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For other uses, see Cavanagh (disambiguation).

Cavanagh or Cavanaugh is a surname of Irish origin, a variation of the Irish Gaelic family surname Caomhánach and may refer to:

Cavanagh / Cavanaugh
Family name
Family Coat of Arms
Pronunciation Kav-na or Ka-va-na[1]
Meaning A variation of the Irish Gaelic surname Caomhánach.
Motto Peace and Plenty
Related names Caomhánach, Kavanagh, Kavanaugh, and more.
Clan affiliations Caomhánach

Surname Origin[edit]

Main article: Caomhánach

Cavanagh and Cavanaugh are anglicized variations of the Irish Gaelic surname Caomhánach (Caoṁánaċ in traditional Gaelic type).[2] The surname was first assumed by Domhnall, eldest son of the 12th century King of Leinster, Diarmait Mac Murchada in Ireland.[3]

A considerable number of anglicized variations of Caomhánach exist, with some of the most common being: "Kavanagh", "Cavanagh", "Kavanaugh" and "Cavanaugh".[1]

Origin and Meaning of Name[edit]

It is referenced in a translation of the historical Annals of the Four Masters by John O'Donovan that Domhnall Caomhánach was fostered for his training and education at the monastery of St. Caomhan at Kilcavan in the Barony of Gorey, County Wexford.[4] According to Irish custom, it was because of this that Domhnall assumed the name Caomhánach in the form of an descriptive byname meaning 'a student or follower of St. Caomhan'.[5] Contrary to usual Irish practice, the name was adopted by his descendants as an inherited surname.[6] In several Gaelic dictionaries, Caomhánach is also defined as "a friend, companion" and "merciful".[7][8]

Cavanagh, Kavanagh, Cavanaugh etc., is the English version of Caomhánach, one of the very few Gaelic Irish surnames not to include "O" or "Mac". It means "follower of (St.) Caomhan", a name which is itself a diminutive of caomh, meaning "gentle" or "tender". It was first borne as a surname in the twelfth century by Donal, son of Diarmuid Mac Murchadha, King of Leinster. He became known as "Domhnall Caomhánach" through having been fostered by a successor of the saint based probably at Kilcavan in Bannow parish in south Co. Wexford.

Art Mór riding to meet the earl of Gloucester, as depicted in an illustration to Jean Creton's Histoire du roy d'Angleterre Richard II

Although the first bearer of the name, in fact the majority of the septs that proliferated from the fifteenth century on descend from Art Mór Mac Murchadha Caomhánach, King of Leinster (1375–1416), who died in 1416. The territory of the Cavanaghs at this period was huge, comprising nearly all of the modern Co. Carlow, and most of north and north-west Co. Wexford. This was known as "the Cavanagh's country" and with good reason: Art held complete control over it, reigning for forty-two years, and even receiving dues from the English crown, the "black rent" as it was known. The chiefs of the family continued to take the ruling title Mac Murchadha, but by the mid-sixteenth century their power was on the wane, and was decisively broken by the start of the seventeenth century.

It is not surprising, then, that Cavanaghs were prominent among the great wave of native Irish aristocrats emigrating to Europe in the wake of the final defeat of Gaelic Ireland at the end of the seventeenth century, becoming officers in the armies of Catholic France, Spain and Austria; one, Charles Cavanagh was the governor of Habsburg Prague in the mid eighteenth century. Despite their loss of power and property, the line of descent from the last duly inaugurated Chief of the Name, Brian Cavanagh, The Mac Murchadha, remained unbroken down to recent times.

The lion passant on the Kavanagh arms is a classic heraldic device associated with feudal power but unusual for a family of Gaelic extraction; it may be that it is intended to signify the centuries-long connection of the family with the kingship of Leinster.[9]


List of people with the surname Cavanagh:


List of people with the surname Cavanaugh:

Variations of Surname[edit]

Clann Chaomhánach/Cavanagh covers the following known variations of the family name: Kavanagh, Kavanaugh, Kavanah, Kavenah, Kabana, Kavaner, Kavenaugh, Kavanacht, Kaveny, Cavanaugh, Cavanah, Cavenah, Cavana, Cavana, Cavner, Cavenaugh, Cavender, Cavenogh, Cavnar, Cavignac, Cavanaogh, Cavanogh, Cabanah, Chaomhanach and many others...[1][2]

Fictional characters[edit]

  • Jordan Cavanaugh, character from Crossing Jordan, an American television drama.
  • Toby Cavanaugh, character from Pretty Little Liars, an American television drama.
  • Sally Ann Cavanaugh, character from Fletch, an American comedy movie.
  • Alicia Florrick (née Cavanaugh), character from The Good Wife, an American TV show.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c James J. Kavanagh – Clann Genealogist. "Interpreting the Irish Name "Caomhánach"". Retrieved 4 March 2013. 
  2. ^ a b Clann Chaomhánach. "What is Clann Chaomhánach". Retrieved 19 December 2007. 
  3. ^ Irish Pedigrees: Or, The Origin and Stem of the Irish Nation by John O'Hart - Published 1892, Volume 1, Page 493
  4. ^ Annals of Ireland, by the Four Masters by John O'Donovan (New York, N.Y.: AMS Press, 1966) Volume 4 - Page 849 - Footnote "Z".
  5. ^ Royal House of Leinster. "Origin Of The Name Caomhánach". Retrieved 2007-12-19. 
  6. ^ Sloinnte Gaedheal is Gall: Irish Names and Surnames by Rev. Patrick Woulfe (1923)
  7. ^ A Dictionary of the Gaelic Language: In Two Parts by Norman Macleod (1831) - Page 118
  8. ^ Dictionarium Scoto-Celticum: a dictionary of the Gaelic language (1828) - Volume 1 - Page 190
  9. ^