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Stocktonian rules a bit o' Ireland

  Let's call Ireland and talk to Gary Cavanaugh, a Stockton psychiatrist visiting the old country to be inaugurated the head of clan Cavanaugh worldwide.

We're dialling his cell phone.

"Dia Dhuit," Cavanaugh bubbles in greeting. It's Gaelic.

Laughter and merriment murmurs in the background. "We're sitting here in a pub in Dublin," explains Cavanaugh, "celebrating and having a good time. Celebrating the coronation and surviving the Dublin traffic."

Cavanaugh is ensconced with family and friends, proudly wearing the Shield of Office, the pendant equivalent of a crown, and quaffing kingly mead.

"Actually, I'm drinking a 12-year-old Jameson," Cavanaugh says. "I'd like to have 30-year-old, but it's 1,250 euros a bottle."

Cavanaugh has come from County Carlow, 70 miles or so south of Dublin -- Cavanaugh country. There on Sunday, he became the latest chief in a line stretching back almost 1,000 years.

How does a Stockton fellow become chief of an ancient Irish clan? A family association election, "very similar to what happened in the Middle Ages," Cavanaugh says.

Cavanaugh parlayed a lifelong pride in Irish heritage, publication of scholarly research on Cavanaugh history and presumably some politicking into a victorious campaign.

On Sunday, dressed for the occasion in regal tunic, chain mail and purple mantle, and armed with broadsword and dagger, Cavanaugh was inaugurated.

The ancient clan ceremony took place atop a hillock overlooking St. Mullins, the ruins of a monastery important in clan history.

A brehan (clan lawyer) made Cavanaugh turn three times to his strong side, three times to his weak; handed him a hazel wand and drinking horn; draped the Shield of Office around his neck and proclaimed him chief of clan Cavanaugh.

"We slaughtered a few cows, slaughtered a few Vikings -- oh, no, wait a minute. It was much tamer than that," Cavanaugh jokes.

But seriously, when a band of pipers played, "It was really thrilling, standing up on top of the mound and looking over the countryside. The feeling I had surging through me is really indescribable."

For all the pride and happiness, there is bitter mixed in; the history of clan Cavanaugh is as tragic as it is glorious. The Cavanaughs once ruled much of southern Ireland. But the English crushed them.

History shows being chief of fierce clan Cavanaugh could be hazardous to your health: "In 1282, the Normans invited Murtagh and his brother Art to England for peace talks; however, on their arrival, ... they were seized and beheaded. ... (Another Cavanaugh leader) was murdered in another perfidious act in 1355. ... The English ... on January 1st, 1417, assassinated Art Oge with a cup of poisoned wine. ... Many (Cavanaughs) were killed or sold as indentured slaves to planters in Barbados. ..."

Cavanaugh, blessed to reign over more peaceful times, says he'll attract more members to the clan association by expanding clan publications and by strengthening connections among Cavanaughs worldwide.

"I'm going to stay away from the poison," Cavanaugh adds to background laughter. "I'm not going to England. I think I'll be safe in Stockton."

By Mike Fitzgerald, reprinted with permission of The Record