The Kavanaghs in Question.

Kavanagh is a very old Irish surname. It’s been around for centuries. There are several different spellings of Kavanagh. There is Kavanagh, Kavanaugh, Cavanagh and Cavanaugh. I imagine there are others, as well. My family are Kavanaghs. “ K no u” as my mother used to tell people. This seemed to work though on one occasion a grammar school teacher took to spelling my name Knou.

The Kavanaghs in this story came to America from New Ross, County Wexford,  Ireland. They sailed here in 1849 arriving in Philadelphia. It was my great-great-great grandmother, Alice Clarke Kavanagh and 3 sons and a daughter. Her husband, Patrick, died in Ireland before the journey. Seemingly, it was not uncommon that Irish immigrants consisted of a widow and her children. They came here to escape the poverty and starvation rampant in Ireland at the time. Once the potato famine hit hard, over 2 million people died of starvation in a 10 year period. I’m sure the Kavanaghs felt their options were limited so, they decided to come to this new country that was rumored to have freedom and plenty. They wanted a better life as did all immigrants. America was still the New World and there was opportunity here. Her sons were Patrick J. ( 15 ), Joseph M. ( 13 ) and James J. ( 11 ). Her daughter was Katherine M. ( 9 ). The voyage from Ireland to America took 2- 3 months at that time. It was a dangerous trip. There were ship wrecks, diseases such as cholera and, again, starvation. Food and water were rationed and sometimes not enough.  I think of the courage it took for them to make this trip. Astonishing. It could not have been an easy decision to begin this long journey to such an uncertain end. Alice Kavanagh bravely took a leap of faith for her family.

I know nothing of their time in Philadelphia. I don’t know where they lived or who they lived with upon arrival. They didn’t stay there long. By 1853, they had moved to Baltimore. I can’t be sure why. I do know that Alice lived at 65 Center Market at that time. She was a dressmaker and was able to scrape out some living in that way. Center Market was a bustling section of the city at that time full of fresh new arrivals. Very much an immigrant haven. Within two years, they had moved to 107 Albemarle Street. I believe this house still exists though, the street number has changed. They lived in several homes on Albemarle St. for about the next 50 years. Her oldest son Patrick (my great-great- grandfather) was a Ship’s Carpenter. Work was hard to find. They encountered some anti-immigrant discrimination. I was told many times of signs in shop windows saying “Irish need not apply”. The boys did their best to gain skills and help support the family.

Facts are hard to come by but, I know the stories. Supposedly, Alice’s second son, Joseph Michael (founder of the Shop) traveled to France as a young man. He studied the French Column Still. The column still was a recent innovation in distilling. It could produce a higher proof alcohol and do so quicker than traditional “pot” stills. These Kavanaghs may have had some French blood in them. Alice’s mother-in-law had the surname of Devereux. Perhaps, young Joe was visiting family or trying to learn a trade. What I do know is that he returned with a great knowledge of distilling and whiskey. It would serve him well as the great coppersmith he would become. In addition, Patrick eventually marries a French woman. Maybe he made the trip with Joe. Maybe she was here. I don’t know but, Patrick does marry Catherine Lubre on December 30, 1860. There is some “ French Connection” as it were. I just don’t know the exact details. Through the late 1850’s, the Kavanagh family is still settled on Albemarle Street. Joseph, with his new skills, begins working here and there as a coppersmith. Several months after Patrick’s marriage, the Civil War begins at Fort Sumter.

On Dec. 2, 1861, Patrick enlists in the Patapsco Guard. A local Union troop from Maryland. They were primarily based near Ellicott City. Their main function was to guard and protect the railroad which was vital for supplies and information. They were involved in some other battles including a skirmish at Gettysburg. Once again, I do not have much information on his involvement in the war. At the same time he was in service, Joseph was plying his trade in copper and the youngest son, James became a printer. He worked at the Baltimore Sun for a time. Patrick and Catherine have a son, Martin J. in 1862. I guess being based in MD, close to home, had some benefits. Eventually, they will have 9 children. Of his 7 sons, Patrick refused to name any of them after himself. He feared that the name “Patrick” sounded too Irish. He didn’t want his children to face the prejudice he did.

After the war, Patrick returns home. Joseph and James are working as a coppersmith and a printer respectively. Katherine marries Edward Brady. All still living on Albemarle Street as 1865 closes. America is back together as one nation yet, still fractured and with many wounds to heal. In the next year, the Shop opens for business.





The Kavanagh Coat of Arms


5 thoughts on “The Kavanaghs in Question.

  1. I saw copper vessels outside of the Frederick, Maryland restaurant, Aye Meze. I was curious to know what they were originally used for. I noticed one had a metal label on it that read Joe Kavanagh Copperworks, Baltimore, Maryland.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s really interesting. I wonder how they came to be there. I would imagine they were distilling vessels or beer-brewing vats. The Shop made a lot jacket kettles and vessels. Some were for food services, as well. Most, especially with the labels/stamps, were for alcohol production. I would love to see them. I think I will try to get in touch with the restaurant and see if I can get a picture. Also, maybe I can find out where they acquired it. Thank you so much for commenting and this information. I will send you an email with a picture of the old labels/stamps I have. That might help me date these vessels.


  2. What a great slice of history. I’ve always been interested in these stories about migration during the famine times in Ireland and what the people endured. My family on my father’s side also emigrated during that time.


  3. Hi Joe. Again you have done a great job writing these essays for us the family to enjoy. I have learned a lot from your research
    About the French. The Lubers and there ancestors were from Switzerland. As you know that is close to Germany. On Katherine’s death certificate an error was made. They had Joseph Kavanagh as her father who was born in France. On Ancestry when the death certificate comes up the recap says “false”. Some of Katherine’s ancestors have German sounding first names. Like I said they border each other. I don’t know how the death certificate got so mixed up. I’ll try to attach Katherine’s Death Certificate. Your cous, Lois Meyer née Lambie/Kavanagh. I don’t know how to send you the death certificate. My Ancestry tree is:


    Perhaps you can view or get it from there

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I saw the Swiss thing & the mistake of calling Joe her father. I don’t know what to make of it. I know old records like old stories can be unreliable. I do question the French lineage but went with it because it was told to me. I’m not sure at all. French or Swiss? Neither? It’s a guess at this point for me at this point. Some day I may revisit it & dig deeper. 👍 Thanks for reading & for commenting Lois. 🙂


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