County, Town, and Village

The name CAVAN is an anglicisation of the Gaelic "An Cabhan" meaning "The Hollow Place". The western half, formerly called Breffni O’Reilly, was originally part of Connacht.

Co. Cavan is located in the north midlands and borders Fermanagh, Monaghan, Meath, Westmeath, Leitrim & Longford. It's known as "The Lake County" and the reason for this is obvious as Cavan has over 365 lakes, that's one for every day of the year! As well as this abundance of lakes the two largest rivers in Ireland also rise in Co. Cavan, the Shannon & the Erne. The Shannon rises in the Shannon Pot high in the Cuilcagh Mountains above Blacklion in the west of the county, and the Erne has it's source in Lough Gowna in the north of the county.

A large part of the Shannon - Erne waterway also cuts through Cavan. This is the canal that links the navigable part of the Shannon to that of the Erne.

However there's more to Cavan than just water. The other main feature is the drumlins, which cover most of the county. There are a multitude of small and winding back roads and trails between these. The Cuilcagh Mountains cover the west of the county.

Cavan also has a wealth of history associated with it. There are many traces remaining of ancient features such as ringforts, crannogs, dolmens etc. as well as many buildings from the more recent past. There are monastic remains as well as old towers & castles.

William Bedell in the early 1600s, described Cavan as "consisting altogether of hills, very steep and high, valleys between them being most commonly loughs and bogs". Many of the lakes and bogs from Bedells time have been drained and are now dry land but central Cavan remains a land of little hills and lakes.

A Typical Cavan Landscape
A Typical Cavan Landscape

In the medieval era it was know as Brefnie O’Reilly after it’s ruling Gaelic family, the O’Reillys. The O’Reillys retained a high degree of independence by using the Cavan landscape as a natural defence.

Urban Cavan

Cavan Town

The Coat of Arms of County CavanThe urban heart of this area is the County town of Cavan, with today a population of about 5,200. Formerly it was the seat of the rulers of east Breifne, the O’Reilly’s.

Historically Cavan is an unusual town. It was Ireland’s only medieval Gaelic town. It was founded in the 1300s when the O’Reillys transferred their principal seat from Clogh Oughter castle, in Lough Oughter to a new castle on Tullymongan hill. In the valley below the castle the town of Cavan grew. In the 1400s it was a thriving market town. It was burned in 1429 by the Normans of Meath, and the Clan Mahon O’Reillys. In 1468 it was again burned, this time by the English Lord Deputy Tiptoft, Earl of Worcester.


The name is an anglicisation of the Gaelic "Beal Tairbeirt (The Ford of the Surrender)". According to Slaters Directory 1846, the name Belturbet is derived from the Irish ‘Beal Tairbert’ meaning "Mouth of the Isthmus".

A respectable and neat market town, it is 77 miles NW from Dublin, 18 W. from Cootehill, 15 NNW from Cavan, 11 SW from Clones and about 8 N from Killeshandra; pleasantly seated on the banks of the Erne.

It was described some 200 years ago by John Wesley as having ‘Sabbath-breakers, drunkards, and common swearers in abundance’.


A View of the village of BallyhaiseBallyhaise is 7 km north-east of Cavan Town. The name means ‘Haye’s Town’ and seems to be associated with O’Reillys. It is today little more than a cluster of houses strung along a through road. It has a small hall, a couple of shops, a pub (of course), and a church. It is on the banks of the Annalee River.

One of the village Churches is Anglican, and falls within the Castleterra Parish. It was built in 1665 and re-built in 1820. Neat and tidy, although aging, it has been the local church for the Mulligans of the area for quite some time. Headstones marking the burial sites of a number of Mulligans are in the yard, those of Francis (died 1889) and his wife Sophia among them.

Window in the Church in BallyhaiseThere is, just within the door, a memorial to the Mulligan Family, as the donors of the doors. Lining the walls are a number of memorials to various members of the Humphrys family, local notables of the district. It was into the Humphrys family that Sophia was born. She married Francis Mulligan in 1847.

Most notable of all, is the feature stained-glass window behind the altar. Donated by the Humphrys family, it forms a striking back-drop for the conduct of services.

The Family homeMulligans have a strong association, not only with the church, but with the district as a whole. In about 1820 there appear to have been eight related Mulligan families all attending the Ballyhaise church.

The family ‘home’, known as Regaskin, is to be found a few short kilometres from the village on the road to Cavan town. It is currently owned and occupied by direct descendants of Francis Mulligan and Sophia Humphrys, buried in Ballyhaise Church. Just on the other side of the village is a farm called Lisnashanna, today occupied by Robert Mulligan, also descended from Francis and Sophia.

A second storey was added to the house in 1917, during the building of which 3 brothers from New Zealand visited and stayed for a few days in the roofless house, despite other accommodation having been arranged for them. These ‘colonial boys’ were tough!!