top of page


Cathal Cavanagh

Our previous claim of a pact with the Almighty to provide good weather for our Gatherings obviously held good once more.


Due to the closure of the Millrace Hotel in Bunclody our venue this year was the Ashdown Park Hotel in Gorey, a very satisfactory choice as it proved.


Gathering events commenced with the Chief’s welcome on Wednesday 12 September evening. Chieftain elects Terry (with wife Sharron) and daughters Denice and Yvette from Australia were in sparkling form. Also from Australia was the Irish speaking Kerry Cavanagh. Other familiar faces included Tom Kavanagh from Massachusetts (guitar player and expert on the Comanche Indians) , Jack Kavanagh and Barbara from Nova Scotia, Californians  Dr. Gary and Sylvia Cavanaugh and Mark and Jill Cavanaugh. Charles and Lorna Harris arrived from South Africa with her daughter, son-in-law, and 4 grandchildren. Regular attendees Alice Cavanagh from Fermanagh and Pat Kavanagh and Niamh Cavanagh from Galway, also appeared as well as Rev. Charlie from, Scotland


New faces included Larry Gross (Cathal’s cousin) and Chet Hogue (of O’Byrne ancestry), representatives from the “Conch Republic” (Key West, Florida) Barry and Adam Cavanaugh were there from Canada. Germany was represented by Coleen and Wolfgang Cavanaugh–Scheurmann and their two daughters, Kristin and Christal Rose from Heidelberg.


We departed early by bus on Thursday for our scheduled field trip. Skirting Ramsfort house, home of the Ram political and episcopal family, we proceeded onwards to Baltinglass abbey (Co. Wicklow). This Cistercian monastery was founded by Diarmaid McMurrough around 1150 following 1140 founding of the mother house of the order at Mellifont, near Drogheda on the orders of St. Malachy. Later a number of other related monastic settlements occurred, the best known being Jerpoint abbey, Co. Kilkenny founded by the Mac Giolla Phádraigs (FitzPatricks) in 1158. Relations between the Norman monks and the local clergy were apparently not altogether smooth in the early days.


We stopped to view the impressive Moone high Cross, near by the ruins of a church which is believed to have been founded by Palladius in 431, who is alleged to have preceded St. Patrick as a missionary to Ireland.


We then proceeded to the very impressive Rock of Dunamase castle in Co. Laois, which towers over the surrounding plain. It was originally in the possession of Diarmaid McMurrough but upon his death in 1171 it fell into the possession of the Norman Strongbow who was married to Diarmaid’s daughter Aoife (Rua). Subsequently it passed into the hands of Aoife’s daughter Isabel who had married William Marshall.


The castle then (via marriage succession) passed to the powerful Mortimer family until 1330 when the head of that family, Roger Mortimer, was executed for treason in. He had disposed of King Edward II and become the lover of the French-born English Queen, Isabelle. They both ruled England, nominally as co-regents for the future Edward III. When the son came of age he had Mortimer captured and hanged at Tyburn. Generally speaking it clearly was quite a blood curdling saga.


The O’Mores subsequently held the ruined castle until the Cromwellian period when it reverted to non-Irish hands.


Our next stop was at the ruined Killeshin Church whose main attraction is an ornate doorway which has an engraved exhortation to pray for Diarmaid McMurrough


Duckett’s Grove Castle can be regarded as an example of the folly of the very wealthy landlord class who were deriving an enormous income from the tenants on their 12,000 acre estate. Most of this estate was subsequently purchased by the Land Commission in the 1920s and divided up among local farmers.  We had tea and cakes amid the very impressive ruins.


 We returned via the ancient Rathgall Hill Fort, which consists of a number of concentric stone walls dating back to the Bronze Age, covers some 7.5 hectares and has yielded some exceptionally interesting archaeological discoveries.


That evening the “Celtic Roots” branch of the local Comhaltas Ceoltóirí (Musicians Grouping) gave an absolutely magnificent display of traditional Irish music and (Michael Flatley-type) dancing. This was undoubtedly one of the highlights of our trip. It was greatly appreciated by all and wildly applauded. It was a credit to the young lassies (plus one lad) who put such an effort into the show.


Friday was devoted to historical lectures and genealogy. Cathal described the history of the Caomhánach Clan from its beginnings as a Celtic tribe arriving in Ireland around 500 BC, through the deeds of its successive chieftains over the centuries and up to modern times. He pointed out the chieftainship was elective (albeit within a limited group of families) and not hereditary.


Cathal also recounted the career of the chieftain who could be considered as the modern founder of the Clan, Diarmaid Mac Maol na mBó (b. 995, killed in battle in 1072), who was known as the “King Maker” in Ireland and who brought the Uí Cheinnsealaigh clan from an obscure south eastern enclave to be kings of Dublin and the Isle of Man, plus a close alliance with the Anglo-Saxon King Harold of England. Diarmaid’s influence extended into much of Scotland & Wales.


Professor Kevin Whelan (Notre Dame University US) gave an entrancing talk about the Caomhánach Clan’s struggle to maintain their dominance in Leinster in the face of encroachment on their territory by the Butlers and Kildare Fitzgeralds. Kevin’s learned and humorous delivery was a very hard act indeed to follow.

Dr. Gary gave a very interesting talk on insights derived from an analysis of legal documents. He has just completed a magnum opus on a “Caomhánach Pedigree”. This massive work was the brainchild of the late Germanjim, who unfortunately passed away before it could be completed. Gary bravely undertook its completion and revision. John felt that this study would be of considerable interest to libraries and floated the suggestion that it might be produced as a book with this in view, to the Clann’s financial benefit and as an enduring monument to the intellectual effort expended on it.


John concluded the series of talks with his updated and very valuable Guide for Genealogy Investigation.

On Saturday Mark updated the group on progress regarding the Caomhánach DNA project. The usual problem remains as regards the restricted size of the sample, which inhibited the discovery of matches. Moreover, one had to take into account that the clan had diverse origins from early times. The poor cooperation from FTDNA staff in responding to queries added to difficulties.


Nevertheless, it was still worthwhile sticking with the project. An interesting new element is that Kristin Kelly Cavanaugh from Germany expressed interest in involvement in the DNA project with a view to bringing in other than Y-DNA tests. Her involvement would be greatly welcomed.


The customary visit was made to place a wreath on the grave of clan ancestors Diarmaid and Domhnall next to Ferns Cathedral and the occasion was duly blessed by Monsignor Charlie.


Celtic finery was donned for the visit to the historical Caomhánach headquarters of Ferns Castle. The inauguration of Terry as chieftain in succession to John took place amidst all pomp and ceremony. The presence of the Enniscorthy Historical Renactment Society with all the appropriate attire was a nice boost to the occasion.


Maria Nolan’s role as inaugurator very appropriately fitted in with the historical role of the O’Nolans in this.

bottom of page