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Clann Gathering Memories

As a child, growing up in Baltimore, Maryland, I remember hearing the stories from my Grandmother, Ella, and my Great Aunt Rose.  They told of how their Mother, Margaret Cavanagh, came to America from Ireland at age 16 to work as a domestic for a wealthy family in New York. They talked of Greencastle where she was born and relatives back in Ireland, in New York, and in Philadelphia. There was nothing in writing, no documents of any kind, no dates to reference, just verbal history of a woman who died when my own Mother was only 8 years old. These were wonderful stories that always fascinated me and I dreamed that some day I would go to this wonderful place called Ireland. But as the generations passed away so did any connection to the relatives and to the past from which we came. All that remained were the memories of stories once told and a few old photographs of people we didn't know. The Irish have such a gift for storytelling but, as we all know, the stories are often embellished in the telling until they may become as much fiction as fact.

Fifteen years ago, in 1989, my dream came true when my Mom and I went to Ireland for the first time. We did not get to Innishowen to see Greencastle on that trip. By then, we weren't sure how much of what we remembered was true and how much was simply a figment of childhood fascination. However, it did inspire me to start a serious search into whom I was and where I came from. Unfortunately, Margaret "Maggie" Cavanagh was not exactly truthful when it came to telling her age. None of the marriage certificates ("Maggie" outlived three husbands) or U.S. census records were in synch. Thus, I hit a very large 'brick wall' in my research efforts.

It was not until early in 2001, when a man from Philadelphia called my Mom in search of family connections here in Baltimore, that the 'brick wall' began to crumble. The man, Dennis Harkins, turned out to be a cousin whose great-Grandmother was sister to my great-Grandmother. Dennis put me in touch with another cousin in Derry (Margaret Daly) who contacted another cousin in Greencastle (Paddy Kelly) who contacted another cousin in Scotland (Father Charlie Cavanagh) who sent me a letter introducing himself.  From that moment on, our small Baltimore family tree (more twig than tree) of not quite three pages grew to an unbelievable 22 pages and is still growing. In the summer of 2001, my Mom and I had the pleasure of meeting Father Charlie when he was visiting cousins in the U.S. and we were invited to a gathering of the New York/Connecticut Cavanagh's.

Last year when we found out about the Clan Gathering 2004, my Mom, two sisters ('Honey' and Kathy), and I decided that it would be a wonderful adventure to attend. It would be the first time in many years that the four of us had done something without spouses and children. Thus, almost a full year of planning began --- airline tickets, accommodations, registration for the Gathering, car rental, and in the final days before the trip, what to pack!

We arrived three days before the Gathering actually started and utilized that time to get settled into our self-catering cottage in the beautiful village of Graignamanagh (which I must admit, none of us had a clue how to pronounce until we got there and asked). We also did day-trips to Waterford and Kilkenny and places in between since none of us had ever before been to the Southeast part of Ireland. We all admitted to being a little apprehensive about the Gathering, who we would meet, and what we would do. To our delight, the apprehension was totally unfounded. Besides meeting up with Father Charlie Cavanagh (a second meeting for Mom and me but a first for my two sisters), we also met our cousin Cathal Cavanagh for the very first time.  It was as if we had known the two of them all our lives.

Thanks to Charlie and Cathal, we knew of the DNA testing. However, the impact of what that represented for us as part of the Innishowen Cavanagh's was not fully appreciated until we arrived at the Gathering and  began to better understand the history of Clann C/Kavanagh. Talking with the many Clan members who have long studied the C/Kavanagh's and their place in history was almost overwhelming. You must understand that the average American speaks of national history in terms of only a couple hundred years. So standing on the very ground our ancestors once occupied many hundreds of years ago was a profound experience.  There, in that previous unknown place, we came to the realization of who we were and where we came from.

If that wasn't thrill enough for the four Maryland 'girls', we also met some of the most interesting and delightful people from all over the world. By the end of the four day Gathering, we were exchanging e-mail addresses with many.

We are most grateful to the folks that did so much to organize the Clan Gathering 2004, for those who welcomed us so very warmly into the Clan, and for the many new "cousins" we met and will always remember. Thank you. 

Jane Smith - Maryland.


Clann Gathering 2004 - Index