This website is hosted by Michael McShane along with his wife, Catherine Kerr. Although not a native of Cavan, Michael has traced his ancestors back to the townland of Cloggy in the parish of Killashandra. The research on my family history has been going on since 2009 and I now want to share my findings with others who are keen to trace their Cavan ancestors and to delve further into the history of Breifne. Catherine brings her experience as a data scientist to compiling and presenting the data which we have encountered into what we hope is an easily accessible layout. The key to this historical and genealogical research is the townland and this site uses the individual townland as the gateway and organiser to the records and data which we present here.
We have completely overhauled cavantownlands.com which was first launched in 2015. The emphasis has been refocused on each of the 2000 townlands of County Cavan. Every townland is unique and we have created an individual page for each one. The new format is designed to bring together the historical data which we have uniquely researched along with the more generally available data which we have edited and improved on in terms of access and quality.
The main data sources are briefly listed below and most come with supporting articles which provide further background and tips on searching. As time allows we plan to upload more unique records and articles, so please do return on a regular basis. We are constantly seeking further historical information and any contributions including articles, books, photographs, maps etc are greatly appreciated and all contributors will be fully credited.
A search by townland will produce the following results in one location:
- Location map and basic townland information along with specific articles relevant to the townland where available.
- 1609 Bodley plantation map analysis for Kildallan, Killashandra and Scrabby townlands. 137 townlands have been identified and classified.
- 1652 Commonwealth survey data and maps for all parishes. Proprietor name for each townland is provided along with estate maps. c.1,500 unique records including some tenant names are available to view.
- 1821 Census of Cavan. The records cover 17 of the 36 civil parishes of county Cavan and list c.80,000 individuals.
- 1830 Tithe Applotment records for 35 of the 36 civil parishes. Re-indexed, corrected and presented in searchable tabulated form for ease of access. Tenant names are provided. c.30,000 individual records are available to view here.
- 1836 Name Book records for the townlands of 9 parishes first published in The Heart of Breifne 1979-1987.
- 1841 Census of Killashandra. Cross checked, corrected and fully searchable data set. c. 15,000 individual records.
- 1865 Griffith’s valuation records. Covers the entire of County Cavan. Tenant names are provided.
- 1901 census. The 1901 census for Cavan contains 97,437 individual records. The NAI website search by townland does not take into account issues we have identified with older name versions, misspellings and incorrect transcriptions which we believe may conceal c.50% of searches carried out by townland name. We have rectified this issue here by re-indexing the entire dataset in accordance with the approved Logainm.ie townland categorisation.
- 1911 census. The 1911 census for Cavan contains 91,343 individual records. Same issues apply as per 1901 record set.
All included townland records have been referenced to their official Logainm identifier. Logainm.ie is the official database of Irish placenames.
Civil records and datasets in further detail:
Analysis of the Bodley plantation maps of the barony of Tullyhunco 1609/10. This barony includes the parishes of Kildallan, Killashandra and Scrabby/Gowna. This map represents the first townland scale map of this region which makes it a unique and valuable document. By cross-referencing this data with current day mapping and records it has been possible to link the historical names of townlands to their current denominations. This allowed us to create accurate maps of the granted estates and is the base from which the development of the proportions, as they were called, can be studied. Bodley maps of the remaining six baronies exist and remain to be examined to this level of detail in due course. On this site you can compare the historical and current maps and we have referenced each of the historical poles or townlands, and cross-referenced them on the estate listings tables. Michael McShane’s Breifne article of 2015 on this topic can be read here.
Another unique resource covers the Commonwealth Survey of County Cavan 1652-53. This survey of the entire county records the names of the proprietors of each townland on a parish by parish basis. We have analysed the 1835 transcription of the original manuscript document and the townlands, where possible, have been matched to their current denominations and logainm id. This has allowed the creation of unique parish maps from this period indicating the landholdings of original planters who were reinstated after the 1641 rebellion and those which came under new ownership after the Cromwellian invasion. Here you can search by townland, parish or proprietor and the accompanying parish map can be viewed. You can read the background article here also.
1821 Census of Cavan. This is the earliest census of Cavan to be completed and c.80,000 individual records listing entire families are available to search. Cavan researchers are fortunate that a significant proportion of the 1821 census has survived. The records cover 17 of the 36 civil parishes of county Cavan and provide a complete listing of all individuals residing in those parishes. The returns include name, age, sex, occupation and home townland. The NAI has made available these records on their website but many of the indexation and transcription issues previously encountered with the TAB records also apply here. Even more unusual is the fact that a search on the NAI site will produce duplicate records for each original entry. We have established that two sets of photographs were taken of each original enumerator return page. The duplicate photographs were transcribed in full and the results, which do not always match, were combined and uploaded a single record. Of the 160,000 records presented we had to use our best judgement to decide what we felt were the most accurate transcriptions and whittle the 160,000 names down to the correct figure of c.80,000 individuals. This work also involved the re-indexation of the townland names to their correct Logainm classification and the compiling of this new dataset into a usable document.
The Tithe Applotment Books of 1825-1833 are an important census substitute from this era. Most official census records which were taken every decade from 1821-1891 no longer exist due to the fire which ensued after the bombing of the Four Courts in 1922. Although limited to listing the names of the tenants (not their family members) these church tax records provide the only source linking a name to a townland from this era. In most cases the size of the holding is given and this can be cross referenced to the later Griffith’s Valuation of 1856/57 which is the next available census substitute. These records were made available online by the National Archives in 2012 but unfortunately the presentation of the transcriptions is poorly indexed with many parishes ended up misclassified in counties other than Cavan. We estimate that a search by townland on the NAI website will return in the region of only 20-25% of the available records. This year at cavantownlands.com we set out to resolve the data into a readily searchable format. We believe our search facility now reliably indexes the townland listings to a level of accuracy of approx. 90% of the available data. You can search the records here and read the guide to the available documents.
1836 Name Book records. The preparation of the six inch to one mile map of the entire island of Ireland, which was conducted by The Ordnance Survey of Ireland between 1824 and 1846, required the naming of townlands, geographical features, prominent buildings and landmarks. The renowned Irish scholar, John O’Donovan, was given the task of ascertaining accurately the old Irish names of the townlands, their translation and making recommendations for the final English version to be used in the printed maps. This he did with great skill and attention to detail. He visited Cavan in 1836 and his travels are recorded in his Ordnance Survey Letters which were reports and requests written to the OS headquarters in the Phoenix Park. The orthography section of the Name Books include the received name, the final agreed name and translations as well as other versions which were encountered. The final section of the field name books under the headings ‘Situation’ and ‘Descriptive Remarks’ typically provide details on the exact location and description of boundaries along with notes on soils, farming practices, leases and rents, prominent buildings, employment and landlord names. Here we reproduce courtesy of Anna Sexton, editor of The Heart of Breifne, the summarised Descriptive Remarks which were transcribed by Liam O’Ceallaigh and published over the years 1979-1987. The nine parishes covered are: Bailieborough, Castlerahan, Crosserlough, Denn, Killinkere, Knockbride, Lavey, Munterconnaught and Shercock.
The 1841 census of the parish of Killashandra is the only known surviving census document from this period for the entire country. It is a unique document and is useful not only to those with a specific interest in Killashandra, but also to the wider public as the level of detail provided gives a detailed insight into the structure of society in this critical pre-famine era. Again, this data has been made available on the National Archives website with a considerable amount of misclassified and incorrectly indexed records. We have painstakingly gone through the census findings and rectified the incorrect or missing links to produce what we believe to be the most reliable version of this dataset. Our results have been cross referenced against the very comprehensive and thorough transcription of the original document by William and Josephine Masterson, Indianapolis, 2001. This data is now fully searchable by name, townland, parish, occupation, age, sex, education, cause of death etc. It is searchable by map or table and close matches are also provided. For instance, you can search by occupation eg. a search for ‘Constable’ will return a complete list of police constables who were recorded at the time of the census. View our detailed heatmaps based on the statistical information gleaned from the census and compare by townland. Background information and supporting article and tables can be read here. In due course we plan to edit and present the records of the 1821 Census which have survived for 16 of the parishes of County Cavan.
Maps represent a major element of the data presented on our website. The interactive map interface which has been created acts as a visual guide to the 2000 townlands of county Cavan. The relationship of townlands to adjoining areas allows for the rapid perusal of data in a particular region when carrying out a search by name or place.
The information which can be gleaned from maps should not be underestimated and we provide direct access here to a library of original maps including: Plantation maps, estate maps, Ordnance Survey maps, Taylor & Skinners road maps of 1778, county maps, parish maps, town maps and a range of other useful maps which will assist in many aspects of research.
Acknowledgement and thanks
The mapping which we use on this website is essential to core of our mission statement which is focused primarily on Cavan’s 2000 townlands. Maura Nallen captures the unique essence of the townland in her 1996 Thesis:
The townland is the distinguishing hallmark of rural Ireland. It is the small land unit, the micro-territory which identifies its inhabitants and locates them within a wider landscape. It is the home address, the common habitat of several surnames over many generations.
The territorial framework of the townland has its origins in the remote past. It is an area generally bounded by natural features and containing within its boundaries about 300 acres of land. While its significance as a unit of land lies in an older Gaelic system, today it is a well-recognised administrative and geographical unit occupying the contemporary landscape. This being the case, it contains within itself elements of continuity and change which render it an appropriate avenue of research for the historian.
Although earlier representations exist, the first accurate recording of Cavan’s townlands was produced by the Ordnance Survey in 1835-1836. About 10 years ago we traced and digitised these townland boundaries to create the townland parish maps which you can view here. It was only after completing this exercise we realised that this information had also been produced, for the entire country of Ireland which covers c.61,000 townlands, by the Irish Open Street Map contributors and was available to view, and download, on www.townlands.ie.
We had already created an interactive digitised map of the county but the OSM/townlands.ie collaboration has allowed for the addition of the underlying context which we did not have available to us. This, along with the logainm indexation of the individual townlands created a comprehensive and highly accurate database for the maps. These maps are now the gateway to the underlying genealogical and historical information contained on this website.
We would like to take this opportunity to thank all the contributors at OSM and townlands.ie who worked tirelessly over many years in the scanning and digitisation of the data. The data is available under the Open Database License. In particular a special thanks to Rory McCann who created townlands.ie and established the framework for this mammoth digitisation project.
Also thanks to Logainm (Logainm.ie is the official database of Irish placenames) who provided their dataset on Cavan which is now fully integrated here. Each townland in Ireland has a unique 4 digit identifier and this system has been followed here to avoid any confusion with name duplications etc. Logainm have kindly provided a link from each of their Cavan townland pages back to our specific townland pages.
Over the years we have built a library of books, journals and articles specific to county Cavan. Where copyright allows, we have provided access to the full piece, indexes, summaries etc. We are very grateful to a number of authors who have kindly provided their works and made them available on this website. New contributions are greatly appreciated. A selection of highlights from our library are:
• Full Index to contents of Breifne Journal 1958-2019
• Full Index to contents of Breiffne Antiquarian and Historical Society Journal 1920-1933
• PDF versions of the above for all years courtesy of Cavan Library
• Full Index to contents of Heart of Breifne 1978-1987 with thanks to Anna Sexton
• Full Index to contents of Ulster Journal of Archaeology
• Index to selection of County Cavan related articles from 1898-2009 and full Index to contents of the Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland
• Turbulence in Tullyhunco by Tomás Ó Raghallaigh 2010
• What if the Dream Come True by Seán Sheridan 1988
• A Study of Eight Townlands in the parish of Killeshandra 1608-1841 by Maura Nallen 1996
• Ulster Inquisitions – Cavan reports c. 1629