Last Wednesday I received an email from an organisation called ‘Ireland Reaching Out’ about ‘Cavan Day, when proud Cavan people and their Diaspora all over the world will be celebrating their heritage and culture’.

‘Ireland Reaching Out’ hopes to link descendants of the Irish Diaspora—Irish immigrants, in other words—with their home parishes in Ireland. It provides tools and resources for exploring Irish family history.

“The first-ever Cavan Day, where people and the diaspora of Co Cavan in Ireland come together to celebrate their pride, will be hosted virtually on Saturday, September 26.

Organizers said that Cavan Day is taking the place of the much-anticipated “Cavan Calling” homecoming festival that has been postponed until 2021 thanks to coronavirus.

The inaugural Cavan Day, organizers say, will allow Cavan people around the globe to show their colours and their pride in their home county, by taking to social media and celebrating Cavan using the #CavanDay hashtag.”

County Cavan, in the Province of Ulster, borders on the Northern Ireland province of Fermanagh. It is about an hour’s drive from Dublin.  Cavan, said to have 365 lakes, is known as ‘The Lakeland County’. Many rivers rise there, most notably the Shannon.

Northern end of Castle Lough in the Bailieborough Demesne. Photographed 2017, image retrieved from geograph.org.
County Cavan highlighted in darker green shown to the north of the Republic of Ireland shown in green and just south of Northern Ireland shown in pink. Retrieved from Wikipedia CC 3.0.

Parts of Cavan were hard hit by the Great Famine of 1845 to 1849. In 1841 the population was 243,000. This fell by over 28% to 174,000 in 1851 then declined again to 154,000 in 1861. The population continued to decline until 1971, when it stood at 53,000. At present County Cavan has 76,000 people, with the largest towns Cavan (10,900) and Bailieborough (2,700).

Margaret Smyth (1834 – 1897), great great grandmother of my husband Greg, emigrated on the ‘Persian‘ to Australia from Ireland, arriving  in Melbourne, Victoria on 9 April 1854 with a baby born on the passage.

From the passenger list of the Persian, Margaret Smyth and infant are at the bottom of the screenshot , record retrieved through ancestry.com

The passenger list records that Margaret Smyth was from Cavan. Her religion was Church of England; she could read and write; and she was 20 years old. She did not find a job immediately on landing, but went to stay with her cousin John ‘Hunter’ (or something like that; the surname is not completely legible).

I have not been able to find more about this cousin, nor have I have discovered anything more about Margaret’s baby. There seems to be no death certificate, but the baby may have died without its death registered, for in 1854 civil registration of deaths was not yet in force in Victoria.

On 19 November 1855 Margaret Smyth, dressmaker from Cavan, aged 22, married John Plowright, also 22, a gold digger. Their wedding was held at the residence of John Plowright, in Magpie (on the Ballarat diggings, five miles or so from where Greg and I live now). On the certificate Margaret’s parents are given as William Smyth, farmer, and Mary nee Cox.

On documents Margaret usually gave her birthplace as Cavan. On her death
certificate her birthplace was given by her adopted son Harold as Bailieborough, Cavan. On that document, however, Harold gave her parents
as Joseph, a farmer, and Ann Smyth. I am more inclined to believe the names of the parents given by Margaret at the time of her wedding are correct.

Main Street, Bailieborough, Co. Cavan in 2007 from geograph.org

I have found possible baptism records linking the names of William Smyth and a daughter Margaret but none that seem entirely reliable.

The ‘Ireland Valuation Books’ of 1838 (which I viewed through FindMyPast) have a William Smyth of Tanderagee Townland, Bailieborough Parish, Clankee Barony, County Cavan. This could be Margaret’s father.

More and more records are being digitised, so perhaps some useful documents will come to light. DNA connections also offer some tantalising clues but I have not yet found any definite Smyth cousins.

I hope we can visit Ireland one day. Cavan will certainly be part of the trip. Before we visit I hope I will have discovered more about Margaret Smyth’s family there.

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