Recorded as Cavenagh, Cavanagh, Kavanagh and the short forms Cavan and Caven, this is an Irish surname. It derives from the pre 10th century Old Gaelic personal name "Caomhanach", meaning "born handsome". The first namebearer was Donal Caomhanch, the son of Diarmuid Mac Murrough, a 12th century King of Leinster. He was sent by his father to be educated at Kill Caomhan, or St. Kevin's Church, in County Wexford. Interestingly this is one of the very few Gaelic Irish surnames never to have had the prefix Mac meaning "son of" or O', "the descendant of".The territory of the clan lay in the counties of Carlow and Wexford, and the name is still most widespread in that part of South East Leinster. A famous namebearer was Art Kavanagh, the companion of Hugh O'Neill in his dramatic escape from Dublin Castle in 1590. Amongst the many emigrants fleeing the infamous Potato Famine of 1846 - 1848 was Patrick Cavan on the ship "Ward-Chipman" bound for New York on August 12th 1846, and Michael Caven on the ship "Roscius", also heading for New York, on October 12th 1846. The first recorded spelling of the family name is shown to be that of Art Mac Murrough Kavanagh, King of Leinster, which was dated 1376 - 1417, in the records of the province of Leinster", during the reign of King Richard 11nd of England, 1377 - 1399.
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