“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
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
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