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Gavigan Clan Coat of Arms

Gavigan is an Irish surname that claims it origins with different local chieftains depending upon the research performed.

Coat of Arms[edit]

  • From County Mayo, Ireland, a local Irish chieftain called "Gabhadhan", the old Gaelic might have been something like, when the grammatical séimhiú is represented by the letter "h", "O'Gaibhtheachain". This might be translated to signify "the Anxious One".
  • From the southern O'Neill or (as written in Irish) Uí Néill clan of Geoghegan, "Gabhachan" from north Leinster, and Ulster, Ireland cattle grazers on pasture lands of Ulster and Leinster. "Gabha" might signify or mean a blacksmith.

The motto upon the Gavigan family coat of arms may be translated to mean Always ready to serve my king and country.


First, the simple case. I am reliably informed by Frank Geoghegan of Durrow that one family of Geoghegans got into some difficulty with the authorities (date uncertain). They moved to Tyrrellspass and changed their name to Gavagan/Gavigan to avoid detection. Now this family was quite productive, the first generation producing seven sons and six daughters and at least one of the sons producing six sons and seven daughters. This proliferation ensured that the name quickly became established all over south central Westmeath and is common there today. This family is most certainly part of the greater MacGeoghegan sept. Some of these may also have been ancestors to Gav... and Gaff... families referred hereafter.


Part of the O'Neill Ulster clan, the southern Ui Neill of North Leinster, contributes to the Gaffiken, Gavigan, and Geoghegan dispersion. This helps only to explain somewhat more complex is the situation regarding the name, and other variants, in Ulster, essentially around Belfast. We are grateful to Trevor Fulton and Hugh Macartney for the following information.

This family has been traced back to its origins in Castletown-Geoghegan and Mullingar, in Co. Westmeath and they went north to Belfast after the Williamite wars which ended at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690. At this time the name was spelled "Gavigan", but they later settled on "Gaffikin". The family were Church of Ireland and not Roman Catholic. They established a large prosperous farm on the outskirts of Belfast and likely raised cattle because the second generation were nearly all butchers in the nineteenth century. At that time they became owners of linen mills and the famous "Old Comber" distillery. One Thomas Gaffikin became a Justice of the Peace and a very prominent Belfast historian. He was known as "Builder" Gaffiking from building a great many houses in fashionable areas. There are still many descendants living in Belfast.

Arthur Gaffikin born in 1734, married to Prudence Ogans and is buried in Belfast. From the St. Anne's (Church of Ireland) Parish Church, Belfast, register which exists from 1745, Arthur appears baptising children between 1756 and 1769 consistently using the spelling "Gaffigan". His son Arthur married to Elizabeth Stewart successively baptises children between 1794 and 1808 using "Geoghegan" (twice), "Gaffigan" (three) then "Gaufikin" and finally "Gauficin".

A little earlier a Thomas Gaffigan marries Catherine Lee and their family are baptised between 1748 and 1768 as "Gafigan", "Magaffigan", "Gaffigan" (three) "Geoghegan" and finally "Gaffigan" again.

Over the years from 1745 to about 1820 the name, though most often "Gaffigan" shows frequent variations including "Gaffican" and "Gaffigan" in addition to those already mentioned, until from about 1820 it settles on "Gaffikin". A Michael who died in 1818 aged 21 appears on the tombstone as "Gaffikin", but in the newspaper death notice as "Geoghegan".

Contested printed & misunderstood information[edit]

As we are talking about Ulster, this is as good a point as any to mention again the Geoghegans who are not Geoghegans at all but rather McGuigans. Fr. Woulfe, an eminent family name historian believed MacGuigan to be a variant of MacGeoghegan wherein he was probably misled by the fact that Geoghegan was reported from the Newry area to have been used, incorrectly, in registering births for one or more families known as MacGuigan: this, however, was almost certainly one of the many instances of absorption. This "misinformation" has been perpetuated in modern times by Ida Grehan in her book "Dictionary of Irish Surnames" in which she mentions Geoghegan only in the context of McGuigan and completely ignores the main sept of Westmeath. There are no less than 15 modern synonyms of MacGuigan, viz. Guigan, Maguigan, MacGoogan, MacGookin, MacGuckian, MacGuiggan, MacQuiggan, MacWiggan, MacWiggin, Meguiggan, Gavigan, Geoghegan, Wigan and also Fidgeon and Pidgeon. The pronunciation of the name in its homeland, Co. Tyrone (especially around Omagh), is MacGwiggen, which suggests Mag Uigin as the Irish form. MacQuiggin, another Ulster name, in Gaelic Mac Guaigín, also anglicised as MacGuiggan. It is interesting that the name MacGuigan (also as MacGoughan, MacGuckan and MacGugan) is found in Scotland, particularly in Argyllshire and Kintyre. There it is from Mac Guagáin, which may be Irish in origin and a corrupt form of Mac Eochagáin and therefore originally McGeoghegan.


Another most complex situation has evolved with regard to the name Ó Gáibhtheacháin. This name arose in Mayo and spread into Roscommon. County Roscommon borders County Westmeath where there is overlap in terms of territories, from around Athlone on the Shannon, where the south Roscommon and the west of Westmeath borders meet. Ó Gáibhtheacháin is variously anglicised as "Gavagan", "Gavigan", "Gavaghan", "Gavican", "Gaffigan", etc. as well as "Gaughan", which has also been shortened to "Gahan". When studying the Griffith's Valuation for Roscommon, a survey of property occupiers as of a particular date between 1848 and 1864, It may be noted that there is a unique Geoghegan recorded from, Ballintubber. However, in Ballintubber, there is one "Gavacen" while in Elphin there is one McGahan. Two Gaughans are recorded in the adjacent county of Leitrim. In the census of 1901, there are nine Geoghegans in Roscommon, almost all near Athlone. Gavagan appears five times, Gavaghan has a single entry in Roscommon, but appears frequently in neighbouring Mayo,The name "Gavigan" also originates on the border between Co. Mayo and Co. Sligo.the parish of Kilmactigue is where The name Gavigan had been predominantly based for the past century or so, indicating an almost county based spelling variation. Gavican appears eight times in Roscommon, Gavigan three times and Gaughan once. The geographical spread is quite clear: all the Geoghegans are found in the southern end of the county with the Gavigans, Gavagans, and variations are further to the north of the county. From migration patterns over land occurring over the centuries, it appears that these Gavigans, etc. from Roscommon, belong to the Ó Gáibhtheacháin sept.

Ó Gáibhtheacháin has, in more recent times, been modernised to Ó Gacháin in Irish, which is a little unfortunate. It was originally anglicised as Gaughan and it seems that this anglicised form has given rise to the newer Irish form. However, the names was also anglicised as Gavaghan, which is phonetically closer to Ó Gáibhtheacháin. This sept possessed territory close to Crossmolina, County Mayo. They are also mentioned in the Annals as chiefs of Calory in the barony of Trawled. It seems that at an early stage the spellings divided on a county basis. While the names Gaughan and Gavaghan are both found in Mayo, the spread of the sept seemed to send the Gaughans north into Sligo, predominantly in the parish of Kilmactigue and the Gavaghans south into Roscommon, where the other variant spellings (Gavagan, Gavigan, Gavican, Gavegan, etc.) started to appear.

Guide Lines[edit]

When tracing the name Gavagan or other variants:

  • ancestry may be traced to Belfast, then you are probably one of the Gaffiken Geoghegans.
  • ancestry may be traced to Westmeath then they are more than likely of Geoghegan stock.
  • For the prefix, "Mac" or "Mc" then this is another strong indication of a Geoghegan origin.
  • For the prefix "O" or your ancestry is in Mayo or North Roscommon, then you are more than likely from Ó Gáibhtheacháin stock.
  • Family origins are near Newry County Down, then there are probabilities really a McGuigan.


  • Mr. Frank Geoghegan, Durrow,
  • Trevor Fulton Belfast,
  • Hugh Macartney,
  • Fr. Woulfe.
  • Griffith's Valuation for Roscommon.

External links[edit]