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From: "Jean R." <>
Subject: County Cavan Surnames
Date: Thu, 7 Oct 2004 10:36:21 -0700


SNIPPET: Percy FRENCH fans will know that the Garden of Eden lies halfway between the bridge of Finea and Cootehill and that that is why the entreaty went out for Paddy Reilly to return, in the world-renowned ballad, "Come Back Paddy Reilly to Ballyjamesduff," per Mary SULLIVAN in the 1998 #3 issue of "Irish Roots" magazine published in Cork.

Cavan is the most southerly of the nine Ulster counties and divides into three parts: the Eastern Highlands, the Erne Valley, and the mountainy regions of West Cavan. The county formed the greater part of the ancient kingdom of Breifne which extended from the NW of the present County Meath to the shores of Donegal Bay and which was ruled by the Clan Ui Raghallaigh - O'REILLY. The surname is still the most common in the county today. Clough Oughter Castle was for many years associated with the O'REILLYs. REILLY is O Raghailligh in Irish, that is, descendant of Raghallach. It is among the first 15 names in both Ulster and all of Ireland and it is the single most numerous name in its homeland of County Cavan and also in County Longford. It has now widely resumed the O prefix.

The O'REILLYs were chiefs of Breifne and during the course of the 13th and 14th centuries they extended their dominion over parts of Meath and Westmeath as well as Cavan. Cavan became a county towards the end of the 16th century and became incorporated with Ulster. The O'REILLYs at that time were the warlike sept particularly distinguished for their cavalry and not living in towns but in small castles scattered over the county. They maintained their independence as a clan down to the time of James I and continued in possession of considerable property until the Cromwellian confiscations. The family was involved in trade in medieval Ireland and it has been suggested that they lived well. They were also notable as ecclesiastics. Five O'REILLYs have been archbishops of Armagh; six were bishops of Kilmore; two were bishops of Clogher and one of Derry.

Principal surnames of County Cavan include the following: The main Gaelic surnames include O'REILLY, BRADY, SMITH (anglicised from MacGOWAN), SHERIDAN, MacGOVERN, DONOHOE, MacKIERNAN, LYNCH, MAGUIRE, FARRELLY, DOLAN, CLARKE, FITZPATRICK, GAFFNEY, GALLIGAN, MacMANUS, MacHUGH, MacLOUGHLIN and O'CONNELL. The MacCABES, who came from the Western Isles of Scotland about the year 1350 as gallowglasses to the O'REILLYs and O'ROURKEs, themselves became a recognised Breifne sept.

In County Cavan SMITH is almost always a synonym of MacGOWAN rather than of English origin. It means 'son of the smith' (blacksmith) Mac and Ghabhain and its translation to SMITH was very widespread particularly in Co. Cavan where the MacGOWAN sept originated. It is included by chroniclers as one of the principal septs of Breifne. On the borders of Breifne in Co. Leitrim and to the NW in Sligo and Donegal the true form MacGOWAN is still used in preference to SMITH. There was also in East Ulster a distinct sept of O'GOWAN which was also anglicised to SMITH. Variants of the name include GOW and MAGONE.

The main English and Scottish names in County Cavan include WILSON, JOHNSTON, NIXON, BELL, ARMSTRONG, ELLIOTT, ACHESON, BROWN, CAMPBELL, JACKSON and JAMESON. Some of the more unusual names include DRAWNEAR, TURBETT and JERMYN. Some crude anglicisations that have been noted include HALFHEAD for MacELEKIN, i.e. Mac an Leath Cheann: 'son of the half head;' and OX for DAVIN, i.e. DAMHAIN from damh the Irish for a 'bullock' or 'ox.'

Apart from County Wicklow, NIXON is common only in Ulster, particularly in Cavan and Fermanagh. The NIXONs were one of the riding clans of the Scottish borders. They were part of the powerful ARMSTRONG-ELLIOTT-NIXON-CROZIER confederacy. When the power and the social system of the riding clans were destroyed by James VI in the decade after 1603, many members of the clans sought refuge from persecution in Ulster. Most came to Fermanagh and by the mid-17th century, NIXON was one of the principal names in that county. From there they spread into County Cavan.



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