Drumlane Abbey. Courtesy of Cavan Library Service Photographic Collection.

John McGovern’s Memoir: The McGoverns of Drumlane

The subject of Jonathan Smyth's Times Past column this week is the McGoverns of Drumlane...

The noble clan of McGovern, also known as McGauran, were the ancient and primary rulers of the territory of Tullyhaw in West Cavan. In Gaeilge, McGovern translates as MacSamhradhain, a word emanating from samraidh, meaning summer. The following account is based on a short memoir by John McGovern which he wrote in January 1949, and I would like to acknowledge Fr Gerry Comiskey, Milltown, for having brought John McGovern’s memoirs to my attention.

In the Middle Ages, two members of the McGovern family became bishops of Kilmore. Firstly, a former Prior of Drumlane Abbey, Dr Cormac McGauran who served as bishop from 1455 to 1465; and secondly, another prior of the abbey, Dr Thady McGauran who served as bishop from 1476 to 1480. Many of the successive priors at Drumlane were descendants of the same family.

John McGovern wrote that ‘the first’ of his family ‘to live in Drumlane was Patrick McGauran, his great-great-grandfather from Dowra, County Cavan. Patrick’s father possessed a large farm at Dowra, which was a freehold property, but eventually, he came to an arrangement with Lord Annesley who took over the land, and the McGovern family then relocated to Drumlane, and rented land from Lord Annesley.’

Patrick McGauran married Mary Noble from Donagh, Newtownbutler, in about 1740. John wrote: ‘judging from the dates and ages on the family headstones in Drumlane graveyard … the wedding was in Fermanagh and the reception took place in Belturbet with over 300 guests.’ The newlyweds settled on Patrick’s farm at Tirliffin (Belturbet), and they had a family of four; the children being Hugh, John, Bridget, and Ann. Their son John (not to be confused with the John McGovern who wrote the memoir) became a docker on the Dublin quays and earned himself the nickname ‘Packer Plant.’


Life in the 1840s was tough and the McGoverns found themselves evicted from Tirliffin, from the land they farmed for more than a century. They soon found another farm at Derrygeeraghan, near Milltown. John’s grandfather eventually bought a farm at Rivory, next to Ashgrove ‘on the Erne.’ At Rivory, John records that his grandmother lost her sight and needed her children to guide her. His grandfather purchased a second farm at Stroane on the other side of the River Erne and an uncle of John’s, named Hugh McGovern, was given one of the farms, and it is said that some of his sons fought in the Boer War. This branch of the family relocated to Scotland.

John’s father, Patrick, inherited the land at Stroane; Patrick’s wife, Catherine, was a daughter of James Leddy, Rosculligan, near Cavan Town. Their three children were Peter, Patrick, and John (author of the memoir). Peter died in infancy; and John was only a child when his father passed. He remembered: ‘Our father died suddenly in his sleep when I was not quite three and a half years old, and he was buried in the shadow of the old family headstone in Drumlane.’

An early memory of John’s was of his cousin and godfather, Paddy Fitzpatrick, known as Paddy Fitch, returning on leave from serving with the Cameronian Highlanders and having to remove his red army coat before they let him enter the McGovern homestead, when at the time, John’s father was out fowling. A year after John’s father died, his mother Catherine married a man named Philip Lynch.

John McGovern started school at Kilnaleck NS at the age of seven. Following the death of his aunt Mary Leddy, he went to stay with his grandparents in Cavan Town and from there he enrolled at the Christian Brothers school. John sorely missed his family, especially his mother and he made a trip back home each Sunday to see the family and to enjoy the beauty of the River Erne until he again left for Cavan in the evening. His mother died a year after his aunt Mary’s passing and his brother Patrick came to stay with him in Cavan.

John received an apprenticeship to a harness-maker in Cavan Town before going to New York. His brother Patrick followed him out to New York, in 1895. Then in 1896, Patrick joined the US Navy and with the money he earned, he hoped one day to come back to Ireland and buy a farm. On Palm Sunday, 1901, John visited his brother and recalled: ‘He (Patrick) and I were standing watch and I spent the afternoon and had supper with him on the ship. He was to visit me the following Thursday evening in New York but instead, he assigned to take charge of a draft of men sent from the Brooklyn Navy yard to San Juan, Puerto Rico.’ Sadly, Patrick died suddenly on board the USS Uncas.’

After Patrick’s death, John resigned as a clerk in the New York post office and then moved to Washington State and later to California. In 1922, John married Bridget Fitzpatrick of Ashgrove, Milltown, Co Cavan, a daughter of John Fitzpatrick. The wedding ceremony took place in Seattle, Washington. In his 1949 memoir, John noted that they did not have a family themselves.

Drumlane memories

His wife’s grandfather, Francis Fitzpatrick of Ardonan, and John’s father often carried the Drumlane banner during Green Walks in Cavan and within the parish, both were famously known to be very tall men. According to the late Mick Brady of lower Crahard, McGovern’s father paid for the original banner that the Orangemen captured at Drumalure in 1869. In those days, up to 500 men walked behind the Drumlane banner into Fr Dunne’s field at Belturbet to attend meetings.

McGovern has filled his memoir with interesting recollections about his family and the memories he has of Drumlane, and his time in America. Local stories are recorded, including the take of Phildy Monaghan, a fiddler from Crahard who rowed his canoe up and down the Erne; and the time the English blew up the old bridge at Stroane during the 1798 Rebellion. The English destroyed the arch of the bridge to stop the French crossing it. Bakers Bridge was later built just beyond Stroane. John McGovern relates that he wrote the memoir for his family and relations, in the hope that it would one day interest them and their descendants. He certainly has written an interesting account.


John Richard Darley: School-founder and Bishop