Cavan, Ireland


CAVAN (County of), an inland county of the province of ULSTER, bounded on the north by the county of Fermanagh ; on the west, by that of Leitrim; on the south, by those of Longford, Westmeath, and Meath; and on the east and north-east, by that of Monaghan. It extends from 53° 43' to 54° 7' (N. Lat.); and from 6° 45' to 7° 47' (W. Lon.); and comprises, according to the Ordnance survey, 477,360 statute acres, of which 421,462 are cultivated land, 30,000 unimproved mountain and bog, and 22,141 are under water The population, in 1821, was 195,076; and in 1831, 228,050.

According to Ptolemy, this tract, with the districts included in the adjacent counties of Leitrim and Fermanagh, was occupied by the Erdini, designated in the Irish language Ernaigh, traces of which name are yet preserved in that of Lough Erne and the river Erne, upon which and their tributaries these districts border. This district. exclusively of the greater part of the present county of Fermanagh, formed also the ancient principality of Breghne, Brefine, Breifne, Breffny, or Brenny, as it has been variously spelt, which had recognised limits from time immemorial. and was divided into the two principalities of Upper or East Breifne and Lower or West Breifne, the former composed almost entirely of the present county of Cavan, and the latter of that of Leitrim. East Breifne was often called Breifne O'Reilly, from its princes or chiefs having from remote ages borne that name: they were tributary to the O'Nial of Tiroen long before the arrival of the English, although Camden says that in his time they represented themselves as descended from the English family of Ridley, but were entirely Irish in manners. The county is celebrated in the history of the wars in Ireland for the fastnesses formed by its woods, lakes, and hogs, which long secured the independence of its native possessors. Cavan was one of the counties formed in Ulster, in 1584, by Sir John Perrott, lord-deputy of Ireland, and derived its name from the principal seat of its ancient rulers, which is still the provincial capital: in the following year it was represented in a parliament held in Dublin by two loyal members of the family of O'Reilly. Both Breffnys anciently formed part of Connaught, but the new county was incorporated with Ulster. The O'Reillys were at this time a warlike sept, particularly distinguished for their cavalry, and not living in towns, but in small castles scattered over the country. In order to lessen their influence by partitioning it among different leaders, and thus reduce them to the English law, it was resolved to divide the country into baronies and settle the proprietorship of each exclusively (In a separate branch of the families of the former proprietors. Sir John O'Reilly, then chief lord of the country, had covenanted to surrender the whole to Queen Elizabeth, and on the other part Sir John Perrott had covenanted that letters patent should be granted to him of the whole; but this mutual agreement led to no result, and commissioners were sent down to carry the division into effect, By them the whole territory was partitioned into seven baronies, of which. two were assigned to Sir John O'Reilly free of an contributions; a third was allotted to his brother, Philip O'Reilly; a fourth to his uncle Edmond; and a fifth to the sons of Hugh O'Reilly, surnamed the Prior. The other two baronies, possessed by the septs of Mac Kernon and Mac Gauran, and remotely situated in the mountains and on the border of O'Rorke's country were lett to their ancient tenures and the Irish exactions of their chief lord, Sir John. whose chief-rent out of the other three baronies not immediately possessed by him was fixed at 10s. per annum for every pole, a subdivision of land peculiar to the county and containing about 25 acres: the entire county was supposed to contain 1620 of these poles.

But these measures did not lead to the settlement of the country; the tenures remained undetermined by any written title; and Sir John, his brother, and his uncle, as successive taoists, according to the ancient custom of the country, were all slain while in rebellion, After the death of the last. no successor was elected under the distinguishing title of O'Reilly, the country being broken by defeat, although wholly unamenable to the English law, Early in the reign of James I., the lord-deputy came to Cavan and issued a commission of inquiry to the judges then holding the assize there concerning all lands escheated to the Crown by attainder, outlawry, or actual death in rebellion; and a jury of the best knights and gentlemen that were present, and of whom some were chiefs of Irish septs, found an inquisition, first, concerning the possessions of various freeholders slain in the late rebellion under the Earl of Tyrone, and secondly, concerning those of the late chiefs of the country who had shared the same fate; though the latter finding was obtained with some difficulty, the jurors fearing that their own tenures might be invalidated in consequence. Nor was this apprehension without foundation; for, by that inquisition, the greater part, if not the whole, of the county was deemed to be vested in the Crown, and the exact state of its property was thereupon carefully investigated. This being completed, the king resolved on the new plantation of Ulster, in which the plan for the division of this county was as follows : - the termon, or church lands, in the ancient division, were 140 poles, or about 3500 acres, which the king reserved for the bishop of Kilmore; for the glebes of the incumbents of the parishes to be erected were allotted 100 poles, or 2500 acres; and the monastery land was found to consist of 20 poles, or 500 acres. There then remained to be distributed to undertakers 1360 poles, or 34,000 acres, which were divided into 26 proportions, 17 of 1000 acres each, 5 of 1500, and 4 of 2000, each of which was to be a parish, to have a church erected upon it, with a glebe of 60 acres for the minister in the smallest proportions, of 90 in the next, and of 120 in the largest, To British planters were to be granted six proportions, viz., three of the least, two of the next, and one of the largest, and in these were to be allowed only English and Scottish tenants; to servitors were to be given six other proportions, three of the least, two of the middle, and one of the largest, to be allowed to have English or Irish tenants at, choice; and to natives, the remaining fourteen, being eleven of the least, one of the middle, and two of the greatest size. There then remained 60 poles or 1500 acres, of which 30 poles, or 750 acres, were to be allotted to three corporate towns or boroughs, which the king ordered should be endowed with reasonable liberties, and send burgesses to parliament, and each to receive a third of this quantity; 10 other poles, or 250 acres, were to be appendant to the castle of Cavan; 6 to that of Cloughoughter; and the remaining 14 poles. or 346 acres, to be for the maintenance of a free school to be erected in Cavan, Two of the boroughs that were created and received these grants were Cavan and Beltarbet, and the other 250 acres were to be given to a third town, to be erected about midway between Kells and Cavan, on a site to be chosen by the commissioners appointed to settle the plantation; this place was Virginia, which, however, never was incorporated. The native inhabitants were awed into acquiescence in these arrangements, and such as were not freeholders under the above grants, were to be settled within the county, or removed by order of the commissioners. The lands thus divided were the then profitable portions, and to each division a sufficient quantity of bog and wood was superadded. A considerable deviation from this project took place in regard to tithes, glebes, and parish churches. A curious record of the progress made by the undertakers in erecting fortified houses, &c., up to the year 1618-19, is preserved in Pynnar's Survey; the number of acres enumerated in this document amounts to 52,324, English measure, and the number of British families planted on them was 386, who could muster 711 armed men. Such was the foundation of the rights of property and of civil society in the county of Cavan, as existing at the present day, though not without subsequent disturbance; for both O'Reilly, representative of the county in parliament, and the sheriff his brother, were deeply engaged in the rebellion of 1641. The latter summoned the R. C. inhabitants to arms; they marched under his command with the appearance of discipline; forts, towns, and castles were surrendered to them; and Bedel, Bishop of Kilmore, was compelled to draw up their remonstrance of grievances, to be presented to the chief governors and council.

Transcribed from Samuel Lewis' A Topographical Dictionary of Ireland, 1840
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Civil Registration

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Land and Property

The Return of Owners of Land in 1873 for Cavan is available to browse.

Parishes and places

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1911 Ireland Census
1901 Ireland Census