For Jim

“Jungle Jim” before the West Wing of Borris House 2006

James F. Cavanaugh was many things to many people over the course of a long life rich in experiences. We, of Clann Chaomhánach, know him as “Monasterevin Jim”, and later “Jungle Jim”, where both are terms of honor for a man who is recognized and esteemed by thousands, or perhaps tens of thousands, of our family living around the globe.

As an avid historian and genealogist, Jim joined Clann Chaomhánach in late 1993. His personal reasons for joining are lost in history, for he quickly became very deeply involved in other activities to generate membership, and to develop the credentials necessary to qualify for national and provincial grants. The problem was survival. Our association lived from newsletter to newsletter, and was essentially carried on the backs of a very few people. Jim, right from the beginning, was one of those few. This was immediately recognized, for he was the third chief of Clann Chaomhánach, but the first chief actually elected by the membership in open ballot at a Gathering.

He was brought aboard the Executive Committee and, of course, a little time was devoted to identifying the perfect title for his new office, that of the Clann Chief Herald. This reflected what he saw as his own personal area of interest in family history. However, nobody, not even Jim, was able to reconcile activities like a “Bard of Ferns” or “Queen of the Clan” competition, or conducting a “Battle of Ferns” or “Battle of Ballymoon” re-enactment, with the responsibilities normally associated with a Clann Chief Herald. Therefore, in that practical approach so typical of Jim, he just rewrote the job description and carried on. Most of the Clann activities over the years bear the hallmarks of his planning or participation. Each and every one has expanded the scope of our known family history.

Jim broke trail in another direction. He was brought on to the Board of Directors of Clans of Ireland in 1994, and was Chairman of the Board of Directors of Clans of Ireland in 1995. We have maintained a seat on that Board since then, and this too has been influenced by Jim. He disliked board cliques being allowed to form, and actively fostered including as many interested and willing participants as could be found. Jim was open and straightforward in his dealings with others. You always knew where you stood, for he would tell you. Because of the sheer scope and volume, it is impossible to list Jim’s activities and accomplishments over the past 15 years. Suffice to say that it is unmatched. Clann Chaomhánach has awarded Jim every possible recognition and honor known to our association, and he has earned and deserves each and every one. I propose to award one more, to retire the Office of Clann Chief Herald as one final honor in his memory. He was, and should remain, the only Clann Chief Herald of Clann Chaomhánach.

It is typical of Jim to put his own personal items on hold to help others or to promote a common goal. Perhaps the best known of Jim’s personal projects is his book about the history of the Caomhánachs. Jim was writing his book when he enrolled in the Clann in late 1993, and when I last spoke with him in May 2008, he was still writing his book, for it apparently always had a lesser priority than helping someone else with something else. I have read close to 200 pages of his draft and found it – like all of his writing – lively, interesting and a great read. Perhaps it will be possible to assemble the sections he finished and complete his work. I hope so, for that would be one small way of saying thank you, in a manner that I believe he would appreciate.

If life is a canvas, then Jim painted in bold colors, with a large brush, and a twinkle in his eye. Anyone who has encountered him has distinct memories of him. That is a very fine thing to say about a man, for it means that he has made a difference. Most certainly, there now is a huge void in our family, that once was Jim. We must overcome and close that void in his honor, for he would have wanted that.

Caomhánach Abú!

My last memory of him is a comment he made during our last conversation:
“(Life) … it has been a great ride!”

James J. Kavanagh,
Chief of Clann Chaomhánach 2006-2008