Take me through the streets of Cavan

By Geraldine Lynch

Cavan takes its name from the Irish word ‘Cabháin’ meaning the hollow. Cavan owes its origins to the local gaelic chiefs the O’Reilly’s (Uí Raghallaigh) who were the ruling family of East Breffni in the later Middle Ages. In the late 13th century the brothers Ferghal and Giolla Iosa Rua settled at Tullac Mangain.

The site was distant from the attacks by Uí Raghallaighs enemies and its situation gave a good vantage point over the surrounding countryside. In 1300 Giolla Iosa attracted a group of Franciscans to found a friary at Cavan and this was sometimes used as a type of retirement home for the local O’Raghallaigh rulers. Throughout the medieval period, the O’Reilly clan remained on good terms with the Anglo-Norman rulers.

In the early 15th century the local ruler ‘Bearded Owen’ O’Reilly set up a market in Cavan. Merchants from Meath and Drogheda frequented the market and bought items such as wool, wood and leather at prices that were cheaper than in their own areas. A town then grew up around the market. In the later 1560’s Lord Deputy Henry Sidney wrote of Cavan’s ‘great town and castle’. In the early 17th century when Co Cavan was planted with English and Scottish settlers, Cavan became the chief town of the county. In 1610 Cavan town received a municipal charter of incorporation from King James I (VI of Scotland). The borough of Cavan was established and as such was entitled to hold a set number of markets and fairs. It could also enjoy regulation of its own affairs and also send two members to the Irish parliament.

The Corporation of the Borough of Cavan legally ceased to exist in 1840. The Corporation was disbanded by the Act for the Regulation of Municipal Corporations in Ireland, which was passed in the United Kingdom Parliament in London in 1840. However, in 1837 shortly before the Corporation was disbanded the Cavan Borough Commissioners came into being. This was again succeeded in 1855 by the Cavan Town Commissioners which were entrusted with the municipal government of Cavan until 1900 when Cavan Urban District Council was established.

In the first quarter of the 19th century there was a transformation of Cavan’s streets. Much of these changes had been influenced by the Lords Farnham, the local landlord family. A new wide street was build so as to cater for the passing coach trade. This street subsequently became known as Farnham Street.

The narrow roads or lanes in Cavan town e.g. Keadue Lane (Keadew Lane) were once the principal thoroughfares that served Cavan and District. The main routes through Cavan to the North was past the rear of Breffni Terrace, down by the Half Acre (Fair Green Hill) and along Main Street to Keadew Lane. Through this lane the stage coach passed until the construction of the ‘Broad Road’. It may be assumed that this was the route on which the mail coach travelled. This road, the principal highway from Dublin to Cavan is shown in an 18th century book of Maps of the Roads of Ireland. On appropriate maps the principal highway is shown as passing through Navan, Kells, Virginia and Ballyjamesduff. Near the town of Cavan it goes through the townlands of Aghnaglogh, Carnaglenagh or Oldtown, Gortnakesh and Creighan continuing down the Half Acre (Fair Green Hill). At the beginning of the 19th century a number of excellent military roads and other roads were constructed. It was at that time that the broad road, Dublin-Cavan-Enniskillen was made. The portion of the new high-way in and adjoining Cavan town was made in 1818, when a passage was opened through Mill Street, which at that time was called the ‘Dublin New Road’. The thoroughfare was then continued through what is presently known as the Dublin Road, entering the rural area through Pollamore and other townlands. The new road to Enniskillen was made through College Street (then called the Broad Road) and Farnham Street (once also known as the Mail Coach Road) continuing for a short distance alongside the old highway (Keady or Keadew Lane).

Farnham Street
Farnham Street took its name from the local landlords, Lord Farnhams (the Maxwell family). The street was built in the early 19th century and was constructed both to beautify the town and to supply a bypass for the coaches travelling through the town. Lord Farnham aimed to have a ‘tree and terraced lined mall’. Before the street was built, Cavan was a town of dirty, narrow winding streets. Throughout the 19th century, Farnham Street was lined with comfortable town houses and public buildings such as the Court House that was built in 1825 at a cost of approximately £12,000. The original Farnham Arms was built as a coaching inn in 1816 along the newly laid Farnham Street but it closed during the famine. The site in Farnham Street was later used as a school, a fire station and now houses the county library. The Methodist Church was also situated on Farnham Street. It was built in 1874 but was closed in the early 1970’s. In the early 1830’s the widow of the Fourth Baron Farnham set aside the land on the east side of the street as a public park, with walkways, fountains and a park-keepers lodge but throughout the 20th century the park was neglected and its lands absorbed by other developments.

Church Street
Church Street takes its name from the Church of Ireland which belongs to the Parish of Urney. Work began on the building of the church around 1807 but was not completed until 1815 when it opened in the winter of that year. In the last decade of the 18th century a dispensary was opened on the site of the old surgical hospital, which was built in response to the cholera epidemic of 1832. Prior to the famine, Church Street was an area of severe poverty but the squalid hovels of the street were replaced in the 1860s and 1870s by comfortable dwellings and successful premises. In 1898 the town’s post office was located in Church Street.

Main Street
Main Street is one of the oldest thoroughfares in Cavan town. Many of the buildings on Main street are no older than the last quarter of the 19th century as a serious fire in 1880 in the area of Upper Main Street destroyed a number of houses.

Market Square
Cavan town had grown up around its markets but it was the market held on the site at the top of Church Street and Main Street that became the towns central market especially for goods such as potatoes, butter and turf. The entry to Cavan’s central market was marked by an arch and was originally the towns courthouse but in 1827 it was turned into a market house by the then Lord Farnham. In 1855 the “new Market Square” from the Main Street to the Farnham Gardens was opened to the public. This square was used by travelling traders, who had standings there for their wares, on fair and market day. The Market Square now has a magnificent centrepiece entitled ‘Hands of Friendship’.

Bridge Street
Bridge Street was one of Cavan’s town first streets linking Tullymongan Castle to St. Mary’s Abbey. It took its name from the bridge that crosses the River Kinnypottle. In the late Middle Ages, the junction of Main Street and Bridge Street was the site of Cavans first market. There was also a market cross there until the late 18th century, and was also the site of the twice yearly hiring fares where local youths offered themselves for work on farms often for very low wages. In the 18th century Bridge Street was an important thoroughfare as north bound coaches had no alternative but to go through the street on their way out of the town. Bridge Street was also the location in the late 18th century for one of the two Methodist churchs in the town.

Railway Road
The roadway that became Railway Road has been used for over 250 years as the route travellers used when journeying towards Belturbet, Enniskillen and the spa at Swanlinbar. In the middle of the 19th century it became one of Cavan’s most fashionable areas. In the late 19th century Cavan became an important rail junction between the Midland and Western lines and those of the Northern Railways. Cavan joined the rail network in 1856 when a line linking Cavan to the Inny junction in Co Westmeath was opened by the Midland and Great Western Railway company and in 1861 another line joined Cavan to the Ulster network through Clones.

Abbey Street
(formerly called Church Lane)
The Franciscan Friary in Cavan, better known locally as St.Mary’s Abbey was founded in the 1300’s by Giolla Iosa Rua O’Reilly, the king of Breifne but nothing remains of the medieval foundation apart from the old bell tower.
The 1593 Map of Cavan shows the Franciscan Friary Church and the bell tower. It showed the church with an east west orientation and with an external tower. The tower is approximately 40 feet high with open rounded arches in east and west walls, one large window facing east on the first floor and windows with rounded tops on the top storey.
The friary and lands attached to it remained under the ownership of the Franciscans for nearly three hundred years until the introduction of the reformation when the monks were expelled.
The Friary was burned on many occasions, in 1429 and 1468 by the English, in 1452 by a monk using a candle and in 1575 by one of the O’Reillys.
As Cavan town was burned several times, the last time in 1690, the old bell tower attached to the Friary is possibly the oldest building remaining.
Tradition states that Owen Roe O’Neill who died on November 6th 1649 at Lough Oughter Castle was buried in the Franciscan Friary but his grave was not marked.
In the early 1590’s when the church passed out of the ownership of the Franciscans it was used as a court and then later rebuilt by the Church of Ireland and used as a parish church until the present church was opened in 1815 with the last service being held on Christmas Day 1815.
The Friary became a ruin in the early 1820’s and the stones used to built houses on Main Street.
Milling in the Lifeforce Mill that is situated along the Kinnypottle River can be traced back to the 14th century when there was a flour mill on the site as part of the Franciscian Friary. The current mill, which was formerly known as Greene’s Mill was erected in 1846 and throughout 100 years of almost daily use it served as a focal point in the life of Cavan town before it closed in the 1950’s. The mill was fully restored in the 1990’s and all the original machinery, including what is believed to be the only McAdam Water Turbine has been restored and returned to use.

Town Hall Street
Named after the Town Hall that was built in 1909 but was not officially opened until January 1910. The Town Hall was built on a space in the southern part of the Farnham Gardens. The Farnham Gardens originally extended along the eastern side of Farnham Street from the corner of Wesley Street to the corner of Church Lane (Abbey Street). When the Town Hall was built, a new street was cut through the Farnham Gardens (Town Hall Street) which connected Farnham Street with the Market Square and Main Street. At a meeting on July 8th 1910, the Urban District Council unanimously decided to name the new street “Town Hall Street”. However, on 5th April 1911, the council by a majority of one, resolved to name it “Francis Street” (the street being in the vicinity of the old Franciscan Abbey), but it is questionable if this change had been legally made, as it would appear that the council overlooked the provisions of Section 21 of the Act of 1907.

College Street
College Street derives its name from the Royal School or College. Before 1819, the Royal School was located at the lower end of the street adjoining Railway Road. At the beginning of the 19th century College Street was commonly known as the “Broad Road” or the “Mail Coach Road”. In 1857 only the lower end, next the Railway Road, was styled “College Street”, the upper end then being called “Waterside Street”. On the 17th February 1868, the Town Commissioners resolved that in future the name of the street in which the old Pork Market was held should be called “College Street.” This was done as a mark of respect to the Rev. W Prior Moore, (Head Master, Royal School) who had given the site for the market, and who as Chairman of the Pork Market Committee, rendered valuable assistance in carrying out their arrangements.

Ashe Street
Ashe Street was formally known as Wesley Street. It had obtained its name from a Wesleyan Preaching House that once stood in the street. This preaching house which belonged to the Primitive Wesleyan Methodist Society, was remodelled in 1863. In later days, the House was used as as assembly hall for concerts and entertainments. In 1922 Cavan UDC changed the name of the towns streets to honour important figures in Ireland’s history. The name of Wesley Street was changed to Thomas Ashe Street. Thomas Ashe, originally from Dingle Co Kerry commanded the Fingal Battalion of Volunteers during the 1916 Rising for which he was sentenced to death, later commuted to life in prison. He died in 1917 in the Mater Hospital from heart and lung failure after being on hunger strike and enduring force-feeding while demanding with other republican prisoners to be treated as prisoners of war. While in prison he wrote the poem ‘Let me carry your cross for Ireland, Lord’.

Connolly Street
Originally known as Dublin New Road. In the early 19th century it was the main Dublin-Cavan-Enniskillen route. In 1856 the name was changed to Mill Street. It acquired that name from the Corn Mill, there being a pass across the river to the street. Until 1882, the egg market was located in the Diamond at the foot of the half acre, where Main Street joined Mill Street. After that the Pork and Egg market was at Lurganboy between College Street and Mill Street. Along with other streets in Cavan town, Mill Street’s name was change to James Connolly Street, after James Connolly one of the signatories to the 1916 Proclamation and who was executed in Kilmainham Jail on May 12th 1916 while strapped to a chair.

Wolfe Tone Street
Wolfe Tone Street on the Barrack Hill was named in 1922 after Theobald Wolfe Tone.
The Barrack Hill was the location of the Military Barracks and in Pigots Directory 1824 was described as thus “on a dirty hill, adjoining the town, is an old and illlooking barrack in which two companies of infantry are generally stationed.
The earliest document relating to the acquisition of the site of Cavan Military Barracks in the possession of the Office of Public Works, is a Conveyance dated May 5 1710. The site referred to therein was presumably that located at Barrack Hill. Lewis Topographical Directory of Ireland 1837 described the barracks as “infantry barracks capable of accommodating 6 officers and 130 non-commissioned officers and privates.
According to Griffiths Valuation of Ireland 1857, the Board of Ordnance was then the lessor of infantry barracks and yard situated at Barrack Hill in the town of Cavan.

Cock Hill
Probably called after the Cock and Punch Bowl Inn that was located in Church Street and was probably for some time the stopping place for the Royal Mail Stage Coach. The Griffiths Valuation of Ireland 1857 mentions a small thatched cottage that served as a dispensary on Cock Hill.

Taken from Breffni Blue
April 2003