The Long Road To Borris And Gathering Thoughts
The first time I attended a Clann Gathering was in 1996 at Ferns in County Wexford. I had become a member earlier that year after seeing an item about Irish Clans in a weekly newspaper in New Jersey. Upon joining I learned that the bi-annual Gathering was scheduled for September. Why not, I thought? I hadn’t been in Ireland since 1953 when I was a young G.I. stationed in West Germany. Why not combine a visit to my relatives with a visit to my "cousins" in the Clann? So we sandwiched the Clann meeting between family visits in Dublin and Cobh. We had a wonderful time and met some wonderful people on Friday and Saturday, but we had to skip Sunday's festivities to meet family in Waterford City.
I’ve been back to Ireland several times since 1996, but there was always a reason why I couldn’t make another Gathering; grandchildren who had to be back home in time for school openings or vacation schedules.
Well 2004 was different. The grandchildren had gotten to see Ireland. Now I had a computer and knew all about what was going to happen at the Gathering. I had even exchanged some email with Celia, Jimmy, Fergus and "Jungle Jim." It was going to be like getting together with old friends. This time it wouldn’t be a two day stop-over. We were going to sign-up for the full treatment. No half-a-loaf Gathering for us - it was all or nothing. We plunked down our money for both the Hy Kinsella History Conference and the Clann Gathering at historic Borris House.
Hell, we even knew where Borris House was. In late August 2003, while driving from Cobh to Dublin, we made a side-trip to visit Kavanagh's Bar in Borris. It had been featured on the Clann website and was reported to have an interesting Kavanagh family tree on display in the Lounge. That was reason enough to make the detour to Borris. Over lunch we talked with the barman about the display and he told us that a "mature" gentleman with a white beard and his niece visited the bar in July to see the family tree. Yes, you guessed it! An email to Belize confirmed that it was Jungle Jim and his grand-niece, Laci Chisum. On our way out of town we couldn’t help but notice the extensive walled estate on the left hand side of the road and that the entrance to the estate was a big red door. Later in the year, when we heard that the Gathering was to be held at Borris House, we knew the significance of the long wall and that we would have no trouble finding The "big red door" again.
We arrived in Dublin on Sunday, September 19th and, after claiming our luggage and picking-up a rental car, we headed off for Grafton Street to do a little shopping. We eventually ended up in St. Stephen's Green Shopping Centre where we had a light lunch to bolster us for the trip to Carlow. The journey went smoothly and we arrived at our B&B (Picture #1) in the village of Royal Oak , about 7 miles from Borris, around 4PM to find no one was at home. No owners, no guests, no barking dog,….no nothing.
What do you do when you can't get into your B&B and you have to answer the call of nature? You jump into your car and head back up the road for about a mile to a pub you had seen – The Royal Oak. After business had been attended to I spoke to the barman (seems I do a lot of that) about our problem and he suggested that we check with the folks at the B&B across the road from ours. He said, “they're good friends of your people and should be able to help you.” So it was back down the road to see the folks next door.
The young lady who answered our ring said she would call our hosts and let them know we had arrived. After a few minutes she came back and told us that the owners were on their way back home from Wicklow, in the meantime she would open the door and let us into the house. Once inside, she got our room key and helped us get squared away. I swear it wasn’t fifteen minutes - we had just started to make ourselves a cup of tea in the sitting room - when a station wagon pulled up and four people got out; came up to the door and rang the bell. Naturally we greeted them and invited them in. It turned out they were vacationers from England who had booked three rooms. Well now, we were old hands at this game, so I ran across the road and got the young lady to do the honours again. We all sat down and had a cuppa and a good laugh. Our hosts arrived in another hour and apologized profusely; they expected that all of us would arrive much later than we actually did. No problem - everything ended well. In a little while it was out for a bite, back to the B&B, a quick look at the TV an early to bed in order to be ready for the big day - Monday and the start of the festivities.
The next seven days were a whirlwind mixture of history, receptions, reports, tours, entertainment, conversations, meals-on-the-run and ceilis. The week could be compared to a hurricane – Hurricane Chaomhánach. The first three days were a tempest of Historical proportions and then came the eye of the storm - Thursday, a sleep-late day, when the Clann Executive Committee held their meetings and prepared for the final three days of the week - a Gathering storm of committee reports, tours and entertainment culminating in the inauguration of the new Clann Chief on Sunday at St. Mullins.
On Monday, the Hy Kinsella History Conference II was opened by our gracious host Andrew Kavanagh who regaled us with a talk entitled, “The History of Borris House.” (Picture #2) Andrew's presentation took us behind the scenes of a “Big House” as he gave us insights into how and when it was built. He revealed little known information about how religion, politics, the land and borrowing power played critical roles in the efforts of his ancestors to preserve their ownership of Borris House. His story, together with a later tour of his home, gave us a rare view of this branch of the Kavanagh Family and set the mood for the lectures that would follow.
In the next three days we were treated to talks on a variety of subjects such as, “Local Folklore of the Rower,” “Early Irish Brehon Law,” “History of Tinnahinch” and “The Barony of Gowran,” to name a few. The History Conference covered an enormously wide spectrum of subjects. We went from Irish Slaves to Irish Kings and hit nearly everything in between. There was an outpouring of information on such subjects as, “Inter-Tribal Genealogy of the Leinstermen,” “Evolution of the Kavanagh Clann,” “The River Barrow Archaeological Aerial Survey,” and my favourite title of all, “Anglo-Norman Sub-infeudation in Ui Cheinsellaig.” Don't get me wrong, I absolutely loved every minute of it. I'm a history junkie and they had me hooked. I tried to take notes on everything, but couldn’t keep up with the pace; so I just sat back and did my best to soak up every wonderful minute.
I got a big kick out of Jungle Jim's musical chimes that signalled the end of the time allotted to each speaker. When the chimes went off, every lecturer, to a person, feigned surprise and then, quite nonchalantly, proceeded on as if nothing had happened. I guess you could look at it as "injury time" in a soccer match, but it sure messed up Jim's time schedule. ( Picture # 3)
In the end, I mentally made what I considered an MVP (Most Vivacious Presentation) award for the best- presented subject. Actually it was a tie between Dr. James Cavanaugh, our ubiquitous Jungle Jim, for his treatise on "Irish Slavery" and Kenneth Nichols, (Picture # 4) the picture of the quintessential eccentric professor, for his dissertation on “Late Medieval Leinster.” They each did a marvelous job in telling an interesting story.
I only had one disappointment; early on I noted that there would be a talk entitled, “DNA and the History of Ireland.” Well now, I thought, that's an interesting subject, but it turned out that our guest could not make it. I really wanted to hear what he had to say. Hopefully, the Clann can line him up for the next go-round.
For me the History Conference was a full and rewarding experience and I was very pleased to hear that we won't have to wait another eight years for the next one. I understand it is quite possible the Clann will sponsor another one in conjunction with the 2006 Gathering. I for one will be making early reservations.
And then came Thursday and we were in the Eye of the Storm and, as everyone knows, the calm doesn't last too long. But at least we were able to sleep a little later and our friendly hosts at the B&B even fixed us a late breakfast. How good can it get? Before we knew it, it was back to Borris House for the Clann Chaomhánach Gathering Reception at 7:30PM.
This reception was quite a bit larger than the one held on Monday night. Many more "cousins" arrived on Thursday and were now on board. It was now a world-wide affair with origins as far away as New Zealand, Australia and Burma. It is my feeling that the receptions are just about the best event that the Clann arranges. At the end of the day it was so relaxing in the softly lit Great Hall of Borris House. There is nothing like standing before the warm fireplace or sitting quietly with a glass of wine conversing with friends. (Pictures # 5-6-7) These receptions bring us all together on a personal level. In the Great Hall it's all about individuals. Not that the lectures, tours and entertainment aren’t enjoyable, but these moments are different. The fast-paced days are balanced by them. They engender the warm feelings of comradeship that are priceless.
After the evening reception the pace was right back up there on Friday. Chartered buses took us to The Rower, The Barrow Valley, Duiske Abbey and Graiguennamagh for tours conducted by local historians. The group split up for lunches at The Anchor and Duiske Inn. The evening's entertainment was held at the The Anchor and was sponsored by the Duiske 800 Committee. Great step dancers and absolutely fabulous musicians & singers. (Pictures 8 & 9) The non-stop day ended just before midnight and then we made the long drive back to our B&B where we collapsed into bed shortly before 1AM.
In retrospect, I feel that our unscheduled visit to the Marymount National School on Friday morning was, arguably, the highlight of the day. The thoroughly entertaining concert by the children was a great surprise. It was so much fun taking their pictures and talking to them and their teacher, Katherine Doyle. (Pictures # 10 & 11) Their enthusiasm was infectious and had us snapping shots like mad. We spoke with their teacher Mrs. Doyle who gave us her address and we will be sending her a big fat envelope full of pictures so she can choose some that will be posted on the class bulletin board. The whole visit can be described in one word - heart-warming.
On Saturday we caught another break after the long day on Friday. Since we had already toured Borris House during the History Conference and our genealogy work schedule was already set with visits to the National Library, National Archives and the General Register Office in Dublin for later in the week, we didn’t arrive at the Gathering until 4:30PM and the start of the General Meeting which was chaired by the outgoing Chief, Celia Kavanagh Boylan. Fergus reported on the Clann's financial state and asked for assistance in contacting individuals whose memberships had lapsed. “German Jim” advised us that the Executive Committee had tabled their discussions on DNA testing. New Business items were discussed and “German Jim” was nominated to be Chief of the Clann in 2006. At the end of the meeting, Jungle Jim presented Eva Buhler (Picture #12) with a special award for outstanding service to the Clann. No award was more deserved - Eva was there every day working in the background making sure that refreshments were available for all the members during the breaks. Her contributions to the meetings were loudly applauded by all. Thanks, Eva!
Without a doubt, Saturday's high point was the celebration of the Vigil Mass by Father Charlie in the chapel of Borris House. For many of those in attendance it was a time for deep introspection and great feelings of thankfulness as this was the first Mass celebrated in the chapel in, I believe, nearly two centuries. I heartily recommend that everyone read “Clann Gathering Memories,” authored by Father Charles Cavanagh. It is available on the website.
Saturday ended with another reception and a ceili in the Great Hall. It was a memorable evening of comradeship, music, singing, dancing and refreshments. It was probably after my first glass of wine that I started to think about the request made by Fergus earlier in the day for help with lapsed memberships. A little later, with the second glass of wine warming my usually cold heart, I approached Fergus, put my arm around his shoulders and told him, “Fergus, I'm your man, I will help you.” (God Help Me!) So, if there are any readers of this article out there who are lapsed or former members of the Clann , please get in touch with Fergus via the website and renew your membership. If you do, Fergus will be very happy to hear from you, and even better, I won’t have to do any work! Also, if you're not a lapsed member and are just new to this website, Fergus would be very happy to hear from you too! I think if we all try, we can make Fergus the happiest man in Dublin.
Sunday was Inauguration Day and would probably be the busiest day of the week. Our charter buses left from the Borris Gatehouse at 9AM for Pulmonty and a quick photo call at Montgarrett Castle. Then we were on to New Ross for a tour of the emigrant ship, the Dunbrody (Picture # 13) The Dunbrody is a must see for anyone visiting or passing through New Ross. It was amazing to see and hear of the unbelievable hardships that Irish people faced when they made the six to seven week trip to America during the mid-nineteenth century.
On a much lighter note, our next stop, still in New Ross, was the very popular Galley Cruising Restaurant. (Picture # 14) We all took off on a cruise up the River Barrow and had the pleasure of being served lunch onboard the cruise launch. I highly recommend the Roast Chicken Supreme with White Wine Sauce accompanied by boiled New Potatoes. And for those not dieting, try the Galley Lemon Cheesecake for dessert.
Around 2:30PM, we boarded our buses to St. Mullins for the inauguration of Gary Cavanaugh of Stockton, California as Clann Chief for 2004-2006. This was THE highlight of the Gathering. The Inauguration Ceremony was adapted directly from the ancient ritual described in the Irish Annals and is the same that was used in inaugurating the first of our name, Donal Caomhánach. The ceremony took place on the hill overlooking St. Mullins Cemetery which is adjacent to the historic site of St. Moling's Monastery.
For the inauguration, Gary, his wife Sylvia and daughter Tara and many of the ceremony's participants wore colorful medieval costumes, adding to the festiveness of the occasion. With his family and Clann members looking on, Gary received the seal, the wand and the cup that symbolize his position as Chief of Clann Chaomhánach. The Chief and his retinue then proceeded to the grave site of Art Mac Murrough (d.1417) on the grounds of St. Moling's Monastery where he placed the traditional wreath on the great leader's grave. The Inauguration Ceremony was now complete. Later that evening the entire Clann would regroup at the Lord Bagenal Inn in Leighlinbridge for the Traditional Feast that would bring the 2004 Gathering to a close.
(A series of outstanding photographs of the Inauguration Ceremony can be seen on this website.)
Afterward: On Monday morning we checked out of our B&B and made the short drive to Borris to bid farewell to “the big red door.” It was now closed, but it will re-open for us all once again when the Clann gathers at Borris House in 2006.
Owen Kavanagh - New Jersey.