County Cavan Ireland

Search County Cavan and IGP Archives for County Cavan

               Welcome to County Cavan's Genealogy Page (IGP)

                    Province - Ulster

                    Notable People - Francis Sheehy Skeffington, General Philip Sheridan, John Charles McQuaid, and Marcus Daly.

                                                  Common Surnames - Reilly, Smith, Brady, Lynch, McCabe, Clarke, Farrelly, Maguire, Sheridan and Galligan


                                            General Background


Originally part of the ancient kingdom of Bréifne, this inland county contains the towns of Arvagh, Bailieborough,Ballinagh, Ballyconnell, Ballyhaise, Ballyjamesduff, Ballymagauran, Bawnboy, Belturbet, Blacklion, Butlersbridge, Canningstown, Cavan, Cootehill, Crossdoney, Dowra, Drumcarban, Kilcogy, Killeshandra, Kilnaleck, Kingscourt, Lough Gowna, Mullagh, Mountnugent, Redhill, Shercock, Stradone, Swanlinbar and Virginia.

It is the southern-most province of traditional Ulster, and measures approximately 47 miles long by 23 miles across. It is bounded to the west by Leitrim, to the north by Fermanagh and Monaghan, to the east by the latter county and Louth, and to the south by Longword, West Meath and East Meath.

This part of Bréifne was ruled by the O'Reillys, from the town of Cavan, and as a result was called Bréifne O'Reilly. The other part of Bréifne, County Leitrim, was known as Bréifne O'Rourke, for the ruling clan there. In addition to the O'Reillys, other prominent families in Cavan are Brady, O'Mulleady, McGovern, Sheridan, O'Farrelly, McKiernan, O'Curry, O'Clery, McIlduff, and of course, McGowan (Smith or Smyth).

The Celtic origin of Cavan is "cabhán," meaning "hollow" or "little hill", an apt description of the countryside, especially towards the northwest, where the landscape is covered by drumlins -- oval clay hills of glacial origin between 80 to 100 feet high. In between these rolling hills, the valleys are poorly drained, with extensive bogs, swamps and lakes. This corrogated geography means that visibility is frequently limited, often no more than a few hundred yards, giving the countryside an intimate feel. The Cuilcagh mountain range contain the highest point, Cuilcagh, at 665 metres (2,182 feet).

This geography also helped the O'Reilly Clan retain control in County Cavan even after the Norman arrival in Ireland in 1169. The difficulty of traversing the Cavan terrain, with its many thick forests, hidden valleys, watery bogs and lakes, combined with the skill of the O'Reilly cavalry, and the intractability of the local residents, kept the Norman invaders successfully at bay for several centuries. In fact, the O'Reillys maintained their independence from later English rule until the rebellions of the early 1600s.

When the Catholic Confederacy was finally defeated by Cromwell in 1649, the Catholic lands in Cavan were confiscated and given to English soldiers and others loyal to the British crown. In the midst of these battles, the famine swept through County Cavan. In 1841, the population in Cavan was 243,000, and by 1851 it had dropped to 174,000. With emigration, famine deaths, and occupation by the British, the population of Cavan would drop to a low of 55,000. However, the census of 1861 shows that it was still overwhelmingly Catholic (81 percent) with the remaining population divided between Presbyterians and members of the Church of Ireland. (Above maps and text courtesy of Scott Michaud -

You can still see Norman influence in places like of Clogh Oughter castle. The famous General Eoghan Rua O Neill (Red Owen), died here in 1649.


Cavan is known as 'The Lakeland County' and is reputed to contain 365 lakes. At 18.8 km2 (7.3 sq mi), Lough Sheelin is the county's largest lake; it is situated in the south of the county and forms a three way border on its waters between counties Meath, Westmeath and Cavan. A large complex of lakes form in the north and west of Cavan into designated Specially Protected Areas (SPA); an example is Lough Oughter. Other important wildlife protected lakes such as Lough Gowna and Lough Ramor are in the south and east of the county. Cavan has a mainly hilly (drumlin) landscape and contains just under 7,000 hectares (17,000 acres) of forested area, 3.6% of Cavan's total land area. The county contains forests such as Bellamont Forest near Cootehill, Killykeen Forest Park at Lough Oughter (a Coillte state forest concern), Dún na Rí Forest Park and the Burren Forest.

Cavan is also the source of many rivers. Shannon Pot on the slopes of Cuilcagh is the source of the River Shannon, the longest river in Ireland at 386 km (240 mi). The River Erne is a major river which rises from Beaghy Lough, two miles (3 km) south of Stradone in Cavan and flows for 120 km (75 mi) to Lough Erne. Other rivers in the county include the Blackwater River, which rises near Bailieborough and flows through Lough Ramor, joining the River Boyne at Navan; the Dee which springs near Bailieborough; the River Annalee which flows from Lough Sillan and joins the Erne; and the Cladagh river which rises from Cuilcagh and flows into Fermanagh. The Glyde and the Owenroe also source in Cavan.Cavan was once called East Brefnie or Brefnie O'Reilly. It was part of the province of Connaught, but in 1584 became part of Ulster.

Church of Ireland Parishes

IGP Archves Data                                    

Cemetery Records

Church Records

Census Substitutes


Military & Constabulary




Vital Records


Photo of Swan by Joyce Tunstead