History of the McGovern Name

The Clan Mag Shamhráin were hereditary chiefs of the barony of Tullyhaw [Teallach Eachdhach] in West Cavan from c, 1,100 A.D. until the early 17th. Century. The area they ruled over stretched from Ballymagovern, near Ballyconnell to the north-western extremity of present-day County Cavan at Blacklion – an area of over a hundred and forty square miles. Teallach Eachdhach means the family of Eachdhach, from whom the clan claim descent.

Another ancestor was Samhradhán, after whom the clan took its name. Other versions of the name found today include Mc Gurrin, Gurn, Mc Gowran, and Summers. The standard Gaelic spelling of the name today is Mac Samhráin, but the older Mag Shamhráin is more phonetically correct – as is the anglicised Magauran.

The Mag Shamhráins were sub-chieftains to the O’Rourkes of West Breifne, and later to the O’Reillys of East Breifne but for much of this period appear to have been autonomous, paying tribute to neither but diplomatically shifting allegiance in the ongoing power struggle between these two powerful clans. Alliances were forged with other Gaelic and Norman families through marriage, thus strengthening the power and prestige of the Mag Shamhráins and consolidating their independence. The Duanaire Mhig Shamhráin [Book of the Magauran], a 14th. Century manuscript written by Ruairí Ó Cianáin, now in the National Library gives a fascinating account of the Magauran chieftains and of life in mediaeval Gaelic Ireland. It contains 44 pages and 32 poems, many of which praise the hospitality and valour of the Magauran chieftains. It was commissioned by Tomás Mag Shamhráin – chief of Tullyhaw from 1303 to 1343. Tomás’ father Brian Bréagach had set up a bardic school at the foot of the Cuilcagh Mountains towards the end of the 13th. Century. The reputation of the Magaurans as patrons of the arts was legendary in Gaelic Ireland. The Annals of the Four Masters records the death in 1393 of Farrell Mac Gauran, Chief of Teallach Eachdhach – ‘ a man of lavish hospitality towards the literati.’

There are numerous references in the Annals of the Four Masters to the Magaurans from the early 13th. Century to the end of the 16th. Century. The earliest for the year 1220 refers to the killing of of Farrell Magauran by Hugh, son of Donnell, son of Farrell O’Rourke and the Clann Fearmaighe. The entries for the next four hundred years record a history of petty warfare between the Magaurans and their nearest neighbours – the O’Reillys, the O’Rourkes, the Mc Tiernans and the emerging Maguires of Fermanagh – alliances changing as the occasion demanded. The chief stronghold of the Magaurans at Ballymagovern was burned by the Maguires in 1431, 1455, and 1459 and by the O’Reillys in 1485 but on the latter occasion the O’Reillys were pursued and defeated by Felim Magauran. Ballymagovern was again burned by the Maguires in 1498.

There are also numerous references to internecine conflict among the Magaurans [ usually over succession to the chieftainship ] in both the Annals of the Four Masters and the Annals of Loch Cé, In the latter an entry for the year 1272 records the killing of Donnchadh by his brother Tomás, while in 1496 Domhnall Bearnach Mag Shamhráin, chief of Teallach Eachdhach was slain before the altar of the church of Teampall a’ Phoirt by Tadhg, son of Aodh, son of Eoin Mag Shamhráin. This internecine conflict was commonplace in mediaeval Gaelic Ireland.

The Magauran hegemony over all of Tullyhaw continued right down until Elizabethan times although the centre of power seems to have shifted westward, the death of Cobhthach Ruadh MagShamhráin of the Largin [ Killinagh] being recorded in the annals for the year 1581. The death of another Cobhthach Ruadh in battle against the English under Sir George Bingham is recorded for the year 1593. Possibly the last chief of Tullyhaw elected was Tyrelaghe Magauran [Torlach Mag Shamhráin] of the Largin who is referred to in a deed of composition between Sir John Perrot. Lord Deputy General of Ireland and other local chieftains in 1585. Perhaps his stronghold was the castle of Inis Ochta [now called Port Island] on Upper Lough Mac Nean, referred to in the Annals of the Four Master for the year 1499, the foundations of which still stand.

The Magaurans lost most of their lands in the Ulster Plantation although a Felim McGawran was granted 1,000 acres and a few others were granted small amounts. The Magaurans did not disappear quietly however. Many of them, including Cathal, Domhnall, Feidhlim, Giolla na Naomh and Torlach Óg were at the the forefront of the 1641 – ’42 rebellion in Cavan when many of the planter strongholds and castles were attacked, while the Magaurans also fought under Owen Roe O’Neill at the victory of Benburb in 1646. After the ensuing Cromwellion wars and the final crushing of the Gaelic chieftains the Magaurans regrouped in the mountain fastnesses around Glangevlin [still referred to as the ‘Kingdom of Glan’],The lands of Glangevlin were not confiscated until more than a century later. Here the Magaurans continued to hold sway defiantly, electing a king and sometimes a queen in the townland of Moneensauran and administering the old Brehon Laws and system of land tenure. The last elected king and queen of Glan were Peter and his sister Elizabeth Magauran of Moneensauran in 1815. Many of the old Gaelic customs and practices however continued and the Gaelic language was spoken in Glangevlin until the middle of the 20th. Century – the last ’Gaeltacht’ area in Cavan, and indeed in all of Bréifne.

There are still the remnants of Magauran castles to be be seen at Ballymagovern, 3.5 miles south of Bawnboy and on Port Island [Inis Ochta] in Upper Lough Mac Nean. The latter is now covered in dense scrub but the small island can be seen from the N.16. road approximately 3.5 miles west of Blacklion. The Magaurans had numerous other strongholds or forts – e.g. Lissanover [Lios an Uabhair], Derrycasson [Doire an Chasáin], Cúl an Ghuaire and Glangevlin. Many of them, including their chiefs and churchmen are buried on St. Mogue’s Island in Templeport Lake, at nearby Kilnavart and at Killinagh Old cemetery by the shores of Upper Lough Mac Nean.

The majority of the clergy of the parishes and abbeys of Tullyhaw were Magaurans during mediaeval times. In Gaelic Ireland church office was often passed on from father to son. As well as being prominent at local level many Magauran clergymen achieved higher office. In 1444 Cormac Magauran of Drumlane Abbey was appointed Bishop of Ardagh, but resigned in 1467. In 1581 Edmund Magauran became Bishop of Ardagh and in 1587 he was appointed Archbishop of Armagh by Pope Sixtus V1. He then visited Spain acting as a sort of religious / political ambassador seeking military aid from King Philip 11. Returning to Ireland he visited the Ulster chieftains urging them to defend their lands and religion. In 1593 he accompanied Maguire of Fermanagh into Connacht but was killed by the forces of Sir Richard Bingham near Tulsk in Roscommon.

Another Magauran primate was Eugene Mac Gauran, who is recorded as Archbishop of Dublin in 1621 and Primate of Ireland. Another important Magauran clergyman was Dr. James Magauran, who was born in Moneensauran in 1769. He studied in Salamanca and became Bishop of Ardagh in 1815. He was brother of Peter and Elizabeth – the last king and queen of ‘The Kingdom of Glan’.

The reputation of the Mag Shamhráins as both a literary family and as patrons of the arts continued into the 18th. and 19th. Centuries. Aodh Mac Gabhráin, poet and friend of the harpist and composer Turlough O’Carolan was the author of ‘ Pléaracha na Ruairceach’,[written c.1710] which was translated into English by Dean Swift. In the early 19th. Century the poet Thomas Mac Gauran[1803 – 1843] was still praising his patrons, the Clann Mag Shamhráin in the traditional Gaelic manner.

Possibly the most famous late 19th. – early 20th. Century member of the Mag Shamhráin clan was Sir Patrick McGovern [1871 – 1933]. Affectionately known as ‘Pat the Glanman’ he was born in Tullycrofton, Glangevlin. In 1891 he emigrated to Boston and took part in the Klondike gold rush in 1896. He found no gold but gained valuable experience. Returning to Boston he became a small–time but successful contractor. Having constructed part of the Boston subway he went to New York in 1908. Here he constructed part of the subway for $22,000,000 and later part of the Philadelphia subway for $14,000,000. His greatest achievement was the construction of a new water tunnel to New York costing $43,000,000. He was a great patron of the Catholic church [paying for the renovation of Killinagh Church in 1929]. He returned to Ireland in 1932 – attended the Eucharistic Congress, and was made a Knight of St. Gregory and a Knight of the Holy Sepulchre by Pope Pius X1. He died on February 22nd. 1933.

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