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Clann Gathering Memories

In the chapel of Borris House celebrating the Vigil Mass in memory of all the C/Kavanaghs that lived, I introduced the Mass by saying “some of us went up the road to Derry three hundred years ago.”  I jokingly added, “ forgive us for being late back, just as we forgive the rest of you for not coming to look for us”. For me it was not merely a statement of a perceived truth, but the final realisation that I had roots deep in the history of Ireland and that above all, that I belonged in these lands.  I was almost totally overcome by the emotion of the moment. Others have expressed their own feelings about that celebration. It appears C/Kavanagh memories flooded back to us all. It felt that the souls of our ancestors were with us in the chapel that night calling us back to our origins and exhorting us to be worthy custodians of our shared heritage.


I remember many years ago marvelling at the Afro-Americans in the documentary “Roots” who traced their history back to the ancestral village in Africa. How I longed to be able to do just that. I had also been searching for my roots, but found that I could only trace them back to my great-grandfather in Donegal. Never in my wildest dreams was I prepared for what was to come later. The brick wall thrown up by the sparse records in Catholic parishes the length of Ireland, the fire in the Four Courts, etc., all gave me little hope of ever reaching beyond the 19th century.

On the Internet one evening I discovered the Clann website. At first, I thought it was just the work of someone interested in the Clann. Time was to reveal to me the depth of Cavanagh interest and study through out the world. That night will forever be a memorable one for me because it was the starting point to so many of us discovering our true history. From being a group of people who could not figure out how we got to Donegal, we suddenly found our place at the heart of our wonderful Clann. As a result of the DNA test in which cousin Cathal took part, things took off and I began to feel a new desire to see the Cavanagh lands and experience more closely the place of our origins.


I had decided last summer long before I heard from Cathal about the great breakthrough to take part in the Clann Caomhánach Gathering. Previously I had seen a poster in Kilkenny advertising the 2002 Gathering, but I had no time to attend, or perhaps even the inclination. Now things were different. I was part of the Clann for real. Therefore I had a right to attend the Clann Gathering. But what was I expecting of this meeting with other C/Kavanaghs? Even now I am not sure, but I set out feeling that somehow things would never be the same for me as a Cavanagh

On my way to the gathering, I stayed with a niece who lives in Clane, Co Kildare. It was from her house that I set out for the Gathering and my hotel in Graignamanagh on the Wednesday.  I was very apprehensive as I drove through Co. Kildare. Still I knew I would not be with total strangers because Cathal was already there and the four American cousins were arriving in Graignamanagh that day.


As the miles flashed by (yes, I confess to being a fast driver), and I drove into the C/Kavanagh lands all my fears just disappeared. I had this incredible feeling of coming home. My forebears who had travelled north in the Jacobite cause were returning home in Cathal, the American cousins and myself.  Donegal has been our home for the last three hundred years and I love it dearly, but the feeling of coming home that I experienced as I drove ever closer to Borris was incredible.  I had never been in that part of Ireland before and had no notion of what to expect. It was not simply the beauty of the countryside that affected me, but every hedge and field seemed to scream out C/Kavanagh to me.


A pre-dinner walk, through Graignamanagh in the territory of our mortal enemy the Butlers did not put me off in anyway. That first evening, as I entered the restaurant of the Waterside for dinner, I spotted a group of men seated at the top of the room. My first impression was that one of the lads at the table looked like one of my cousins back in Donegal. So I strolled up and enquired if they were C/Kavanaghs. (Well, the noses and the blues eyes were give away.)  My apprehensions soon dissolved as I introduced myself to the others.  “Charlie Cavanagh,” I said, as if the name could ever appear unique in that setting. Then out cascaded the other names, and I thought how many said James? Fergus of course twigged that this was that priest guy from Scotland. But a quick aside to inform him that for the duration I was just one Charlie Cavanagh among many clans people, was very graciously acknowledged.


Later that evening Cathal and I discovered that the American cousins were lodging just round the corner from our hotel. So we were able to catch up on what was happening Stateside.  We agreed to meet at breakfast and then make our way out to Borris. And again, all the Clann received us very royally. There was Jungle Jim, as large as life and just as I had imagined him. German Jim was next to be discovered and finally Celia whom I had e-mailed many times, but had never met. Then on they came, a sea of C/Kavanaghs from the USA, Australia, Belgium, France, Luxembourg, New Zealand, Canada, England, Wales, Germany and Ireland. But no matter where they came from I found similarities to a brother, a sister, a nephew, a niece, a cousin, etc. Others must have felt the same.


Elsewhere cousin Cathal has expressed his feelings about the gathering and the history conference, so I will not dwell on those, but I must share my thoughts on the Inauguration and the visit to the grave of Art McMurrough. Those were powerful moments for me. The reading of the genealogy was impressive and solemnly proclaimed by German Jim. The conferring of the symbols and the acceptance of leadership of the Clann by Gary were simple but very moving. How privileged I was to lead the prayer for Gary: imploring the Almighty to be with him in his time as Chieftain and for his overseeing of the well being of the Clann.


Then we processed to the graveyard.  Jungle Jim reminded us of why this spot is sacred to us. Then we had the laying of the wreath and the prayer for the dead. For me, that moment was a time of immense coming together of the centuries of the story that is our story and I felt so proud and humbled by it all. We have played an immense part in the history of Ireland and our forebears never yielded to tyranny. I prayed in silence for my own immediate ancestors and I joined those present in a prayer that reached out through centuries, continents and time to every resting place of a C/Kavanagh on this earth and beyond to the eternal.


One incredible thing was that the pipers present for the Inauguration were playing Scottish pipes and were dressed in Scottish kilts.  Someone asked about the tartan they were wearing. The truth is I know more about my Irish family than my Scottish side, and in many ways feel more Irish, indeed I possess an Irish passport. So I had to tell all and sundry that I did not have a clue. Though I did say to someone that the only thing I knew about kilts was that I had a right to wear the Anderson tartan because that was my mother’s clan.


Just before the Inauguration, I spoke to the pipers and inquired about the tartan they were wearing. They replied, “Dress Anderson.” I just looked to the heavens and said, “You could not keep out of it, mum, could you?”  Mum was always giving out about Cavanagh ways in her moments of frustration, but she was also proud to be one of the many formidable Cavanagh women that it has been my privilege to know. So it was fitting that through her tartan she was there in spirit and it made me feel even more at home.


I left Borris a happier Cavanagh. For certain, I still love Donegal and that place of refuge has been a true home to my part of the family, but it was so wonderful to stroll about in the lands that were truly ours. To know that I belong to the Clonmullen sept through meeting up with John Kavanagh and Bridget. Yes, it took three hundred and fifteen years to come home and it was as if we had never been away. I will return, God willing, to the Hy Kinsella and will always feel at home.


Finally, I wish to express my thanks to Andrew and Tina Kavanagh for the privilege to have been given the use of the Chapel in Borris House for the Vigil Mass. On that occasion we remembered them in prayer and I hope all of us continue to do so.

Father Charlie - Scotland.


As a child, growing up in Baltimore, Maryland, I remember hearing the stories from my Grandmother, Ella, and my Great Aunt Rose.  They told of how their Mother, Margaret Cavanagh, came to America from Ireland at age 16 to work as a domestic for a wealthy family in New York. They talked of Greencastle where she was born and relatives back in Ireland, in New York, and in Philadelphia. There was nothing in writing, no documents of any kind, no dates to reference, just verbal history of a woman who died when my own Mother was only 8 years old. These were wonderful stories that always fascinated me and I dreamed that some day I would go to this wonderful place called Ireland. But as the generations passed away so did any connection to the relatives and to the past from which we came. All that remained were the memories of stories once told and a few old photographs of people we didn't know. The Irish have such a gift for storytelling but, as we all know, the stories are often embellished in the telling until they may become as much fiction as fact.


Fifteen years ago, in 1989, my dream came true when my Mom and I went to Ireland for the first time. We did not get to Innishowen to see Greencastle on that trip. By then, we weren't sure how much of what we remembered was true and how much was simply a figment of childhood fascination. However, it did inspire me to start a serious search into whom I was and where I came from. Unfortunately, Margaret "Maggie" Cavanagh was not exactly truthful when it came to telling her age. None of the marriage certificates ("Maggie" outlived three husbands) or U.S. census records were in synch. Thus, I hit a very large 'brick wall' in my research efforts.


It was not until early in 2001, when a man from Philadelphia called my Mom in search of family connections here in Baltimore, that the 'brick wall' began to crumble. The man, Dennis Harkins, turned out to be a cousin whose great-Grandmother was sister to my great-Grandmother. Dennis put me in touch with another cousin in Derry (Margaret Daly) who contacted another cousin in Greencastle (Paddy Kelly) who contacted another cousin in Scotland (Father Charlie Cavanagh) who sent me a letter introducing himself.  From that moment on, our small Baltimore family tree (more twig than tree) of not quite three pages grew to an unbelievable 22 pages and is still growing. In the summer of 2001, my Mom and I had the pleasure of meeting Father Charlie when he was visiting cousins in the U.S. and we were invited to a gathering of the New York/Connecticut Cavanagh's.


Last year when we found out about the Clan Gathering 2004, my Mom, two sisters ('Honey' and Kathy), and I decided that it would be a wonderful adventure to attend. It would be the first time in many years that the four of us had done something without spouses and children. Thus, almost a full year of planning began --- airline tickets, accommodations, registration for the Gathering, car rental, and in the final days before the trip, what to pack!


We arrived three days before the Gathering actually started and utilized that time to get settled into our self-catering cottage in the beautiful village of Graignamanagh (which I must admit, none of us had a clue how to pronounce until we got there and asked). We also did day-trips to Waterford and Kilkenny and places in between since none of us had ever before been to the Southeast part of Ireland. We all admitted to being a little apprehensive about the Gathering, who we would meet, and what we would do. To our delight, the apprehension was totally unfounded. Besides meeting up with Father Charlie Cavanagh (a second meeting for Mom and me but a first for my two sisters), we also met our cousin Cathal Cavanagh for the very first time.  It was as if we had known the two of them all our lives.


Thanks to Charlie and Cathal, we knew of the DNA testing. However, the impact of what that represented for us as part of the Innishowen Cavanagh's was not fully appreciated until we arrived at the Gathering and  began to better understand the history of Clann C/Kavanagh. Talking with the many Clan members who have long studied the C/Kavanagh's and their place in history was almost overwhelming. You must understand that the average American speaks of national history in terms of only a couple hundred years. So standing on the very ground our ancestors once occupied many hundreds of years ago was a profound experience.  There, in that previous unknown place, we came to the realization of who we were and where we came from.


If that wasn't thrill enough for the four Maryland 'girls', we also met some of the most interesting and delightful people from all over the world. By the end of the four day Gathering, we were exchanging e-mail addresses with many.


We are most grateful to the folks that did so much to organize the Clan Gathering 2004, for those who welcomed us so very warmly into the Clan, and for the many new "cousins" we met and will always remember. Thank you. 


Jane Smith - Maryland.


The Long Road To Borris And Gathering Thoughts

The first time I attended a Clann Gathering was in 1996 at Ferns in County Wexford. I had become a member earlier that year after seeing an item about Irish Clans in a weekly newspaper in New Jersey. Upon joining I learned that the bi-annual Gathering was scheduled for September. Why not, I thought? I hadn’t been in Ireland since 1953 when I was a young G.I. stationed in West Germany. Why not combine a visit to my relatives with a visit to my "cousins" in the Clann? So we sandwiched the Clann meeting between family visits in Dublin and Cobh. We had a wonderful time and met some wonderful people on Friday and Saturday, but we had to skip Sunday's festivities to meet family in Waterford City.

I’ve been back to Ireland several times since 1996, but there was always a reason why I couldn’t make another Gathering; grandchildren who had to be back home in time for school openings or vacation schedules.


Well 2004 was different. The grandchildren had gotten to see Ireland. Now I had a computer and knew all about what was going to happen at the Gathering. I had even exchanged some email with Celia, Jimmy, Fergus and "Jungle Jim." It was going to be like getting together with old friends. This time it wouldn’t be a two day stop-over. We were going to sign-up for the full treatment. No half-a-loaf Gathering for us - it was all or nothing. We plunked down our money for both the Hy Kinsella History Conference and the Clann Gathering at historic Borris House.


Hell, we even knew where Borris House was. In late August 2003, while driving from Cobh to Dublin, we made a side-trip to visit Kavanagh's Bar in Borris. It had been featured on the Clann website and was reported to have an interesting Kavanagh family tree on display in the Lounge. That was reason enough to make the detour to Borris. Over lunch we talked with the barman about the display and he told us that a "mature" gentleman with a white beard and his niece visited the bar in July to see the family tree. Yes, you guessed it! An email to Belize confirmed that it was Jungle Jim and his grand-niece, Laci Chisum. On our way out of town we couldn’t help but notice the extensive walled estate on the left hand side of the road and that the entrance to the estate was a big red door. Later in the year, when we heard that the Gathering was to be held at Borris House, we knew the significance of the long wall and that we would have no trouble finding The "big red door" again.

Picture #1

We arrived in Dublin on Sunday, September 19th and, after claiming our luggage and picking-up a rental car, we headed off for Grafton Street to do a little shopping. We eventually ended up in St. Stephen's Green Shopping Centre where we had a light lunch to bolster us for the trip to Carlow. The journey went smoothly and we arrived at our B&B (Picture #1) in the village of Royal Oak , about 7 miles from Borris, around 4PM to find no one was at home. No owners, no guests, no barking dog,….no nothing.


What do you do when you can't get into your B&B and you have to answer the call of nature? You jump into your car and head back up the road for about a mile to a pub you had seen – The Royal Oak. After business had been attended to I spoke to the barman (seems I do a lot of that) about our problem and he suggested that we check with the folks at the B&B across the road from ours. He said, “they're good friends of your people and should be able to help you.” So it was back down the road to see the folks next door.


The young lady who answered our ring said she would call our hosts and let them know we had arrived. After a few minutes she came back and told us that the owners were on their way back home from Wicklow, in the meantime she would open the door and let us into the house. Once inside, she got our room key and helped us get squared away. I swear it wasn’t fifteen minutes - we had just started to make ourselves a cup of tea in the sitting room - when a station wagon pulled up and four people got out; came up to the door and rang the bell. Naturally we greeted them and invited them in. It turned out they were vacationers from England who had booked three rooms. Well now, we were old hands at this game, so I ran across the road and got the young lady to do the honours again. We all sat down and had a cuppa and a good laugh. Our hosts arrived in another hour and apologized profusely; they expected that all of us would arrive much later than we actually did. No problem - everything ended well. In a little while it was out for a bite, back to the B&B, a quick look at the TV an early to bed in order to be ready for the big day - Monday and the start of the festivities.


The next seven days were a whirlwind mixture of history, receptions, reports, tours, entertainment, conversations, meals-on-the-run and ceilis. The week could be compared to a hurricane – Hurricane Chaomhánach. The first three days were a tempest of Historical proportions and then came the eye of the storm - Thursday, a sleep-late day, when the Clann Executive Committee held their meetings and prepared for the final three days of the week - a Gathering storm of committee reports, tours and entertainment culminating in the inauguration of the new Clann Chief on Sunday at St. Mullins.

Picture #2

On Monday, the Hy Kinsella History Conference II was opened by our gracious host Andrew Kavanagh who regaled us with a talk entitled, “The History of Borris House.” (Picture #2) Andrew's presentation took us behind the scenes of a “Big House” as he gave us insights into how and when it was built. He revealed little known information about how religion, politics, the land and borrowing power played critical roles in the efforts of his ancestors to preserve their ownership of Borris House. His story, together with a later tour of his home, gave us a rare view of this branch of the Kavanagh Family and set the mood for the lectures that would follow.


In the next three days we were treated to talks on a variety of subjects such as, “Local Folklore of the Rower,” “Early Irish Brehon Law,” “History of Tinnahinch” and “The Barony of Gowran,” to name a few. The History Conference covered an enormously wide spectrum of subjects. We went from Irish Slaves to Irish Kings and hit nearly everything in between. There was an outpouring of information on such subjects as, “Inter-Tribal Genealogy of the Leinstermen,” “Evolution of the Kavanagh Clann,” “The River Barrow Archaeological Aerial Survey,” and my favourite title of all, “Anglo-Norman Sub-infeudation in Ui Cheinsellaig.” Don't get me wrong, I absolutely loved every minute of it. I'm a history junkie and they had me hooked. I tried to take notes on everything, but couldn’t keep up with the pace; so I just sat back and did my best to soak up every wonderful minute.


I got a big kick out of Jungle Jim's musical chimes that signalled the end of the time allotted to each speaker. When the chimes went off, every lecturer, to a person, feigned surprise and then, quite nonchalantly, proceeded on as if nothing had happened. I guess you could look at it as "injury time" in a soccer match, but it sure messed up Jim's time schedule. ( Picture # 3)


Picture #3

Picture #4

In the end, I mentally made what I considered an MVP (Most Vivacious Presentation) award for the best- presented subject. Actually it was a tie between Dr. James Cavanaugh, our ubiquitous Jungle Jim, for his treatise on "Irish Slavery" and Kenneth Nichols, (Picture # 4) the picture of the quintessential eccentric professor, for his dissertation on “Late Medieval Leinster.” They each did a marvelous job in telling an interesting story.

I only had one disappointment; early on I noted that there would be a talk entitled, “DNA and the History of Ireland.” Well now, I thought, that's an interesting subject, but it turned out that our guest could not make it. I really wanted to hear what he had to say. Hopefully, the Clann can line him up for the next go-round.

For me the History Conference was a full and rewarding experience and I was very pleased to hear that we won't have to wait another eight years for the next one. I understand it is quite possible the Clann will sponsor another one in conjunction with the 2006 Gathering. I for one will be making early reservations.

And then came Thursday and we were in the Eye of the Storm and, as everyone knows, the calm doesn't last too long. But at least we were able to sleep a little later and our friendly hosts at the B&B even fixed us a late breakfast.  How good can it get? Before we knew it, it was back to Borris House for the Clann Chaomhánach Gathering Reception at 7:30PM.

This reception was quite a bit larger than the one held on Monday night. Many more "cousins" arrived on Thursday and were now on board. It was now a world-wide affair with origins as far away as New Zealand, Australia and Burma. It is my feeling that the receptions are just about the best event that the Clann arranges. At the end of the day it was so relaxing in the softly lit Great Hall of Borris House. There is nothing like standing before the warm fireplace or sitting quietly with a glass of wine conversing with friends. (Pictures # 5-6-7) These receptions bring us all together on a personal level. In the Great Hall it's all about individuals. Not that the lectures, tours and entertainment aren’t enjoyable, but these moments are different. The fast-paced days are balanced by them. They engender the warm feelings of comradeship that are priceless.


Picture #5

Picture #6

Picture #7

After the evening reception the pace was right back up there on Friday. Chartered buses took us to The Rower, The Barrow Valley, Duiske Abbey and Graiguennamagh for tours conducted by local historians. The group split up for lunches at The Anchor and Duiske Inn. The evening's entertainment was held at the The Anchor and was sponsored by the Duiske 800 Committee. Great step dancers and absolutely fabulous musicians & singers. (Pictures 8 & 9) The non-stop day ended just before midnight and then we made the long drive back to our B&B where we collapsed into bed shortly before 1AM.


Picture #8

Picture #9

In retrospect, I feel that our unscheduled visit to the Marymount National School on Friday morning was, arguably, the highlight of the day. The thoroughly entertaining concert by the children was a great surprise. It was so much fun taking their pictures and talking to them and their teacher, Katherine Doyle. (Pictures # 10 & 11) Their enthusiasm was infectious and had us snapping shots like mad. We spoke with their teacher Mrs. Doyle who gave us her address and we will be sending her a big fat envelope full of pictures so she can choose some that will be posted on the class bulletin board. The whole visit can be described in one word - heart-warming.


Picture #10

Picture #11

On Saturday we caught another break after the long day on Friday. Since we had already toured Borris House during the History Conference and our genealogy work schedule was already set with visits to the National Library, National Archives and the General Register Office in Dublin for later in the week, we didn’t arrive at the Gathering until 4:30PM and the start of the General Meeting which was chaired by the outgoing Chief, Celia Kavanagh Boylan. Fergus reported on the Clann's financial state and asked for assistance in contacting individuals whose memberships had lapsed. “German Jim” advised us that the Executive Committee had tabled their discussions on DNA testing. New Business items were discussed and “German Jim” was nominated to be Chief of the Clann in 2006. At the end of the meeting, Jungle Jim presented Eva Buhler (Picture #12) with a special award for outstanding service to the Clann. No award was more deserved - Eva was there every day working in the background making sure that refreshments were available for all the members during the breaks. Her contributions to the meetings were loudly applauded by all. Thanks, Eva!

Picture #12

Without a doubt, Saturday's high point was the celebration of the Vigil Mass by Father Charlie in the chapel of Borris House. For many of those in attendance it was a time for deep introspection and great feelings of thankfulness as this was the first Mass celebrated in the chapel in, I believe, nearly two centuries. I heartily recommend that everyone read “Clann Gathering Memories,” authored by Father Charles Cavanagh. It is available on the website.

Saturday ended with another reception and a ceili in the Great Hall. It was a memorable evening of comradeship, music, singing, dancing and refreshments. It was probably after my first glass of wine that I started to think about the request made by Fergus earlier in the day for help with lapsed memberships. A little later, with the second glass of wine warming my usually cold heart, I approached Fergus, put my arm around his shoulders and told him, “Fergus, I'm your man, I will help you.” (God Help Me!) So, if there are any readers of this article out there who are lapsed or former members of the Clann , please get in touch with Fergus via the website and renew your membership. If you do, Fergus will be very happy to hear from you, and even better, I won’t have to do any work! Also, if you're not a lapsed member and are just new to this website, Fergus would be very happy to hear from you too! I think if we all try, we can make Fergus the happiest man in Dublin.

Sunday was Inauguration Day and would probably be the busiest day of the week. Our charter buses left from the Borris Gatehouse at 9AM for Pulmonty and a quick photo call at Montgarrett Castle. Then we were on to New Ross for a tour of the emigrant ship, the Dunbrody (Picture # 13) The Dunbrody is a must see for anyone visiting or passing through New Ross. It was amazing to see and hear of the unbelievable hardships that Irish people faced when they made the six to seven week trip to America during the mid-nineteenth century.


Picture #13

Picture #14

On a much lighter note, our next stop, still in New Ross, was the very popular Galley Cruising Restaurant. (Picture # 14) We all took off on a cruise up the River Barrow and had the pleasure of being served lunch onboard the cruise launch. I highly recommend the Roast Chicken Supreme with White Wine Sauce accompanied by boiled New Potatoes. And for those not dieting, try the Galley Lemon Cheesecake for dessert.

Around 2:30PM, we boarded our buses to St. Mullins for the inauguration of Gary Cavanaugh of Stockton, California as Clann Chief for 2004-2006. This was THE highlight of the Gathering. The Inauguration Ceremony was adapted directly from the ancient ritual described in the Irish Annals and is the same that was used in inaugurating the first of our name, Donal Caomhánach. The ceremony took place on the hill overlooking St. Mullins Cemetery which is adjacent to the historic site of St. Moling's Monastery.

For the inauguration, Gary, his wife Sylvia and daughter Tara and many of the ceremony's participants wore colorful medieval costumes, adding to the festiveness of the occasion. With his family and Clann members looking on, Gary received the seal, the wand and the cup that symbolize his position as Chief of Clann Chaomhánach. The Chief and his retinue then proceeded to the grave site of Art Mac Murrough (d.1417) on the grounds of St. Moling's Monastery where he placed the traditional wreath on the great leader's grave. The Inauguration Ceremony was now complete. Later that evening the entire Clann would regroup at the Lord Bagenal Inn in Leighlinbridge for the Traditional Feast that would bring the 2004 Gathering to a close.

(A series of outstanding photographs of the Inauguration Ceremony can be seen on this website.)

Afterward: On Monday morning we checked out of our B&B and made the short drive to Borris to bid farewell to “the big red door.” It was now closed, but it will re-open for us all once again when the Clann gathers at Borris House in 2006.


Owen Kavanagh - New Jersey.

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