Carlow Militia List

Gary L Cavanaugh, M.D.


Sources for Irish genealogy tend to thin out in the early nineteenth century and become sparse indeed by the 17th century. Carlow, for a variety of reasons, tends to be more fortunate than many counties in terms of sources. This is particularly true in South Carlow where R.C. Parish Registers run back into the late 18th century. In my search for data on 18th century South Carlow Kavanaghs I was able to find considerable early information. A militia list from1806, only 8 years after the rising of 1798 contains only a few Kavanagh names. However, there may be significant reasons for this paucity as outlined below.

Militias have been present in Ireland since 1666 during war tensions with France. However, these militias, often raised by Protestant aristocracy, tended to be intermittent phenomena, being seen as necessary in time of crisis. However, in 1793 a full time force within the British Isles, was instituted in conjunction with increasing tensions with post-revolutionary France. Although, initially compulsory, it became voluntary after large scale unrest. The officers were nearly all Protestant but the ranks were overwhelmingly Catholic. By 1797 reports of significant influence by the Defenders and United Irishmen (both revolutionary organizations in the eyes of the establishment) led to court martials and executions. It was reported generally that the militias performed adequately against the 1798 insurgents. However, there certainly were significant defections in various areas. There were also somewhat paradoxical confrontations. For example in Wexford the North Cork Militia (supporting the government), made up of a major proportion of Irish speaking native Irish, clashed with the Wexford insurgents whose leadership included several well known Protestants who were allied with the United Irishmen.

The Yeomanry, on the other hand, was a relatively recent arrival on the scene. It was organized in Ireland about 1797 to counter the United Irishmen and Catholic defenders. Its officers were Protestant and the rank and file overwhelmingly Protestant. It was also often closely allied with the “Orange Order” and “Orange Lodges” (Protestant political society commemorating the Victory of William of Orange at the Battle of the Boyne but whose aim was to maintain the English/Protestant hegemony in Ireland). The Yeoman were often used to police the local populace which accounts for ballads springing from the 1798 rising which make special mention of the cruelty of some of the Yeoman units.

In South Carlow the Borris Kavanaghs were the landlords over the majority of land in St. Mullin’s Barony as well as some land in the south of Idrone East Barony. Generally up until the 1790’s the Kavanaghs had been apparently been regarded in a generally positive fashion by their Irish tenants. The Kavanaghs leased their land to middlemen (several of whom were Kavanaghs who had lost their land earlier in conflicts of 1690 or 1641) who in turn sub-let the land to sub-tenants. The middlemen might lease several hundred acres and then sublet it to tenants who held as little as an acre although this system changed after 1798.

Many of the Kavanaghs served in the area militia although it would appear that none of them, except possibly the Borris Kavanaghs, served as officers. There was a slowly building discontent in the period of time prior to 1798. Contemporary court papers from Carlow note the arrest of one James Kavanagh for seditious activities in near St Mullins.

When the insurrection broke out there were three major actions in South Carlow. The Wexford insurgents crossed the Scullough Gap and marched through Knockroe and past Rathanna (through the area behind a Catholic Chapel (the present church dates from a later time). They then engaged the English forces (probably primary the Yeomanry) near Killedmond. There were two attacks on Borris House itself. The first of these occurred on May 24, 1798. These insurgents were probably, to some degree, local and certainly included some Kavanaghs, but they were driven off by a Yeomanry force led by a Captain Kavanagh, likely of the Borris family. It is reported that there were 50 killed and wounded. Finally on June 12, 1798, the insurgents from Vinegar Hill in Wexford seeking arms and ammunition, attacked Borris House again, possibly with the aide of local rebels, but were repulsed by elements of the Donegal Militia.

We know of three Kavanaghs were active among the insurgents in South Carlow. Their “Colonel” was a Morgan Kavanagh, merchant, of St Mullins. He is described by Thomas Kavanagh of Borris in a contemporary letter as being a relative and Thomas complains that he had done many favors for Morgan including loaning him money. Morgan’s ultimate fate is unknown. Another Kavanagh implicated (perhaps wrongly) in the insurrection was Maurice Kavanagh of Drumin who was denounced to the authorities by his stepmother (perhaps hoping to gain material advantage for her own son). He was ultimately hanged. This episode was the subject of a popular novel of the early 1900’s entitled “Shadow on the Scaffold”. Finally, James Kavanagh was sentenced to transportation for his part in the insurrection. There were other Kavanaghs who were active in the struggle of 1798 but these three are the ones that current evidence identifies.

The following extract of South Carlow Kavanaghs has been copied from a Carlow Militia list of 1806. The official criteria for enrolment were “Fit and Proper to Serve”. It would be extremely unlikely that the authorities would want to train or to put weapons in the hands of those who were deemed unreliable. However, it seems unlikely that the authorities could know for certain where a recruits sympathies lie, despite the activities of informers. So we should take this list in context. It clearly would not contain the names of men whose families were known sympathizers to the insurgents of 1798, certainly would not contain anyone who was active with the insurgents but might include men whose real sympathies simply could not be known. Also, by this time service was voluntary. For all of these reasons the militia list was simply not a systematic census of militia age males. The lists that were available covered only St Mullins Barony (Lower) and Kiltennel (Civil) Parish. There were no lists available for other areas of South Carlow. The list would probably contain the names of men from about age 18 to about 55. Although, there are a number of Kavanaghs serving in the militia the numbers are relatively small.

By 1806 there were perhaps 70-80 or more Kavanagh families in St Mullins Barony that contained perhaps 150 or more Kavanagh men of militia age. We find 21 Kavanaghs serving. However, in the Kiltennel Parish list the percentages are even less. Here we are talking about 20 or so Kavanagh families with somewhere around 30-40 men of militia age which yielded a single Kavanagh serving. Does this, in some way reflect the fact that Kiltennel Parish was less influenced by the Borris Kavanaghs since most of the land was owned by non local landlords such as the Bagenals of Bagnelstown and the Earl of Courtown (in Wexford).? On the other hand nearly all of St Mullins belonged to the Borris Kavanaghs.

St. Mullins Barony (Lower) Militia List-1806 (Kavanagh extracts)

Lissalican Greg K
James ? K
Darby K.
Patt K.
Ballybrack Peter K.
Ballyglishen Murtha K
Inch Garrett K
Lawrence K
Rocksavage Dennis K.
Garrett K.
Dragna Phillip K
Ballyling Charles K
Ballycrinnigan Patt K.
Charles K.
Turra James (or Patt) K.
Ballyknock(vicar) Christopher K. (miller?)
Ballyknock Morgan K.
Bauk Thomas K.
Bahanna Bryan K.
Charles K.
Patt K.

Kiltennel Civil Parish Militia List (Kavanagh extracts)

Raheendarragh Charles K.

I would like to acknowledge the major assistance of Michael Purcell of Carlow.


1) The Oxford Companion to Irish History, S. J. Connolly, editor, Oxford University Press, 1998 2) County Carlow Tombstone Inscriptions, St Mullins Muintir Na Tire, Vol. 2 &3, 1985 & 1986