When in 1765 or thereabouts my 4th great grandparents Matthew Cavenagh (1740 – 1819) and Catherine Hyde Cavenagh nee Orfeur (c 1748 – 1814) were married, they first lived in Innishannon, a large village in Co. Cork. Sometime in the 1770s they moved to Wexford, a seaport on St George’s Channel, where they lived in Back Street, now known as Mallin Street, at that time a fashionable part of the town.

Like his father James (1702 – 1769) before him, Matthew Cavenagh held office in the Irish Customs as a ‘gauger‘ (excise inspector) and later as Surveyor of Excise Wexford. On his death the Accounts and Papers presented to the House of Commons, relating to the Increase and Diminution of Salaries, &c. In the Public Offices of Ireland, in the year ending he first of January 1820 recorded the death of Matthew Cavanagh the previous year. The diminution in salary paid to him as Surveyor of Excise Wexford was 46 pounds.

A family story has it that in 1793 when a large body of men demanding the release of two prisoners approached Wexford, Matthew Cavenagh accompanied the commander of the garrison in the hope of using his influence to prevent bloodshed. When, near the entrance to the town, the commander was piked by the insurgents, Cavenagh was at his side. While Wexford was in the hands of the rebels Matthew and his family were in danger of their lives.

They were hidden, however, by the Roman Catholic bishop and passed safely through the crisis. The 1793 rebellion is sometimes called the first Irish rebellion. In 1798 there was a second rebellion, centred on County Wexford, against British rule. In this rebellion the town of Wexford was held by the United Irishmen (republican insurrectionists). It was the scene of a ghastly massacre of local loyalists by the United Irishmen, who executed them with pikes on Wexford Bridge.

I do not know what role, if any, Matthew Cavenagh had in the 1793 rebellion. It is worth noting, perhaps, that there were Catholics among the United Irishmen and Protestants among the opponents.

Matthew’s oldest son James Gordon Cavenagh became a surgeon and joined the British army. He lived in Hythe, near Folkestone, at the barracks there. About 1837 he returned to Wexford, where he lived at Castle House.

James Gordon Cavenagh’s son – my great great grandfather, Wentworth Cavenagh (1821 – 1895) – was educated at Ferns Diocesan School in Wexford.

Extracts from the “Topographical Dictionary of Ireland” by Samuel Lewis, 1837(retrieved through Ireland Reaching Out):

WEXFORD, a sea-port, borough, market, post, and assize town, in the barony of FORTH, county of WEXFORD, and province of LEINSTER, 74 miles (S.) from Dublin and 30 ¼ (E. N. E.) from Waterford; containing 10,673 inhabitants. This town, which, as far as can be inferred from the earliest historical notices respecting it, was a maritime settlement of the Danes, is thought to have derived its name, which was anciently written Weisford, from the term Waesfiord (Washford), which implies a bay overflowed by the tide, but left nearly dry at low water, like the washes of Lincolnshire and Cambridgeshire.

… the entry in the history of the town includes the following:

After the battle of the Boyne, the town declared for William III. and was garrisoned by his troops. In 1793, a large body of the peasantry proceeded thither to rescue some Whiteboy prisoners: on their approach, a detachment of the garrison was sent out to disperse them, the commander of which, Captain Valloton, having ridden in advance of his men, for the humane purpose of expostulating with the insurgents on their conduct, was cut down by a scythe: a monumental obelisk erected on the Windmill hill commemorates this deplorable event.

… under schools of the town:

The Diocesan School for the See of Ferns, situated to the north of the town, on the road from Ferry-Carrigg, was built in 1800, at the expense of the county, on a piece of ground leased by the late R. Neville rent-free for 30 years, with a right reserved of charging it with a rent not exceeding £50 per annum at the end of that period, which has not since been demanded by the present proprietor, Sir W. R. P. Geary, Bart. The school has accommodation for 40 boarders and 6 daily pupils, and has a large play-ground attached: the master receives a salary of £70, paid by the bishop and the beneficed clergy of the diocese: an additional salary of £100 was paid by the corporation until the discontinuance of the payment of tolls.

About 1840, when he was 18 years old, Wentworth Cavenagh travelled to Canada, Ceylon, and Calcutta. From Calcutta he came to Australia.

Matthew Cavenagh, his son James Gordon, and some other members of the Cavenagh family are buried in a family vault in the ruins of St Patrick’s Wexford.

My cousin Diana Beckett kindly shared with me her photographs of Castle House, the family vault, and some watercolours by Wentworth Odiarne Cavenagh dating from 1905 and 1906. Castle House was pulled down in the 1930s. Some parts of its wall remain.

1906 sketch by Wentworth Odiarne Cavenagh of Castle House, Wexford
The Castle, Wexford, from the Lawrence Photograph Collection in the National Library of Ireland. Image Courtesy of the
National Library of Ireland.
Wexford city walls by the former Castle House; the shed was built over the wall of the house.
1905 sketch by Wentworth Odiarne Cavenagh of the family vault at St Patrick’s Wexford
The Cavenagh family vault in the ruins of St Patrick’s photographed in 1998 by Diana Beckett
In 1998 Diana and her mother cleaned up the tombstone but it is probably overgrown again now.

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