Friday, 31 October 2008

New Donegal E-zine

The new Donegal community e-zine:

The first edition of the Donegal - community in touch / Dún na nGall - pobail i d'teagmháil e-zine is now available on line.

This publication provides sources of information to those who have moved away from County Donegal and who wish to be kept informed of local news, the Donegal business community, education and learning opportunities and upcoming events and activities of interest.

If you have an interest in Donegal and would like to receive a copy of the new magazine send your contact details to to have your name added to the distribution database.

Thursday, 30 October 2008

Samháin and Halloween

Halloween was brought to the New World by Ulster settlers in the 1700s. Halloween has dual origins. The first being a pre-Christian Celtic feast which is associated with the Celtic New Year and second is a Christian celebration of saints. In Ireland and the British Isles, you will notice that the more Celtic an area, the more Halloween is observed and enjoyed. In fact, the closer you get to London people are more apt to skip Halloween and observe Guy Fawkes Day, which celebrates the execution of an English patriot who tried to blow up Parliament and not nearly as much fun as our Halloween.
Among the Gaelic and Cymreig Celts in Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and the border areas of England, the Halloween traditions have been around for several thousand years making the holiday among the oldest in Europe. In Irish Halloween is known as Samháin (said Sow-win). The celebration dates to pre Christian times, but it has never been remotely linked to the Christian concept of the Devil or evil. That bit was made up in Hollywood and Madison Avenue, where come to think of it a lot of pseudo history comes from. Sadly today, because of the Hollywood pseudo history there are those that mistakenly believe that Halloween is a dark holiday and have urged parents to not allow their children to participate. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The real Celtic holiday marked the beginning of the year and there was a belief that spirits, ghosts, and the Fairy Folk could easily cross over into our world as this happened. The costumes and masks are worn to ward off evil spirits, not to celebrate them. The Jack o' Latern also serves this purpose. One dresses up in a scary costume to scare the bee-jeepers out of goblins. Another aspect of Halloween is the end of the harvest and the giving of gifts of food. These two old traditions still make up the basis for our contemporary Halloween festivities.
The Gaels in Ireland and Scotland had a very easy and natural transition into Christianity, it was almost an evolving of their belief system and naturally enough they also incorporated Samháin into their Christian beliefs.
In anno domini 835 Pope Gregory IV changed the celebration for martyrs, and later all saints, from 13 May to 1 November, thus All Saints Eve fell on 31 October, on Samháin, which was then also known as All Saint’s Eve. From that date onward Halloween had very Christian roots attached to it. The following day was a Holy Day of obligation were in the mass all saints, even those not canonized, were remembered. Saints and holy people are called ‘hallowed’ in old English, and All Hallow’s Evening is what we now call Halloween.
Now because the Irish and Scottish Diaspora sent so many to Canada, the USA, Australia, etc. the celebration of Halloween, or Samháin spread to those lands settled by these Celtic people. To me Halloween has always been link in my mind with the harvest festivals and the sheer joy and wonder of Halloween night. That otherworldliness that is so exciting for children and the better sort of adults alike. Halloween is also a time of awareness of our spiritual side and of the spiritual world.
Halloween is a wonderful time, a tradition of Celtic Ireland and Scotland, and also one linked with the early Christian Church. Let the little ones dress up in their scary costumes, no clowns and ballerinas please, remember you are trying to scare away evil spirits and spooks, not attract them.
Trick Or Treat from the Ulster Heritage Magazine!!!

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Ivan Knox and Senator McCain

left to right, Letitia Knox, John Barr TG4, Ivan Knox himself, Aine of TG4, and Celine McGlynn of the Finn Valley Voice newspaper (standing)

Ivan Knox was interviewed recently concerning his relationship to Senator John McCain by TG4 (Teilifis Gaeilge 4). Ivan Knox as many know is a writer, poet, and historian from the Finn Valley in County, Donegal. His mother was Sarah Knox née McKane and Ivan has the many Finn Valley McCains among his cousins.

Ivan Knox is one of the most knowledgeable men there is concerning the families and clans of the Finn Valley. His kinship to the McCains has been to subject of much of Ivan's research in the last few years and he and Letitia, his lovely wife, have hosted several McCains that have traveled to Donegal from the Diaspora to visit the land of their people.

The Knox home in Donegal has become the
de facto headquarters of the McCain family. Ivan Knox has been even been in contact with Senator McCain. Ivan is also a participant of the Ulster Heritage DNA Project and recently found a host of new Knox relations in the American South. Jackson's and Kee's in Ballybofey are getting used to hearing the slow soft accent of Southern American speech as these McCains and Knoxes enjoy the Finn Valley.

Ivan Knox is noted for his honesty and frank talk and his views of being interview are:

…I was interviewed for TnaG last Friday and was shown on their news item in the evening news, but, they cut the tripe out of it and only showed about 3 seconds of the total interview while Obama got 3-4 minutes time. I rang the station and complained bitterly about this kind of conduct but got nowhere, I then demanded that they return the full tape that they took during the interview and they conceded to that. …
It is sad to see TG4 lower themselves to such partisan bias, but TG4 and their spin doctors have met their match in the Finn Valley.

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

John McCain's Irish Roots, reloaded...

above, John McCain with the last Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern
The Ulster Heritage Magazine, which is a news section for the Ulster Heritage DNA Project, has been getting a lot of email requests and phone calls for information on Senator John McCain’s ancestry. The level of interest has surprised me and our webmaster and my cousin, Jim McKane up in Ontario, Canada. We did release a short statement which appeared in the Ulster Heritage Magazine concerning the Senator’s paternal ancestry on 11 January 2008.
Jim and I have worked on the McCain family history for some 35 years very quietly; obviously the interest surrounding a presidential campaign has changed this. Getting emails and phone calls from Media powers that be suggests our quiet work has entered a new phase.
So, here is another presentation of the facts as we know them concerning Senator John McCain’s paternal ancestry and how we obtained this knowledge.
Senator John McCain is a descendant of a McCain family that immigrated to the American Colonies from Ireland circa 1719. The McCain family DNA Project started in September of 2003 and used Y chromosome DNA testing to confirm kinship and locate the branches of this family. In the course of the project the native Irish McCains were located. The McCains are native to Counties Donegal and Antrim originally, but are now dispersed and are also found in Counties Derry, Tyrone, and Dublin.
Senator John McCain did not participate in the DNA test, however around 35 of his cousins did, including several McCains from the Carroll County, Mississippi area. They are all a DNA match to each other and are all a match to the McCain families still in Ireland, as well as to those throughout the Diaspora. Senator McCain’s branch is called the Teoc McCains, after the little town in Carroll, County Mississippi where they lived during the period of their ascendancy.
There are several incorrect versions, or pseudo histories, about this McCain family floating around on the internet. The McCain families that had their kinship confirmed via DNA testing in Ireland, Canada, the UK, and the USA, have worked very closely with one another in the last few years to uncover their real history.

The basic and salient facts are the McCain family is from Ireland and their cousins in Ireland have been located.
There is DNA evidence and enough primary sources to suggest the McCains were part of the traditional Gaelic society prior to 1600.
left, a Gallóglach with their unique conical helmet, seen here carrying a sword with his attendant and dogs behind him

Most people are not familiar with Gaelic history, so I will offer this brief explanation. The McCain family DNA results revealed a paternal kinship with other Gaelic families active in Ireland and mid Argyll and that are associated with the Gallóglaigh Irish. The Gallóglaigh were a professional warrior caste active in Ireland anno domini 1200 to 1600.
The McCains are a classic Gaelic patronymic clan. The Patriarch of the clan was named Eáin. The surname in Irish is spelled Mac Eáin which means ‘son of Eáin.’ In the Gaelic dialect in use in Argyll, the southern Isles, and parts of Ulster, from the 15th Century onward, Eáin was a popular form of Eóin. Eáin is a loan word to Gaelic from the Latin Ioannes via the Aramaic and Hebrew y'hohanan, meaning 'Jehovah has favoured.'
An analysis of the DNA suggests this Patriarch lived circa 1350 to 1450 AD. The McCains were part of the older Gaelic order yet post mid 1600s many converted to the Presbyterian faith and took a leadership role in this community and yet other McCain families remained Catholic or Anglican.
above, Donovan McCain of Oxford, Mississippi in an informal session with Trad icon, Seamus O'Kane of Dungiven
If I can slip into the first person plural for a bit; we are very active, stay in touch with one another; we do travel to Ireland and hobnob with our Irish cousins, we love Guinness and are prone to enjoy ól, ceol, agus craic and the céilí is our chosen form of entertainment. The rumour now is for a McCain clan gathering in Ireland in 2009.
Barry R McCain © 2008

The Kavanagh Clan DNA Project

The Kavanagh clan in Leighlinbridge, Carlow

The Cavanaugh/Kavanagh Y-DNA project
was initiated to complement genealogical research for members of the Caomhánach Clann (web site location: and other interested parties. Cavanaugh and Kavanagh are the two most common of some 200 derivations of the Gaelic Caomhánach. The eldest son of Diarmaid MacMurchadha (Dermot MacMurrough), Domhnall carried the nickname Caomhánach and was the King of Leinster from 1171 to 1175.

The Kavanagh inauguration

World-wide, thousands of people carry a surname derived from Caomhánach, but do not know the history of their name or where their ancestors came from. Many others do know the history of their surname but can't determine where in Ireland their ancestors came from. Standard genealogical research many times can go no further when records are not available to support either family lore past down through the generations. Well intentioned elders may have told stories, tales and yarns that through the passage of years became family "facts". It is a natural tendency to believe Grandma and Grandpa but unfortunately, family lore often cannot be documented. For example, records were destroyed by fire, either by accident or deliberately by invaders. Until DNA testing was available keys to finding the truth could not be found. This is called by many researchers, "Hitting the brick wall."

Y-DNA testing promises to unlock the past and assist people find their roots. Generations can be skipped if matches are made with people who have been successful with standard genealogical research. If their research is accurate, a positive match may lead to where one came from. One issue we have had to deal with is some people who claim to be able to trace their ancestry back hundreds of years refuse to submit to DNA testing. While DNA is a tool for aiding research by narrowing down possibilities, it cannot prove with certainty who one is. On the other hand, DNA testing can prove with100% certainly who you are not. I believe many people do not really want to know the truth, therefore refuse to participate with testing.

We have had some significant success in putting people whose test matched together. It must be thrill to discover you may have a relative you didn't know existed. Over time, my hope is that more Caomhánachs will submit to DNA testing and more family researchers will find the key to unlock their past.

The project website is at:

The family cost of arms may be seen at:

Mark R. Cavanaugh

Thursday, 16 October 2008

Ulster Heritage DNA Project Update

16 October 2008

To view the results tables go to the website, look at the menu on the left, click on Ulster Heritage DNA Project, when that page comes up, click on Results, then tick view Complete Results. It will take it some time to load. We are looking into more efficient ways to display results, so please bear with us.

The Ulster Heritage online magazine is found at:

It contain bits of Ulster news and updates on aspects of the Ulster Heritage DNA Project. The magazine also puts a face on our project. Participants in the DNA project are invited to contribute short articles and photos relating to your Ulster ancestry and experiences.

For those participants interested in Scots-Irish research part three of Bob Forrest's work is now available as an ebook on the main website. Details below:



The following seventeenth century records are included in this volume for the city of Derry/Londonderry:-
- the 1619 Inquisition,
- 1622 Muster Roll
- 1628 Rent Roll
- 1630 Muster Roll (599 names)
- 1642 Muster Rolls (9 companies)
- 1654/6 Civil Survey, 1659 Census
- 1663 Hearth Money Roll
- as well as numerous miscellaneous records including; Corporation records (Governors, Mayors, Aldermen, Sheriffs), lists of merchants and seamen linked to the port of Derry, Gravestone Inscriptions from the seventeenth century, siege records, Summonister (court) records (1611-1670), Will indexes (1600-1700), original will abstracts, and a list of Derry voters from 1697.

By Bob Forrest, B.A Hons; Economic and Social History (Queen’s University, Belfast). 112 pages, over 2000 surnames.

And Congratulations to the Knox families in the Diaspora, mostly in the American South, that successfully located their Irish cousins recently. That level of success really highlights how effective DNA testing can be. You can view photos of two of the ten matches this family made, Dwayne Knox of Arkansas and Ivan Knox of Corcam, County Donegal, on the Ulster Heritage E-magazine, address above.

Mise le meas mór,

Barry R McCain

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

William and Brian Triumph!

above, left Brian Trainor, right, William Roulston

William Roulston and Brian Trainor, two of the most talented researchers in the field of Irish family history, rolled into Oxford, Mississippi, on 6 October and gave a well attended seminar the next day. William and Brian are very good at what they do and some participants drove many miles from neighboring states to have an opportunity to hear them. This was the next to last stop on an eight stop speaking tour that started in Connecticut and ended in Georgia. They logged well over a thousand miles of driving on the tour which included seminars in Texas and Indiana.

The seminar was organized by Tom Lilly, whose ancestors are from Ulster and are of Huguenot origins. The Lilly family left Ulster and settled in Chester County, South Carolina, in 1798.

below, William and Brian with Tom and Connie Lilly

William and Brian went to the famous Oxford Square and enjoyed the local ales of Lazy Magnolia Brewery, a Mississippi brewery, at the local Proud Larry's Pub. Tom and Connie Lilly and Barry and Debi McCain joined William and Brian at Boure restaurant, just off the Square in Oxford, and coffee and desert were enjoyed at the Lilly's home later in the evening.

Congratulations go out to Brian Trainor and William Roulston for another very successful American tour.

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Only 70 Years Too Late!

A bit of Irish opinion, which I thought was well said below. I've been a traveller in Ireland for some 35 years now, I've always thought it rather daft to put the Gaeilge in smaller print than the English in bilingual signs. What do they think, that Irish speakers have super eyesight? No of course. This comment from Rossa Ó Snodaigh gives you a nice flavour of the real Ireland.
Barry R McCain

Irish eyes

I am delighted that the Government has passed a Bill which orders that the Gaeilge on all government bodies' stationary, signage, logos etc, be either only in Irish or as visible and as big as the English version. Are we to understand from this that the Government no longer believes that Gaeilgeoiri have better eyesight than their counterparts?

Rossa ó Snodaigh; Cluanin Ui Ruairc, Contae Liatroma

Thursday, 2 October 2008

Gaelic Place Names On Line

Website may end squabbling about Irish placenames

Localised squabbling about the correct spelling, pronunciation and origins of placenames could come to an end following the launch of a website providing the official Irish names of thousands of towns, streets and villages. People all over the world can now log on to to find the official translation of some 100,000 Irish placenames.

The service comes following years of research and engagement with local communities which attempted to set in stone what exactly is in a name. Even though the site was formally launched only yesterday, interest in the service has been high, with the website recording some 250,000 hits in September.

Minister for Gaeltacht Affairs Éamon Ó Cuív said he was delighted to launch the resource, which he hopes will be of interest to students, teachers, journalists, translators and anyone interested in Irish heritage and geography.

'Most of the country's place-names are Irish in origin, but through history and the decline of the Irish language as the everyday vernacular, many of our place-names have evolved into anglicised versions of the original names,' he said.

The spelling and pronunciation of the names of Irish towns has been a source of much controversy over the years and Mr Ó Cuív said the development of the service was not without hitches.

'This can be a very emotional and difficult subject and the public will come to you and say 'we think we're right', so we sent them the research we have . . . but some people just don't accept our response.'

Mr Ó Cuív said, for instance, some people call Knock, Co Mayo, An Cnoc, but locals call it Cnoc Mhuire, which, he understood, came from a priest in the last century. He said he let Cnoc Mhuire stand on the basis that An Cnoc could cause confusion as other places carry the same name. 'It was a hard call, these things are not black and white, but I felt this had come into the language and you have to allow change over time, and of course you know the most famous one of all and I'm not going to mention it,' he said.

Work on the site, developed by Fiontar, Dublin City University's Irish teaching and research unit, on behalf of the Placenames Branch of the Department of Gaeltacht Affairs, is continuing.