The Gavigan, Gavagan, Gavaghan, Gaughan, Gaffigan, Gaffiken Connection.

Over the years many people have asked about various names similar to the above that may or may not be Geoghegan derivatives. This page will not provide any definitive answers to these queries, but is rather intended as a guide to the information I have been able to amass on the subject.

First, the simple case. I am reliably informed by Frank Geoghegan of Durrow that one family of Geoghegans in Horseleap got into some difficulty with the authorities (date uncertain). They moved to Tyrellspass and changed their name to Gavagan to avoid detection. Now this family was quite productive, the first generation producing seven sons and six daughters and at least one of the sons producing six sons and seven daughters. This proliferation ensured that the name quickly became established all over south central Westmeath and is common there today. This family is most certainly part of the greater MacGeoghegan sept. Some of these may also have been ancestors to Gav... and Gaff... families referred to below.

Somewhat more complex is the situation regarding the name Gaffiken (and other variants, as we will see) in Ulster, mainly around Belfast. I am grateful to Trevor Fulton and Hugh Macartney for the following information.

This family has been traced back to its origins in Castletown-Geoghegan in Co. Westmeath and they went north to Belfast after the Williamite wars which ended at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690. At this time the name was spelled Gavigan but they later settled on Gaffikin. The family were Church of Ireland (Anglican) and not Roman Catholic. They established a large prosperous farm on the outskirts of Belfast and likely raised cattle because the second generation were nearly all butchers in the nineteenth century. At that time they became owners of linen mills and the famous "Old Comber" distillery. One Thomas Gaffikin became a Justice of the Peace and a very prominent Belfast historian. He was known as "Builder" Gaffiking from building a great many houses in fashionable areas. There are still many descendents living in Belfast.

Arthur Gaffikin born in 1734, married to Prudence Ogans and is buried in Belfast. From the St. Anne's (Church of Ireland) Parish Church, Belfast, register which exists from 1745, Arthur appears baptising children between 1756 and 1769 consistently using the spelling Gaffigan. His son Arthur married to Elizabeth Stewart successively baptises children between 1794 and 1808 using Geoghegan (twice), Gaffigan (three) then Gaufikin and finally Gauficin.

A little earlier a Thomas Gaffigan marries Catherine Lee and their family are baptised between 1748 and1768 as Gafigan, Magaffigan, Gaffigan (three) Geoghegan and finally Gaffigan again.

Over the years from 1745 to about 1820 the name, though most often Gaffigan shows frequent variations including Gaffican and Gaffigan in addition to those already mentioned, until from about 1820 it settles on Gaffikin. A Michael who died in 1818 aged 21 appears on the tombstone as Gaffikin, but in the newspaper death notice as Geoghegan.

As we are talking about Ulster, this is as good a point as any to mention again the Geoghegans who are not Geoghegans at all but rather McGuigans. Fr. Woulfe, an eminent family name historian believed MacGuigan to be a variant of MacGeoghegan wherein he was probably misled by the fact that Geoghegan was reported from the Newry area to have been used, incorrectly, in registering births for one or more families known as MacGuigan: this, however, was almost certainly one of the many instances of absorption. This "mis-information" has been perpetuated in modern times by Ida Grehan in her book "Dictionary of Irish Surnames" in which she mentions Geoghegan only in the context of McGuigan and completely ignores the main sept of Westmeath. There are no less than 15 modern synonyms of MacGuigan, viz. Guigan, Maguigan, MacGoogan, MacGookin, MacGuckian, MacGuiggan, MacQuiggan, MacWiggan, MacWiggin, Meguiggan, Gavigan, Geoghegan, Wigan and also Fidgeon and Pidgeon. The pronunciation of the name in its homeland, Co. Tyrone (especially around Omagh), is MacGwiggen, which suggests Mag Uigin as the Irish form. MacQuiggin, another Ulster name, in Gaelic Mac Guaigín, also anglicised as MacGuiggan. It is interesting that the name MacGuigan (also as MacGoughan, MacGuckan and MacGugan) is found in Scotland, particularly in Argyllshire and Kintyre. There it is from Mac Guagáin, which may be Irish in origin and a corrupt form of Mac Eochagáin and therefore originally McGeoghegan. Oh what a tangled web!

The most complex situation arises with regard to the name Ó Gáibhtheacháin. This name arose in Mayo and spread into Roscommon. Roscommon being right next to Westmeath means that there is some overlap in terms of territories, especially around Athlone which is at the southern end of Roscommon and the western end of Westmeath. Ó Gáibhtheacháin is variously anglicised as Gavagan, Gavigan, Gavaghan, Gavican, Gaffigan etc. as well as Gaughan (which has also be shortened to Gahan). Looking at Griffith's Valuation for Roscommon, a survey of property occupiers as of a particular date between 1848 and 1864, we find just a single Geoghegan, in Ballintubber. Also in Ballintubber is one Gavacen while in Elphin there is one McGahan. Two Gaughans are recorded in the adjacent county of Leitrim. In the census of 1901, there are nine Geoghegans in Roscommon, almost all near Athlone. Gavagan appears five times, Gavaghan has a single entry in Roscommon, but appears frequently in neighbouring Mayo, indicating an almost county based spelling variation. Gavican appears eight times in Roscommon, Gavigan three times and Gaughan once. The geographical spread is quite clear - all the Geoghegans are found in the southern end of the county with the Gavigans, Gavagans, etc. to the north. It seems clear to me that these Gavigans, etc. from Roscommon, are part of the sept of Ó Gáibhtheacháin. So who are they?

Ó Gáibhtheacháin has, in more recent times, been modernised to Ó Gacháin in Irish, which is a little unfortunate. It was originally anglicised as Gaughan and it seems that this anglicised form has given rise to the newer Irish form. However, it was also anglicised as Gavaghan, which is phonetically closer to Ó Gáibhtheacháin. This sept possessed territory around Crossmolina, County Mayo and they are mentioned in the Annals as chiefs of Calory in the barony of Trawled. It seems that at an early stage the spellings divided on a county basis. While Gaughan and Gavaghan are both found in Mayo, the spread of the sept seemed to send the Gaughans north into Sligo and the Gavaghans south into Roscommon, where the other variant spellings (Gavagan, Gavigan, Gavican, Gavegan, etc.) started to appear.

If you are tracing the name Gavagan or its variants, I would offer the following guidelines.

If your ancestors can be traced to Westmeath then they are more than likely of Geoghegan stock.

If there is a history of the use of the prefix "Mac" or "Mc" then this is another strong indication of a Geoghegan origin.

If there is a history of the use of the prefix "O" or your ancestry is in Mayo or North Roscommon, then you are more than likely from Ó Gáibhtheacháin stock.

If your family origins are around around Newry then you are probably really a McGuigan.

If you can trace back to Belfast, then you are probably one of the Gaffiken Geoghegans.

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