History of Cavan
In population terms, County Cavan is one of the smallest counties in the whole of Ireland with approximately 73,000 inhabitants. It is part of the Border region in the north of Ireland and is part of the Republic of Ireland. The history of Cavan really began in the 11th century when it was a division of the Kingdom of Breifne. As a result, County Cavan is known as the Breffni County. The county’s naturally rugged landscape made it the ideal location for Gaelic chiefs who could design defences by utilising the combination of loughs and poorly drained soils.
In the 13th century, the O’Reilly’s built a castle in the area which is now known as Cavan town. A Franciscan monastery was also built at this time. A market was set up in the 15th century by Owen O’Reilly and this helped establish the county town as an area of importance as merchants from Dublin and Drogheda came to trade. Until 1584, Cavan was deemed to be part of Connacht but the historic Breifne kingdom was shired in that year and Cavan became part of Ulster. Visitors to County Cavan can still see the heavy Norman influence in the region which began in the 12th century.
Cavan town itself was given a charter in 1610 by King James I as part of the Plantation of Ulster. A number of new towns were formed including Cootehill and Virginia while Belturbet joined Cavan town as an important trading centre. There were a number of battles during the 17th century as rebels attempted to unsettle the planters and reclaim the land. However, this only lead to an increase in the number of Scottish and English settlers as the British government sought to consolidate their hold on Ireland. These settlers also helped the formation of a flax and linen industry in the county which was to boom during the 18th century.
Cavan was one of the many Irish regions that were badly hit by the Great Famine in the middle of the 19th century. From 1845-49, at least 1 million people in Ireland died from the famine and at least the same number emigrated. As well as the starvation, illnesses such as cholera and typhus were rife and claimed hundreds of thousands of victims. Landlords in Cavan were notorious for their poor treatment of tenants during this era. A famous example involves a Mountnugent landlord who evicted more than 200 people. A Catholic priest witnessed this event and the famous ballad ‘By Lough Sheelin Side’ commemorates the actions of the landlord.
Cavan town cemented its place as the most important location in the county as it became connected with other towns in Ireland via the railway during the middle of the 19th century. The town flourished throughout the 20th century with a Town Hall built in 1909 beginning a flood of new buildings. The worst tragedy to have occurred in Cavan since the Great Famine happened in 1943 when the Saint Joseph’s Orphanage Fire killed 36 people, 35 of whom were children. Although no blame has ever been attributed to any single party, the event is still seen as being suspicious in the modern era.
Also check out Working in Cavan and Living in Cavan, or Cavan Jobs