We have gone through the 1901 and 1911 Cavan census records to find out which surnames are most popular in county Cavan. The results are interesting and you can now read more about the top seven names here.
List of top 20 surnames in 1901 and 1911
Some prominent surnames of Cavan.
With commentary from Irish Families by Edward MacLysaght, first published in 1957.
Brady -MacLysaght says: The MacBradys were a powerful sept belonging to Breffny, their chief holding sway over a territory lying a few miles east of Cavan town. The Four Masters record many illustrious chiefs of the name there. In 1256 reference is made to the death of Tighearan MacBradaigh in a battle against the neighboring O’Rourkes. The historian Abbé MacGeoghegan says that the MacBradys are a branch of the O’Carrolls of Calry, Co. Leitrim, a statement which has been often repeated, but modern authorities refute this. In any case they have always been pre-eminently associated with Co. Cavan; and it is in Co. Cavan and adjacent areas the Bradys are mostly found to-day. They are indeed very numerous in Ireland with an estimated population of nearly 10,000 persons so called. Originating from Mac Bradaigh, son of Brady, is a very prominent Cavan Name. The earliest recorded namebearer was Gilbert MacBrady, the bishop of Ardagh from 1396 to 1400.
McGovern/Magauran -The Magaurans, or McGoverns, are anglicized versions of the Gaelic surname Mac Samhradhaín.. MacLysaght says that the eponymous ancestor was Samhradhan, who lived circa 1100 at the time surnames came into being. This man was descended from Eochadh (fl. eighth century) whence the territory of the MacGoverns or Magaurans was called Teallach Eochaidh now Tullyhaw, in north-west Cavan. There is a village called Ballymagauran in that area. The leading families of the sept were allied by marriage to the Maguires, O’Rourkes and other powerful families of Cavan and are frequently mentioned in the Annals during the thirteenth to sixteenth centuries. Ballymagauran in Tullyhaw was burned by Maguire in 1481 for an allegedly dishonourable act by the Magauran of the day. “The Book of the Magaurans” is one of the famous old Gaelic manuscripts.
MacCabe – The MacCabes came from the western isles of Scotland about the year 1350 as gallowglasses to the O’Reillys and the O’Rourkes, the principal septs of Breffny. They became themselves a recognized Breffny sept, their chief being “Constable of the two Breffnys”. Modern statistics show that they are still much more numerous in the Breffny area than anywhere else. As landed proprietors they were as much associated with Co. Monaghan as with Co. Cavan; however the principal families of MacCabe lost their estates in the Catholic débâcle after the battle of Aughrim in 1691.
Ó Cléirigh/Clery/Clarke – The name probably derived from the word cleireach meaning a clerk or cleric. The Ó Cléirigh clan, also known variously as Clarke, Clark, Clerke, Cleary, Clery, Clerkin, O’Cleary, and O’Clery were an ancient tribe from South Connaught who were scattered in the 13th century when the Normans invaded and conquered their territories. The branch which settled in Cavan has almost disappeared, at least as Clery, although the Clarke version has survived and is fairly common today. One account states that the Ó Cléirigh name is one of the oldest in Europe dating back to AD 916, and descends from the Uí Fiachrach, who like the Uí Briúin, are also a sept of the dynasts of the sons of Eochaid Mugedón, a 4th Century high king of Ireland. After losing their lands, branches of the clan settled in Mayo, Cavan and Kilkenny. There was a particularly strong concentration of Ó Cléirigh families in the Bailieborough area where their descendants still reside.
O’Reilly, (O’Rahilly) -O’Reilly, in Irish Ó Raghailligh, i.e. descendant of Raghallach, was until recently much more commonly found without the prefix 0. Reilly and O’Reilly constitute one of the most numerous names in Ireland, being among the first dozen in the list. The bulk of these come from Cavan and adjoining counties, the area to which they belong by origin, for they were for centuries the most powerful sept in Breffny, their head being chief of Breffny-O’Reilly and for a long time in the middle ages his influence extended well into Meath and Westmeath. At the present time we find them very numerous still in Breffny, heading as they do the county list both in Cavan and Longford. In 1878 O’Reilly landlords possessed over 30,000 acres.
(O)Sheridan -The Sheridan family originated in Co. Longford, being erenaghs of Granard, but later moved to the next county Cavan where they became devoted followers of the powerful O’Reillys. The name is Ó Sirideáin in Irish, i.e. descendant of Siridean, a personal name the derivation of which is uncertain. While Cavan is the county in which they are still to be found in greater numbers than elsewhere, the Sheridans are now dispersed widely throughout every province, though less in Munster then elsewhere. The prefix O has been entirely dropped since the seven- teenth century. The Sheridans have been chiefly notable for their achievements in the literary field. The most famous, of course, was Richard Brinsley Sheridan (1751-1816) the Dublin-born dramatist and orator, long a prominent member of the English parliament; his mother Frances Sheridan (1724-1766), was also a successful writer, as was his brother Charles Sheridan (1750-1806); and yet another member of this remarkable literary family was Thomas Sheridan (1719-1788) who was also one of the leading actors of his day.
Smith -MacGOWAN, O’GOWAN, Smith, (MacGuane) Irish surname MacGowan (not to be confused with the Scottish MacGoun) is more often than not hidden under the synonym Smith. In Irish it is Mac an Ghabhain, i.e. son of the smith, and its translation to Smith (commonest of all surnames in England) was very widespread, particularly in Co. Cavan where the MacGowan sept originated. It is included by the chroniclers as one of the principal septs of Breffny. On the borders of Breffny, in Co. Leitrim, and to the north west in Counties Donegal and Sligo, the true form in English, MacGowan, is still used in preference to Smith. There was, too, in east Ulster a distinct sept of O’Gowan, a name which was also anglicized Smith. A very prominent member of this family, long resident in Co. Cavan, has recently, with the full approval of the Irish Genealogical Office, resumed the name O’Gowan. They came originally from a place called Ballygowan in Co. Down. O’Gowan is very rarely met with in modern times. It is, however, to be found in the census of 1659 as one of the principal Irish names in the counties of Monaghan and Fermanagh.
This article by Michael McShane first appeared in Breifne The Journal of Breifne Historical Society 2019.
We are fortunate that the troubled history of County Cavan has resulted in the creation of a very large amount of survey and land ownership information which would otherwise not exist. Our colonisers certainly knew how to keep records when it came to the confiscation, plantation and taxation of lands. The six escheated counties of the province of Ulster became one of the best mapped and surveyed parts of the world, particularly in the seventeenth century, when the ownership of lands went through multiple hands before settling down into the relatively quieter period of the eighteenth century.
This article sets out in chronological order a summary of the main surveys which were carried out in this period and a link to where researchers may access the relevant documents pertaining to each survey.
Other surveys from this period are also listed and, whilst not necessarily relevant to Cavan, are useful to be aware of.
1608 Survey of Ulster.
This Survey of County Cavan was taken at Cavan on 6 September 1608, before Sir John Davies, Sir Edward Blany and William Parsons, surveyor-general.
This non-cartographical investigation was the British government’s first attempt to survey the six escheated counties of Ulster. The end result was a list of the lands held by the Crown and the Church of Ireland and also information on fairs, markets, fisheries and ferries. As J.H. Andrews points out, the survey was defective both in conception and in execution. Much land had been left out and the surveyor’s methods of determining the actual areas was based on incorrect assumptions of the size of traditional local measures such as the ‘polls’ of Cavan, the ‘tates’ of Fermanagh and the ‘balliboes’ of Tyrone.
A transcription of the survey of Cavan is published in Analecta Hibernica. It cites the seven baronies of Cavan and lists the names of ballibetoes, i.e., ballybets comprised in each barony and the number of Polls within each ballybet. The names of the individual polls are not provided.
In Cavan, the townland or ballyboe/Baile Bo (i.e. cow land) was known as a poll. According to Rawlinson MS, a poll was a parcel of twenty-four acres of arable land. It was supposed to be able to carry about twenty cows. There were sixteen ballyboes in the ballybet or Baile Biataigh, which was the chief land unit within the tuath or Tricha Ced, the cantred or district. The Tricha Ced usually comprised thirty Ballybets.
The total number of polls and the acreage of each barony is given for the temporal (Crown) lands. The incorrect assumption that a poll generally contained twenty-four acres was the cause of much confusion and resulted in numerous disputes.
The survey identifies by parish the Church lands of the barony and the number of polls contained in each. The total number of polls and their acreage is also listed.
The unreliability of the survey caused the suspension of the project of Plantation until a more accurate document could be drawn up. The authorities were now keenly aware that a map-based survey was critical to the future success of the proposed demarcation of the lands to be granted to the servitors, undertakers, Church of Ireland and natives. Hill comments:
There was nothing for it, but that a new commission of survey must traverse the whole ground again more cautiously, and with better knowledge of the points specially requiring attention.
The Cavan Inquisition of 1609
The follow-up to the haphazard survey of 1608 took place in the autumn of 1609. A commission of the English Crown was established to conduct inquisitions, settle disputes of ownership and to prepare suitable maps of the six escheated counties of Ulster prior to the commencement of the plantation. They were also to hold assizes in each county as they passed through. This military-led expedition was under the control of the lord deputy, Sir Arthur Chichester, and departed from Dublin heading first to Dundalk on 31 July, 1609. One ‘module’ of the inquiry was tasked with distinguishing between lands held by the Church and the Crown. On 25 September 1609, an inquisition concerning Church property in County Cavan was held in Cavan town. The report of this inquisition has been examined in great detail by Philip O’Connell. Although dealing primarily with the ecclesiastical survey, this article by O’Connell lists and describes many townlands throughout the county and is invaluable in tracing the development of townland names in this period. He also presents and collates the data from the 1590 inquisition of the same region which he had extracted from the original manuscript which was preserved in what was then the Public Record Office, Dublin (now The National Archive). This very comprehensive examination of the Church-held lands also contains considerable records of townlands/polls long since lost and forgotten.
Bodley maps of 1609
Another critical ‘module’ of the instructions to the commissioners was to make an accurate survey and measurement of the arable lands in each county. This work was separate from, but carried out it in parallel with, the other elements of the expedition. This commission, which was led by Sir Josias Bodley, was tasked with the preparation of the detailed set of maps which were to provide precise information of each townland of the six escheated counties. The ultimate purpose of these maps was to allow the Crown allot proportions/estates to the British planters, Church of Ireland and ‘deserving’ Irish who followed in 1610 and after. The survey work for the County of Cavan was carried out in the last week of September 1609 and the maps were drawn up in the following months and finally completed in late February, 1610. It should be noted that the maps were put together with verbal evidence from locals with knowledge of their respective areas as opposed to a methodical survey and in time they did not stand up to close scrutiny.
The maps of Cavan which are now available to view online and those which are held at the British National Archives are referenced as follows:
No. on map below
British National Archives reference number
Fig 1: Map of County Cavan indicating the Baronies as mapped by Bodley. No.6 Tullyhunco is highlighted
Facsimile reproductions of the maps were produced by the Ordnance Survey Office in 1861 by a new process called photo zincography. These maps can be viewed in the NLI Manuscripts Reading Room, 2/3 Kildare Street.
In Breifne (2015), I explored the Bodley map of Tullyhunco and compared it to current Ordnance Survey maps. It was possible to make connections between many of the Bodley mapped polls (townlands) and present-day denominations. It is interesting to note how the townland system has remained virtually intact over the centuries and how the Bodley survey permanently fixed the old Irish baile farnans, parishes and baronies for future generations. As Maura Nallen says:
The Ulster Plantation scheme retained with its territorial organisation the ancient cadastral unit of Gaelic Ireland, the townland.
Distinguishing features which are noted include whether the townland is indicated as churchland or is shown to have a church in-situ. Also, natural features such as forest, mountain, bog, river or lake are easily identified and are useful for comparison with the current situation.
In his commentary on Bodley’s maps, J.H. Andrews concludes that in response to the inaccuracies which became apparent all future cartographic surveys would involve the use of the chain:
Henceforth the laying-on of the chain was like a mystical rite, the agrarian equivalent of baptism or coming-of-age, which gave binding force (almost literally now of survey; metaphorically forever) to the process of perambulation and which put the seal on one Irish townland after another as ready to be owned, occupied, and civilised.
Detail from a Bodley map of Cavan
1610/11 Schedule of Plantation Grants
The detailed schedules of grants to the undertakers, servitors and natives set out the names and origin of the grantees, the designated names and areas of the proportions or manors (new estates), the names and size of the polls (townlands) contained within the proportions and the date and terms upon which the lands were granted. In most instances the names of the polls granted closely match the polls identified on Bodley’s maps but there are some variations which should be noted. These records are easily gleaned from Hill’s ground-breaking work.
Loughtee was set aside for English undertakers only, Tullyhunco and Clankee were set aside for Scottish undertakers only and the remaining baronies were granted to servitors and natives. Grants by barony are presented on the following pages in Hill:
The Precinct of Loughtee (Loughtee Upr & Lr)
The Precinct of Tullochonco (Tullyhunco)
The Precinct of Clanchy (Clankee)
The Precinct of Tullaghah (Tullyhaw)
The Precinct of Clonmahone (Clanmahon)
The Precinct of Castle Rahen (Castlerahan)
The Precinct of Tullaghgarvy (Tullygarvey)
1611 Carew’s Survey
Complaints to the authorities in London regarding the apathy and greed of the undertakers saw James I appoint Sir George Carew to investigate the progress of the Plantation. This survey took place in the autumn of 1611. Carew’s report is the first of a series of surveys between 1611 and 1622 chronicling the progress of the plantation. R.J. Hunter gives a detailed analysis of Carew’s report in his study of the Plantation in the counties of Armagh and Cavan. Hill in his Plantation Papers quotes considerably from Carew who covers the baronies of County Cavan in detail. Townlands are not listed.
1613 Bodley’s Survey
The King requested Chichester to provide further updates on the ‘Project’ as he was becoming increasingly concerned with petitions coming back to him from individuals who were experiencing problems. By direction of the King Chichester appointed Sir Josias Bodley to provide ‘an exact survey of the whole state of the plantation’ to guide him to where the obstructions lay and how he could remove them. Hunter goes on to describe what Bodley found on the ground in Cavan. The survey was carried out between 2 February and 25 April 1613. The report on Cavan is dated 6 February.
In County Cavan, the survey focused on four key elements for the estates; building progress, urban development, industrial/agricultural functions and lack of progress on estates.
A transcript of Bodley’s survey is available in Hastings Mss. Townlands are not listed.
1619 Pynnar’s Survey
The lack of progress and the reports coming back to London of the undertakers neglecting their duties led to the investigation and survey by Captain Nicholas Pynnar in 1618/19. The exact date of the survey was from 1 December 1618 to 28 March 1619. Pynnar himself had been granted lands in Tullyhaw creating the manor of Pynnar. His brief was to establish how many families were planted, what buildings had been erected, how prepared they were to defend their estates, how much land was still occupied by the native Irish and to clarify other areas of concern.
Pynnar makes some interesting notes on progress in each of the Precincts including Castlerahan:
Captain Culme is to build a town called Virginia, for which he is allowed 250 acres. Upon this he hath built 8 timber houses, and put into them 8 English tenants; of which town there is a Minister which keepeth school, and is a very good preacher.
A number of native Irish are listed in this survey in the Precincts of Castlerahan, Tullygarvey, Clanmahon and Tullyhaw which were allotted to srvitors and natives. Hill covers Pynnar’s survey comprehensively by barony as follows:
The Precinct of Loghtee (Loughtee Upr & Lr)
The Precinct of Tullaghconche (Tullyhunco)
The Precinct of Clanchie (Clankee)
The Precinct of Tullagha (Tullyhaw)
The Precinct of Clonemahown (Clanmahon)
The Precinct of Castlerahin (Castlerahan)
The Precinct of Tullaghgarvy (Tullygarvey)
Hunter’s commentary on Pynnar’s survey relevant to Cavan is also detailed and worth consulting.
1622 survey of Cavan by Annesley and Perrot
This is essentially an update on Pynnar’s survey of 1619. P. O’Gallachair in his article of 1958 has transcribed the original manuscript without comment. The survey provides some evidence of native re-occupation of the lands:
We finde planted and estated upon this land of British Birth Fee Farmers, 4 vizt: 4 having 48 acres apiece. In toto 25 families. 3 of these appeared before us. But some of them are not resident and much of ye land is occupied by ye Irish.
Townlands are not mentioned but the document gives an overview of progress on the building work and other developments being carried out by the planters.
This report differed from the earlier surveys and used actual returns from the undertakers and their tenants. The combination of these returns with the observations of the commissioners ensures that this survey was the most accurate of all the surveys carried out to date.
1623 list of parochial glebes; townlands listed
The ecclesiastical annals of Kilmore diocese of 1623 provide a list of the grant of glebes by James I to the incumbent clergy of the various parishes. Individual polls/townlands are named. Much of the list is taken from ‘certain articles of instruction from his Majesty dated 3rd February 1623’ and covers virtually all the churchland of County Cavan.
1626 letters patent containing twenty-seven grants of glebes in the diocese of Kilmore; townlands listed
The patent and close rolls of 1626 list the individual clergymen granted glebe lands by Charles I. The list identifies the lands by barony, proportion, parish and townland. Although limited to church lands it contains a significant number of townland names at this particular time. The list is dated 25 January 1626 and is similar in many respects to that from 1623.
Ulster Inquisitions 1604-1692
Inquisitionum in Officio Rotulorum Cancellariae Hiberniae Asservatarum Repertorium, volume II details the local hearings (inquisitions) which were held around the counties of Ulster and Leinster to enquire as to the ownership and boundaries of townlands.
These hearings took place over a number of years, but it is the inquisitions of 1629, during the reign of King Charles I, which make up the vast bulk of the recorded documents relating to Cavan.
It should be noted that some of the records are in Latin and this can prove difficult to navigate but for the information which can be gleaned it is certainly worth the effort. Also, the researcher needs to understand that the calendar used at the time was not the Gregorian Calendar which we are now familiar with. The Julian calendar which was in use at the time of these inquisitions requires some careful consideration. For anyone embarking on an examination of these records it is worth referring to a study of the inquisitions of counties Fermanagh and Monaghan carried out by Donald M. Schlegel in 2008. In his book he gives the background history and practical guidance on the interpretation of the inquisitions. His abstracts for these counties provide a clear template for any future work in this area.
The order in which the townlands are listed generally correspond to the original schedule of grants from 1611. This makes it possible to trace the changing ownership, name changes and aliases of many townlands. It also lists sub-divisions of townlands, most of which no longer exist. Interestingly some have morphed into full townlands in their own right. In some instances, the names of tenants are provided as well as detailed descriptions of the physical boundaries and buildings encountered on the new manors/estates.
My 2016 Breifne article on the land parcels of the barony of Tullyhunco lists the townlands and their sub-divisions by proportion/estate and provides information on the evolution of placenames.
For any researcher studying the barony of Clanmahon and the estate of Lord Lambert, Earl of Cavan there is an entry concerning an inquisition which took place in Cavan on 19th October 1618 regarding Lambert’s holdings here. The record is in Latin and lists the polls/townlands of his estate the ‘maner de Lisnedareagh’ (Lissendarragh) which he was granted on 26 June 1611. It also lists the townlands of the manor of Tullocullen (Tocullen) which he acquired from the original grantee, Joseph Jones. It is helpful that a record of this inquisition, along with others, is translated into English in The Peerage of Ireland (1789), vol. I. The townlands of the two estates listed here lie predominantly within the parishes of Ballintemple, Ballymachugh, Drumlumman and Kilbride.
The Ulster Inquisitions is now available on-line in pdf format and can be downloaded at: http://books.google.com/
1641/52 Books of Survey and Distribution
This document lists the native landowners and the townlands which they owned in 1641 and the Grantees under the Act of Settlement of 1652. They clearly show the shift in the ownership of land in Ireland after the Cromwellian conquest. The combined lists were compiled around 1670 and were used to impose the Quit Rent tax which was based on acreage.
It is interesting to compare the land ownership maps of 1641 (fig. 5.6) and the Cromwellian grants, (fig. 5.8) prepared by P.J. Duffy which indicate visually how it was only the forfeited Gaelic or Old English lands which were granted out under the Cromwellian settlement. Most of the original grantees of 1610 obtained full or part restitution of their lands.
The original document is held by the Royal Irish Academy, MS. 1.iv.2. Cavan County Library have photocopy and microfilm copies.
Edited articles listing townlands in the following parishes appear in Breifny Antiquarian Society Journal as below:
1925/26, 2:3, pp 279-83.
Crosserlough (Castlerahan barony) and Kildrumfertan alias Crosserlough,Clonmoghan barony
1927/28, 3:1, pp 50-7.
Killinkere (Loughtee barony)
1929/30, 3:2, pp 267-8.
Killinkere (Castlerahan barony)
1921, 1:2, pp 130-8.
1922, 1:3 pp 304-07.
Mullagh, included in Killinkere (Castlerahan barony)
1921, 1:2, pp 130-8.
1925/26, 2:3, pp 284-5.
Virginia & Lough Ramor, General Historical Notes
1920, 1:1 pp 16-29.
1652 Commonwealth Survey
In a paper presented to The Journal of the Kilkenny and South-East of Ireland Archaeological Society in 1858, the Rev. John O’Hanlon gave an account of the collections made by the Ordnance Survey Department:
The design of the whole was evidently to show the distribution of the forfeited lands amongst Cromwell’s soldiers. It is arranged in baronies and parishes. The waste lands in each parish, where waste lands were, being distinguished from the profitable lands. The value of each parish is prefixed. The volume, if an original one, as I suspect, may have been used by the Commonwealth for carrying the Acts of Settlement and Explanation into effect in 1665, for ascertaining the quantity of lands in the possession of adventurers and soldiers, and guiding the retrenchments directed by said Acts.
The survey as transcribed by Wm. Mooney in 1835 covers the entire of County Cavan and is listed in order of barony. It appears to be a unique document, and no similar survey has been discovered for any other county.
Sadly missing from most of this document are the names of the native tenants who remained on the lands. However, a sub category to the larger proprietors which appears to be a listing of tenants does appear solely for the barony of Tullyhaw. This includes the parishes of Drumreilly, Killinagh, Kinawley, Templeport and Tomregan.
The format, purpose and content of this work differentiates it from other surveys from around the same era including the Civil Survey of Ireland 1654-56 and the 1659 Census of Ireland. It should be noted that no Cavan returns are found in either of these sources.
A detailed transcript of Mooney’s MS.14.B.7 and mapping of the townlands by parish can be referenced in my articles which appeared in Breifne, 2017 and 2018. The first article was published in 2017 and covers the parishes of West Cavan. The parishes of East Cavan appeared in 2018.
1653-54 Gross Survey by Benjamin Worsley. Cavan records not found.
The gross or estimate survey was prepared under great pressure of time in chaotic circumstances. The urgent priority for the government was to allot the confiscated lands to the soldiers and the adventurers in as speedily a manner as possible. The haste with which the survey was carried out resulted in a serious underestimation of the lands available for distribution purposes and caused great discontent among the soldiers who received the earliest allotment of lands. Worsley’s survey also included mapped admeasurement and County Cavan was included in this process, as was confirmed by Hardinge in his summary reports. On 14 April 1654 the surveyor Simon Richardson was paid £136 for admeasuring 68,000 acres in Cavan and on 22 April 1654 Charles Bolton was paid £190 for admeasuring 95,000 acres in Cavan. Unfortunately, the records and maps for nearly all the Gross survey were destroyed in the fire of 1711 in the Council-chamber in the old Custom House on Essex Street. There is no conclusive evidence of how far the survey had progressed by the time it was halted, probably in the autumn of 1654. The available warrants for payment to the surveyors lists six counties: Cavan, Cork, Fermanagh, Kilkenny, Longford and Sligo. Although thought to have been completely destroyed in the 1711 fire, Hardinge mentions that some records for the baronies of Westmeath and Kilkenny survived. The Cavan records no longer exist.
1654-56 The Civil Survey. Cavan records not found.
Clearly the early allocation of lands was poorly managed and the government set out to rectify the situation with the Civil Survey. Unlike the Gross survey, which was carried out under military control, the Civil Survey was managed by the civil and legal authorities. It was also a gross or estimate survey and was named the Civil Survey to distinguish it from the previous work by Worsley. This survey did not involve the making of maps but a detailed boundary description of each barony and parish was made. Hardinge describes his understanding of the purpose of this survey thus:
Many persons are under an impression that the Civil Survey was designed as the basis of the satisfactions afterwards made to the soldiers for arrears of pay due to them, and that it was rejected by the Government in consequence of complaints of its inaccuracy. Such an impression is altogether erroneous. This survey was not designed for the purpose assumed. It was a preliminary work, essential to the discovery and description, in a legitimate and solemn manner, of the forfeited lands, and from which lists, technically called ‘terriers’, were afterwards supplied to the several surveyors for their admeasurement and mapping.
Twenty-seven counties were listed to be admeasured and the authorities prioritised the lands to be granted to the soldiers as ‘every passing day increased their arrears of pay’. Cavan was listed county number 26 but the survey has survived for twelve counties only: Cork, Derry, Donegal, Dublin, Kildare, Kilkenny, Limerick, Meath, Tipperary, Tyrone, Waterford and Wexford. All of these have been published by the Irish Manuscripts Commission.
Before the time of Petty, except the material compiled into the early maps of Ireland by Boazio, Ortelius, Norden, Blaeu, and others, the only detailed surveys of any magnitude were those of the King’s and Queen’s Counties, about 1630; the county of Londonderry, by Raven; and the Strafford Survey. Worsley was carrying on the surveys for grants and forfeitures, which have been sufficiently adverted to already as ” grosse surrounds;” but it remained for Dr. Petty, to originate the idea of connecting the separate operations, into a general survey of the three provinces which were not comprised in the Strafford Survey. His great step was making territorial and natural boundaries the main objects, instead of estate boundaries alone; because the former were permanent and enduring, the latter in their nature fluctuating, and destined to change by the very purpose for which the survey itself was made.
Petty’s attitude to the previous surveys can be summed up in his comments ‘the same noble army might not be abused by an absurd and insignificant way of surveying then carrying on by Mr. Worsley’. His scientific approach set out to record the physical and territorial boundaries instead of the existing estates which were now going to be radically altered after this next round of confiscation and regrant. Some commentators say that the Down Survey was so called because a chain was laid down and a scale made but I believe Hardinge’s claim is more plausible:
A generic name, therefore, common to both sets of maps, was necessary, and that name was borrowed from the expression that conveys to the mind the operation by which the measurements of the lands in area and form were transferred to paper from the field books, and that expression was ‘laying down’. The name was applied to the maps by the Lord Lieutenant and Privy Council so early as 1658, and it has been adopted by the Acts of Settlement and Explanation, and officially retained ever since.
Petty used the Civil Survey as a guide and teams of surveyors, mainly former soldiers, were sent out under his direction to measure every townland to be forfeited. The resulting maps, made at a scale of 40 perches to one inch (the modern equivalent of 1:50,000), were the first systematic mapping of a large area on such a scale attempted anywhere. The primary purpose of these maps was to record the boundaries of each townland and to calculate their areas with great precision. Hardinge goes on to say about the Down survey maps:
It was by these maps, and their index sheets, when approved by the Surveyor-General, and sanctioned by the Government, and not by the Civil Survey, that the land satisfactions were made to the soldiers and adventurers, as well as to the other interests afterwards let in by the Acts of Settlement and Explanation. And, therefore, as relates to landed estates and interests dependent upon the distributions of that period, these maps, when in existence, are the first and earliest link in the chain of title and, connected with the distribution books, decrees, and certificates of the Parliamentary Commissioners, and the subsequent letters patents under the great seal, commonly although not universally founded thereon (all of which records are now deposited in the Landed Estates Record Office, Dublin), complete the evidence of title into and out of the hands of the Crown of the proprietors of about eleven-twenty parts (as hereafter is shown) of the surface area of Ireland.
Hardinge provides a detailed table for each county, including Cavan, which gives a very complete record of the maps prepared under the Down Survey which includes barony, parish, date of survey, name of surveyors, scale of maps, condition, present repository and more valuable information.
Typical extract from Barony map by Petty
Articles instructing Worsley and Petty to commence the admeasurement and mapping of the forfeited lands on the basis of the Civil Survey were entered into on 11 December 1654. A large portion of twenty-two counties was committed to Petty’s sole responsibility, these were the lands to be granted to the soldiers and the work was substantially completed in the autumn of 1656. Once the disbanded soldiers’ claims were satisfied, the survey was extended to cover the lands to be granted to the adventurers. This work was carried out jointly by Petty and Worsley under an Order and Instructions of Survey dated 3 September 1656. Cavan was one of the twenty-three counties on this list. The committee (of which Petty was one) appointed to distribute the lands to the adventurers completed their task in the autumn of 1658.
A topographical index of the parishes and townlands of Ireland by Y.M. Goblet.
In 1933 a French academic, Y.M. Goblet, compiled an index of the townlands and parishes of Ireland identified in Petty’s maps. This work which was published by the Irish Manuscripts Commission is a very comprehensive document and is worth consulting for its introduction alone, which illuminates the background to the making of the maps including Petty’s attitude to the old Irish names and how they should be treated in his survey. How the maps ended up in the French Royal Library having been captured by French privateers on the high seas as they were enroute between Dublin and London in 1707 makes for very interesting reading. He also mentions the great loss of documents over the years:
From this standpoint, Ireland was much favoured by Fate, because it was extensively surveyed in the middle of the XVIIth century by Sir William Petty (then Dr. William Petty) who was as much of a precursor in cartography and anthropogeography as in economics. Everybody has heard of his Down Survey and of the odd 2,000 parish maps which illustrated his work, maps which were utterly destroyed in the fires of the Dublin Custom House on the 15th of April 1711 and of the Four Courts on the 30th of June 1922. But very few people know that 214 manuscript Barony maps still remain which contain some 25,000 place-names, mostly names of townlands, and which are a splendid source of toponomastical information, until now left untapped.
Petty’s somewhat ambiguous attitude to Irish placenames is discussed in Goblet’s introduction but he concludes his thoughts on this matter thus:
The basic principle of Petty’s toponomastical method is a thorough anglicisation of the Irish place-names. He does not suggest substituting fancy English names for traditional Irish place-names as some colonists had done; for he was too “nasute” an observer of facts not to have noticed that most toponyms have a meaning or describe the ground or the landscape so that it would be absurd to change them according to fancy. What he wants is the translation into English of the Irish place-names.
Petty took an interest (a ‘virtuoso’s’ interest) in the meaning of those Irish words which are frequent elements in the composition of the place-names. In the Southwell MS of the Political Anatomy, he wrote that he had made a small Dictionary of these names:
‘Although I know almost nothing of the Irish Tongue, yet I have collected the following Words, by the composure of which one with another, the Names of most lands in Ireland are constituted, vizt,
Unluckily the dictionary is missing. But there is no doubt that Petty wanted to translate the Irish place-names into English and desired first of all to have a properly made and adequate Irish-English geographical vocabulary. Had he found it possible, Sir William would probably have organized an office for the translation of Irish place-names and for the making of an Irish ‘Villare’.
The significance of the Down Survey is summed up by Y.M. Goblet:
Unpalatable as the Cromwellian Settlement may be, the event which was responsible for the making of the Down Survey conferred on Ireland the privilege of being in the modern world the first country mapped from direct protractions.
From his detailed examination of the maps, Goblet has indexed alphabetically each townland identified in Petty’s work. This extensive body of work makes a significant contribution to our knowledge regarding the history and development of some 25,000 place-names in Ireland. As Goblet notes himself:
In conclusion, Petty’s barony and county maps offer the student of the toponomy of Ireland in the XVIIth century two sets of maps, the one completing the other, and both quite different from the D.S. books of reference. So that an index of the place-names of both sets, with their diverse spellings in the BN maps and in the Hiberniae Delineatio makes a most extensive repertory of the Irish toponyms in the XVIIth century, most of them different from the place-names in the D.S. registers, a collection of many spellings, some of which come from sources now lost or unknown, in fact an entirely new document, no index of the maps having ever been compiled. This index is now made and will be found herein.
The maps for Cavan which remain are available to view on the very comprehensive www.downsurvey.tcd.ie website.
Edited articles by Philip O’Connell listing and identifying townlands from Petty’s maps for the following parishes appear in Breifny Antiquarian Society Journal as below:
1925/26, 2:3, pp 272-5.
Crosserlough (Castlerahan barony) and Kildrumfertan (Kildrumfertan, alias Crosserlough, Clonmoghan barony
1927/28, 3:1 pp 43-50.
Killinkere (Loughtee barony)
1929/30, 3:2, pp 266-7.
Killinkere (Castlerahan barony)
1929/30, 3:2, pp 253-66.
1925/26, 2:3, pp 272-5.
1659 ‘Census’ of Ireland
In 1865, W.H. Hardinge announced his discovery of what has since been known as the ‘Census of Ireland (1659)’. This is a poll tax record, listing all persons over the age of fifteen years. The census is organised like the Down Survey by county, barony, parish and townland. The census lists the number of people, men and women, resident in each townland, dividing them into groups of ‘English’ and ‘Irish’. Unfortunately, like many of the previous records listed above, no Cavan records survive.
1663/1664 Hearth Money Rolls
The Hearth Money Act which came into force in 1662 was a revenue generating tax on the entire population of Ireland levied at the rate of two shillings per hearth. The resultant lists of those who paid reflect the fact that many natives opted to live without a hearth to avoid the tax or avoided payment by resistance or evasion. The original manuscripts perished in the destruction of the Public Record Office in 1922 but fortunately some were copied before this tragic loss. These were simple records and state the name of the individual hearth owner, their parish/townland and the number of hearths declared, typically one.
The records which remain for Cavan cover the following parishes:
This article attempts to set out a template which can be used in the study of Cavan townlands. It is not a definitive list of surveys as many other records do exist and others remain to be found. This is just a starting point for researchers who are unfamiliar with Cavan records, as I was not too many years ago. We are fortunate that many of the documents listed here are now available on-line, unlike back in 1920 when the editor commented in the first edition of The Breifny Antiquarian Journal:
To a request addressed to a distinguished Irish Antiquary on the ‘loci historici,’ or ‘the sources whence information may be obtained on the Antiquities and History of Cavan and Leitrim’, the following reply was received: I would not like at this stage to give a young society, or, as you have said, amateurs, any impulsion towards literary inquiries. Sound and useful work in that line cannot be done at a distance from large libraries and deposits of records, and a country writer will seldom be able to do more than make ‘cauld kail het again’, i.e., rehandle what has been done already in more or less readily accessible publications.
It is hoped that ultimately the combined efforts of many researchers and local historical societies will lead to the creation of a comprehensive database for all the townlands of County Cavan to be made available in an accessible format to the general public.
 J. H. Andrews, ‘The maps of the escheated counties of Ulster, 1609-10’ in RIA Proc., 74 (1974). p. 139.
 ‘Ms Rawlinson A. 237, The Bodleian Library, Oxford’ in Analecta Hibernica, 3 (1931), pp 204-13.
 George Hill, An historical account of the Plantation in Ulster at the commencement of the seventeenth century 1608-1620 (Belfast, 1877) p. 118.
 George Hill, Plantation Papers: Containing A Summary Sketch of the Great Ulster Plantation in the Year 1610 (Belfast, 1889) p. 2.
 J Andrews, ‘The maps of the escheated counties of Ulster, 1609-10’,p. 140
 Philip O’Connell, ‘The Cavan Inquisition of 1609’ in The Breifny Antiquarian Society’s Journal, 3:3 (1931-33), pp 361-86.
 P.J. Duffy, ‘The evolution of estate properties in South Ulster 1600-1900’ in William J. Smyth & Kevin Whelan (eds), Common Ground: essays on the historical geography of Ireland presented to T. Jones Hughes (Cork, 1988), pp 84-109 at p. 98.
 John O’Hanlon, ‘An account of the collections made by the Ordnance Survey Department, as bearing on the topography and history of the county of Meath’ in The Journal of the Kilkenny and South-East of Ireland Archaeological Society, New Series, 2:1 (1858), p. 44.
 Michael McShane, “A very Curious Survey of the County of Cavan.” The Commonwealth survey of 1652-53. Part 1, West Cavan’ in Breifne, 52 (2017),
 W.H. Hardinge, ‘On manuscript mapped and other townland surveys in Ireland of a public character, embracing the Gross, Civil, and Down Surveys, from 1640 to 1688’in The Transactions of the Royal Irish Academy, 24, Antiquities (1873), p. 13.
 William J. Smyth, Map-making, landscapes and memory: a geography of colonial and early modern Ireland, c.1530-1750 (Cork, 2006), p. 71.
 Liam Price, ‘The place-names of the Books of Survey and Distribution and other records of the Cromwellian Settlement’ in The Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, 81:2 (1951), p. 89.
The Milltown Heritage Group hosted a book launch in the Community Centre on 20 November 2022. The event was very well attended and all the copies of the recently published book were sold. The author, David Connolly who spoke at the event about his grandfather Martin, has kindly agreed to provide free access to a digital copy of the book, for anyone who wants to read it on their device. Click below to read:
The Brady’s of Killeshandra
You can read David’s earlier book on the Brady’s of Killeshandra here: Click to read
We would like to thank Billy for contributing this magnificent transcription of Master O’Briens Copy Books. The transcription is taken from two old school copy books containing many local stories and songs recorded by Master Francis O’Brien, Principal in Larah (Co. Cavan) Boys’ National School from 1925 to 1962. Some of the stories were written by students of the school as part of The Schools Collection between 1937 and 1939. The copy books were passed to local historian Anna Sexton by Father Owen Collins.
We present below an edited transcription of the 1821 Census of Castlerahan (Castleraghan) Parish, courtesy of the author, James L. Brady. This transcription and analysis of the census returns of the parish of Castlerahan was a project which was carried out in 2007 in fulfilment of the requirements for the NUI Diploma in Genealogy/Family History by the author. We would like to thank James for contributing this important work which presents the information held in the census returns in a useful format which adds greatly to our knowledge of the parish during this era. This work was added to in 2008 when the author prepared a similar study on the parish of Lurgan which can be viewed here.
We present below an edited transcription of the 1821 Census of Lurgan Parish, courtesy of the author, James L. Brady. This transcription of the census returns of the parish of Lurgan, which was carried out in 2008, predates the transcribed version on the National Archives of Ireland (NAI) website. The author’s local knowledge and understanding of the geography and history of this region provides a highly reliable interpretation of the original census returns and should be used in place of the NAI version which is known for it’s poor indexation and transcription issues.
This article, by John P. Wilson, first appeared in Breifne 1963 (Vol.2 No. 6, pp 238-247). We would like to thank Cumann Seanchais Bhreifne for permitting us to re-publish the piece here. This is a very comprehensive analysis of the 1821 census return for the parish of Dromloman which extracts the salient points contained within the vast quantity of information which can be gleaned from the records. A very useful table is provided towards the end which lists the surnames of each townland.
1821 Census Parish of Drumloman by John P. Wilson
The 1821 census was “taken under Act 55 George II c.120 by enumerators appointed by local magistrates acting under the direction of the Chief Secretary. This act was passed owing to the unsatisfactory results obtained under the previous one”.
A copy of the census is available for fourteen parishes of Co. Cavan, Drumloman is one of these parishes. The census is of the civil parish of Drumloman. The modern Catholic parish of Drumloman North, better known as the parish of Mullahoran, is completely covered in the census. Drumloman South is now joined with the Catholic parish of Ballymachugh. This was done about the middle of the eighteenth century. In 1865 Dr. Kilduff. Catholic Bishop of Ardagh, took Clonlohan, Killykeen, Muckram, Clonoose Mor and Clonoose Beag from Drumloman North and added them to Drumloman South. Fifteen of the townlands, therefore, listed below now belong to the Catholic parish of Ballymachugh and Drumloman South.
The enumerator’s (or copyist’s?) work is in some respects unsatisfactory. He omits the names of two townlands and the names of a number of householders; he enters the names of four householders in Caronagh Lower twice; he makes no mention of licensed premises in the parish; he lists 51 householders as farmers but neglects to give the area of their farms in the appropriate column; he doesn’t give any totals and he doesn’t give his own name. On the credit side it must be said that his entries are clear and legible.
On the top of the page of the manuscript the name of the townland is given. The double page of the manuscript has seven divisions. (1) Here an arbitrary number is given to each house. (2) In this column the number of storeys in each house is given. (3) Here the name of the householder is given and the names of all the occupants of the house and their relationship to the householder. (4) Gives the age of each person listed. In column (5) the occupation (if any) of the person is given. (6) Where the householder is a farmer the number of acres held is given in this column. One large column (7) is left for observations. It is noteworthy that the religion of the different families is not given.
In the forty townlands covered in this census we find the spellings of five townlands completely different from those used nowadays. The census taker’s rendering does not even approximate to the current pronunciation which in turn is not always the same as current spelling. His spelling of surnames is at times peculiar, at times inconsistent, and at other times he tries to reproduce popular pronunciation. His spelling of Kane as Cain suggests that the magistrates appointed a man who was familiar with the Bible.
Of the 1,706 houses listed none had more than one storey. Not even Mark Kerre whom he listed as Esq., had a two-storey house. The condition of the houses is not commented on. In one case a family is said to be “nearly destitute of any covering”. It is not clear whether he refers to housing or clothing.
As well as the householder’s name and those of his/her blood and marriage relations, servants’ names are given. Craftsmen working in the house are listed and lodgers are mentioned. 146 widows and 80 widowers are given as householders (roughly 13% of the total). There are few bachelor householders.
One remarkable feature of this column is the early marriage age for girls which can be deduced from a study of the ages given for parents and children. If the ages given are reasonably accurate then some girls were married at 13 years : 14, 15 and 16 were common marrying ages. The average age of marrying for eleven wives taken at random from different townlands (allowing one year only until the birth of the first child) was not quite 19 1/2 years. Eleven husbands averaged 25 years at marriage.
One priest and two teachers are mentioned. The priest, Rev. John Egan, lived in Dundevan where he possessed a house with 12 acres of land. The two teachers named were Peter Keegan of Kilgola and Peter Smyth of Clonkiffer. The recording of schools and schoolteachers is unsatisfactory. He gives teachers for Kilgola and Clonkiffer but does not mention their schools or attendances; elsewhere he gives the names of the schools but does not mention the teachers. Fortunately we have more complete evidence concerning schools about this time from other sources. The occupation of 718 householders is given as farming. This amounts to 42% (approximately) of all householders. Some farmers were also weavers; there are labourers; labourers and weavers. There are some pensioners listed; some of these were labourers or farmers as well. There were two flaxdressers, four carpenters, two wheelwrights and four coopers. There were two millers, one spinner and sewer whose daughter was a mantuamaker (sic); seven taylors (sic); two blacksmiths; one nailor; one land-surveyor; five shoemakers; one stuccoman and plaist- (illegible) probably plasterer. There were apprentice weavers and shoemakers and an apprentice blacksmith. There is no mention of publicans although they existed. There were three professional beggars.
The enumerator fails to record the size of 51 farms of a total of 718. Of the 667 acreages given only 49 were of 20 acres and over; 502 were of 10 acres and under and 244 of these were of 5 acres and under. Subdivision of the land was common and kept the size of holdings small. In the townland of Kilgola (population 341) out of 71 householders listed only thirteen held land. Of these two had two acres each. One had 3 ½ acres, one 4 acres, one 4 ½ acres, two had six acres and one had eight acres.
It is regrettable that very little use is made of this column. An occasional personal remark (cf. Mr. Spinks’ remark in the Kilbride volume) would have been refreshing. The following extracts refer to the schools. There is evidence that the record is incomplete and it is very probably not accurate,
(1) Pollabawn: ‘In this town there is a school containing school containing 35 males and 15 females.
(2) Mullyhorn : “In this town there is a popish chapel and school containing 35 males and 15 females”.
(3) Killydriam : “In this town there is a school containing 36 males and 14 females”.
(4) Drumhowna : “In this town there is a chapel and school containing 50 males and 10 females”.
(5) Carigakilliu : “In this town there is a school containing 40 males and 26 females”.
The ages of children under one year are given in this column. Reference is made to previous marriages and family, of husband or wife. There is mention of a foundling child and of a woman’s husband being “absent from her”. Twinns (sic) get honourable mention also. If a house is not occupied the word “waste” is written opposite the house number in this column. The total population of Drumloman parish was 7,028. The population of the area now covered by the Catholic parish of Drumloman North (Mullahoran) was 4,638.
Cavan Calling, the global homecoming festival for the Cavan Diaspora, will take place from 26th to 30th July 2023 here in County Cavan, with the global Cavan family coming together for a four-day celebration of the county, its people, culture, heritage, landscape, sport, and the achievements of its Diaspora.
1901 and 1911 Census records added to each townland homepage. This means you can now view all the available census and census-substitute records on our 1821-1911 database in one location
21st February 2022
1911 Census records now added to our database and re-indexed to townlands and parishes. This brings the number of individual records of Census and Census-substitute records 1821-1911 now available to search on this website to 345,000.
Towns of Cavan – Earliest census records. Each town now has its own homepage and we have included the 1821 census records (where available), Tithe Applotment Book records c. 1832, 1841 census records (where available) and Griffith’s valuation 1857. The 1901 and 1911 census records were added on 20th March.