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Kavanagh Name

A history of my surname Chaomhánach

The name Kavanagh or Cavanagh or even the American version Cananaugh, and all its variations is derived from the Irish Gaelic name Caomhánach. So I myself am Pol Caomhanach, son of Kavanagh, King of Leinster, King of Ireland. Caomhánach was a nickname adopted by a 12th century King of Leinster, Domhnall Caomhánach MacMurrough (Donal Kavanagh). Domhnall was the eldest son of the historic Irish King of Leinster, Diarmait mac Murchads (Dermot MacMurrough).

Until the Clan was destroyed in the 17th century, Domhnall Caomhánach and his descendants, continued to control the kingdom of Leinster. The historic stronghold of the clan was known as Ui Ceinnsealaigh (Hy Kinsella), and it included nearly all of counties Carlow and Wexford, as well as parts of counties Wicklow and Kilkenny.

Domhnall was succeeded as King by his son Domhnall Oge (Donal Junior) in 1175 AD; who was in turn followed by Domhnall MacMuircearteach Caomhánach around 1228 and Murtagh MacDomhnall Caomhánach in 1260 as the Clan strengthened their hold on Hy Kinsella.

In 1282 the Normans invited Murtagh and his brother Art to England for peace talks, however on their arrival at the port of Arklow, they were seized and beheaded. Murtagh’s son Muircearteach and grandson Murtagh were successful in excluding the Normans from their lands but Murtagh was murdered in another perfidious act in 1355.

Art Mor Caomhánach became King, and he and his son Art Oge, established complete control over Hy Kinsella where none travelled except with the permission of the Kavanagh Kings. King Richard II of England, attempting to restore his control over the Kavanaghs and other ‘rebel’ Clans, landed with an army some 35,000 troops at Waterford City in 1384, the largest army ever seen in Ireland.

Art Oge and other factious Chiefs quickly decided that submission was the greater wisdom and King Richard returned to England a few months later. The Kavanaghs immediately resumed harassing the English, resulting in an angry Richard assembling another army of similar magnitude and returning to Ireland in 1399 to destroy all opposition to his rule forever.

Art Oge knew a direct confrontation would be disastrous and devised a campaign of devastating quick attack and retreat tactics, that demoralized the English army. Richard's failure as he pursued Art Oge from Carlow to Arklow has become an Irish legend.

The English killed two of Art Oge's sons and on January 1st, 1417 assassinated Art Oge with a cup of poisoned wine. At his death, his son Domhnall received the Carlow lands west of the Blackstairs mountain range, and his other son Gerald received the lands in Wexford east of the mountains. The descendants of Gerald's son, Domhnall Reagh, became the senior ruling line of the Kavanagh Clan. Domhnall Reagh's son, Art Bui, and grandson Murtagh, succeeded in maintaining the Clan's independence but English encroachment increased.

The Chieftainship of the Clan continued in the senior line through the descendants of Domhnall Reagh. Their attempts to protect their Clan lands resulted in constant violence with Cahir Carach Kavanagh being killed in 1538 and his son Donnachada executed in 1583. Donnachada's son, Domhnall Spaineach, was a leader in the Nine Years War in the 1590's and remained 'in rebellion' until he was killed in 1631. Domhnall Spaineach's son, Sir Morgan, continued the fight against the abolition of Clan rights as a leader in the 1641 Rebellion during which he was slain in 1643. Sir Morgan's sons, Daniel and Charles, resumed the fight with their father's regiment for the Catholic Confederacy until finally defeated by the armies of Oliver Cromwell.

After imprisonment, Daniel was expelled and went to Spain while Charles and his sons fled to France. Charles returned for one last fight during the Jacobean War in 1691 but the Clan was destroyed forever. Other Branches were stripped of their lands because they refused to conform to the new religion and the laws forced on them by the English invaders. Many were killed or sold as indentured slaves to planters in Barbados and to other parts of the British Empire in the West Indies. Other Kavanaghs escaped or accepted exile in Austria, France, Poland, Germany, and the Americas. Those few able to remain in Hy Kinsella became the tenants of English overlords.


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