Most popular Cavan surnames


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

Surname1901 count1901 rank1911 count1911 rank

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.