We arrived in Ferns with about 15 minutes left to go before the official start of the gathering. After locating the pub that was to serve as the event headquarters I entered and to my horror discovered just two people lodged at the bar mulling over their drinks. Several things flashed through my mind in the blinking of an eye;


Had I somehow managed to get the dates wrong and I was too early or (worse) too late?

Were the two characters at the bar the only ones to have made the effort to turn up?

Had all those already assembled decided to play some cruel joke and hide in the toilets until I left?

Had there been a nuclear strike on the Wexford area by some rogue state leaving me as the sole remaining male Kavanagh in the south east of Ireland?


I quickly analysed and discounted each idea in turn. Slowly, and I hope nonchalantly lest my partner notice the rising panic, surveyed each corner of the pub. Finally I spied through one of the doors a function room at the back of the establishment that seemed to be prepared for some sort of event.


We exited the pub and nervously walked around to the back of the premises where we found a courtyard. To the left was the function room, while to the right the Clann insignia fluttered gently in the breeze on the door of a barn.


I was trying to decide which way to turn - left to the function room or right towards the barn. If I made the right decision now the whole weekend would be a wonderful festival of fun and friendship. But if I took the wrong decision the whole thing could be a disaster and I would have to return home in disgrace- or at least that is how it seemed to me as I waited patiently for my brain to decide. Finally it kicked into gear and I made towards the barn.


As I approached I could distinctly hear American voices engaged in conversation. Seated just inside the doorway was a gentleman seated on a chair and before him on a small table was a nest of cables, tools, papers, folders and a laptop. I had a hunch that this was "German Jim".


For some reason in our Clann James is a very popular first name for boys and a very unpopular first name for girls. I myself am christened James Michael Patrick. James is frequently turned into Jimmy or Jim.  Having had brief discussions with the Clann organisation in the past I knew there were many Jim's each known by a nickname to tell them apart:


Belize (or Jungle Jim) - Who isn't from Belize but does live there

German Jim - Who isn't German but does speak German and works for Volkswagen

Omaha Jim - Who may or may not be from Omaha

Lucky Jim - Who died in a tragic accident... OK so I made that one up.


One of the people I had previously conversed with via email was German Jim so I knew that he was the Clann genealogist. This knowledge combined with the mass of paperwork that surrounded the gentleman in the barn was what led to my conclusion that the man was German Jim. Of course he could just as easily have been a local farmer turned hacker weighing up the pros and cons of Linux Vs Windows.


As I entered the barn I noticed Mary Cavanagh. I had met Mary and her husband Don the previous week in Dublin. We had spent a very pleasant evening together chatting about the Clann and how I had become interested in the history of the family.

Mary Cavanagh checks the list of "Shamed Kavanagh's to see if I'm on it

I approached confident in the knowledge that I had one friend here at least. I walked up to Mary and announced, "I'm Here!" Mary stared at me blankly for a couple of seconds and I got that sinking feeling. I gave my name as a clue and suddenly she remembered. Apparently she failed to recognise me because I had changed my hairstyle since last we met.


She welcomed me to the gathering and then led me to the function room for registration.


Following registration we headed back to the barn. German Jim was still deep in conversation with his fellow American so I took the time to browse around. I discovered a wonderful collection of old newspaper clippings, photographs and books all relating to the Clann history. There were stories detailing important events and dramas in the lives of cousins, past and present around the world.


I then chatted with German Jim and his companion Ben for around 10 minutes when the call went out for the start of the official welcome in the function room. The Clann Historian Bridget Kavanagh Dalton took the microphone and bade us welcome. She thanked us all for making the trip from every corner of the globe and then outlined the rest of the evening.


When Bridget finished we tucked into the buffet dinner and mingled and chatted. As I munched and mingled I was struck by the camaraderie of the whole group - old members and new. Then we were all called to order for the presentation of the Clann awards.

At every gathering members are recognised for the contribution they have made to promoting and/or
organising the Clann over the previous two years. Recipients are called up to be acknowledged for their efforts and presented with a certificate of merit. They can then say a few words or retreat gracefully to their seat. This year there was a new lifetime award. The Michael A. Kavanagh award for outstanding contribution was presented to James Gethings who has been with the Clann since its inception in the early 1990s.

After the awards the "craic" began in earnest. A local traditional ceili band provided song, music and dance. The beer flowed, whiskey warmed the hearts, jokes flew and the legs and arms of many cut the air in dance as the night wore on.


The divisions between the tables began to blur as people moved about anxious to meet others and share stories and histories.


Sadly the journey down to Wexford that morning had taken its toll on me and I had to retire before the festivities wound down. I left with the sound of laugher and song buzzing in my ears.


He seems a bit disappointed with the marks he receives from the judges


One of the attendees attempts the ancient Gaelic aer of Wine Glass Arranging

It was an early start at 9.30 the following morning. Judging by the low attendance for 9.30 most had stayed until the very end of the previous nights festivities. A steady trickle of people arrived as the morning wore on though, some looking slightly the worse for wear.

The first event of the morning was the Clann Ard Fheis - which comprised the Secretary's report, Treasurers report and election of committee members.


The morning after the night before... Mike Kavanagh

Ben Kavanaugh presented the first lecture of the morning. It was originally scheduled to be presented by James P. Cavanaugh but due to unforeseen circumstances he was unable to make it.


James had prepared a paper on Brehon Law and on the status of Dermot McMurrough and his son Domhnall Caomhanach as high kings of Leinster. Despite the liberal use of Irish and Latin terms and names, Ben did a good job stepping into the breach.


We sat down to lunch around 12.30 and I had a chat with a family from New York. We discussed the XY police department, fire service and the US civil war. Next up was a gentleman from Australia who had travelled the world as an engineer. He is currently working for the oil industry in Scotland but was considering a move to Ireland.


After lunch we were presented with a real treat. Kevin Whelan, curator of the 1798 Exhibition and director of the Notre Dame centre in Dublin gave a thrilling lecture. His theme centred on bridging the gap between 18th century and 16th century Kavanagh’s.


A lot of the genealogical records relating to many families in the 17th century have not survived or are yet to be found. Kevin proposed that the Kavanagh’s were one of the few families where a link could be attempted despite the lack of data.


Kevin Whelan prepares to leave behind a delighted audience

Kevin presented slide after slide showing the breathtaking amount of power that lay concentrated in the hands of Kavanagh’s in southeast Ireland. As time progressed with each slide he demonstrated the link between the decline in power for the family and the advance of English settlers in the region. He also demonstrated how the family helped preserve small enclaves of Gaelic culture and protect Catholics.


Throughout his presentation Kevin spoke forcefully and excitedly, pausing now and then to introduce a traditional poem or saying to drive home his point. In one all too short hour he managed to capture the imagination of all those present and he received a rapturous round of applause when he finished. Unfortunately Kevin had to leave immediately to catch a return train to Dublin. He left behind a delighted audience.


Dr. Gary Cavanaugh "Voices of the Wild Geese"

No sooner had Kevin left us than the next presentation began. Dr. Gary Cavanaugh gave a talk on "Voices of the Wild Geese". In his introduction Gary echoed my feelings on genealogy. Too often people see the completion of a tree as an end in itself. I find the tree is just the beginning. It's knowing the people that comprise the tree and the lives they lead that I find the most interesting.


Gary had found a batch of letters sent back and forth between Kavanaghs who had been exiled or had chosen to serve in the army of the Austrian empire. Each letter brought to light the feelings and concerns of the author during a time that is distant and alien to us in the 20th century. He took us through the contents of some of the letters highlighting the interaction between mothers and sons, uncles and nephews.


Knowing the historical context in which the letters were written Gary was able to shed light on the significance of phrases, questions and promises contained in each. He touched on the worries of one young man hoping to achieve promotion and waiting for money from his mother that would help him achieve his goal. At the conclusion of his presentation we all realised that the more things change the more things stay the same.


James (German Jim) Kavanagh "Of Kings and Things"

Up next was "German Jim" the Clann Genealogist. Jim's talk 'Of Kings and Things" was a general " discussion on queries and questions that come up again and again. He outlined the origin and importance of coats of arms. He gave tips on how to pursue apparent dead ends while tracking down relatives. Jim finished up with a talk on the twisted and tortuous routes he had travelled while researching the demise of a British warship called "Bredah” in Cork harbour.


With the conclusion of German Jims talk my time was up. Due to other engagements I had to return home. For the rest of the attendees however another night's craic lay ahead. An evening of storytelling and song was scheduled to kick off around 7.30. No rest for the wicked.


I met many new faces - all strangers and yet somehow I felt all of them to be family. The presentation of Kevin Whelan has made an impression on me. I regret not being able to stay for the rest of the weekend but all good things must come to and end. Still there's always the next one in 2002!


I highly recommend that you do all you can to joins us at the next event. Failing that contact the Clann Chaomhanach and find out if there is an event in your area. Even better - join the Clann organisation.

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