Kavanagh – Kings of Leinster

History of the Irish name Kavanagh. Image copyright Ireland Calling
History of the Irish name Kavanagh. Image copyright Ireland Calling

Kavanagh is a popular surname in Ireland and originated in the Leinster regions of Wexford and Carlow.

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It dates back to before the 10th century and comes from the personal name ‘Caomhanach’. Caomhanach is an old Gaelic word that means ‘born handsome’.

History of the Irish name Kavanagh. Image copyright Ireland CallingThere are several variations of the name including Cavan, Cavanagh, Cavanaugh, Caven and Kavanaugh. Unlike many Irish surnames, Kavanagh has never contained the ‘O’ or ‘Mac’ prefixes throughout its history.

The clan are ancestors of Donal Caomhanch, whose father was Diarmuid Mac Murrough. Mac Murrough was King of Leinster in the 12th century.

Donal Caomhanch

While Donal was the king’s eldest son, he wasn’t chosen to inherit the throne. Instead his father sent him to Wexford to be educated by monks at Kill Caomhan (St. Kevin’s Church).

To compensate for not succeeding his father as king, Donal was given huge areas of land in Wexford and Carlow. This is where his clan originated and still has more Kavanaghs than any other part of Ireland or the world.

The Kavanaghs were a powerful clan in Leinster and had territories in Co Carlow and Co Wexford.

Fighting off invaders

Art Mac Murrough Kavanagh was King of Leinster from 1376 to 1417. He successfully fought off invaders for the duration of his reign as did many of his successors until they finally lost control during the reign of King Henry VIII of England.

In 1590, Irish rebellion leader Hugh Roe O’Donnell had been captured by the English and was incarcerated in Dublin Castle. His friend, Hugh O’Neill helped him to escape from prison with the help of a companion, Art Kavanagh.

Many Kavanaghs, or people with variations of the name, emigrated to America during the Irish potato famine.

Arthur MacMorrough Kavanagh

Arthur MacMorrough Kavanagh was a 19th century Irish politician. He was born with only rudiments of arms and legs. Despite his disability he learned to ride a horse using a special saddle. He learned many other skills and had a remarkable life which saw him travel around the world.

He went into politics and served as Counties Kilkenny, Carlow and Wexford during his career.

Patrick Kavanagh was one of Ireland’s greatest writers of the 20th century. He was an acclaimed poet and novelist. His poem ‘Raglan Road’ was put to music and became a classic traditional Irish song. More on Patrick Kavanagh


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