Cavan is the county town of County Cavan in Ireland. The town lies in Ulster, in the north of Ireland, near the border with Northern Ireland. The town is on the main road – the N3 road – linking Dublin (to the south) with Enniskillen, Ballyshannon and Donegal Town (to the north).
The O'Reilly clan (still a very common surname in the area) established a castle in the town in the late 13th century. A Franciscan friary was also established in the town around 1300, while the O'Reilly's built a new castle in the late fourteenth-century on Tullymongan Hill, overlooking the town centre. In the 15th century, the local ruler, Bearded Owen O'Reilly, set up a market which attracted merchants from Dublin and Drogheda. The term life of Reilly was credited to the O'Reilly clans due to their great wealth and power, some of which came from their market. They also allowed counterfeit English and Scottish coins to be minted in their territory at this time. King James I granted the town a charter in 1610. This also entitled Cavan town to send two members to the Irish parliament. In February 1690 it was the site of an engagement between Williamite and Jacobite troops, in which much of the town was burned. Later, during the 18th century, local administrative influence and power passed to the Maxwell family, descendants of The Rt. Rev. Dr. Robert Maxwell, Church of Ireland Bishop of Kilmore (1643–72), a family who later gained the peerage as Baron Farnham.
Farnham House, located at Farnham, a small rural district to the north-west of Cavan, is one of the largest country houses in the county. It was built for The 3rd Baron Farnham (later created, by the second creation, Earl of Farnham), head of the Maxwell dynasty, around 1780. The house was designed by James Wyatt. It was extended in 1810 to the design of Francis Johnston, a County Armagh-born, but Dublin-based, architect. It was recently sold by Diana, Lady Farnham (widow of The 12th Baron Farnham), to a local entrepreneur, and the house and estate has now been converted into a luxury hotel and leisure complex under the Radisson SAS international hotel group.
Developments in Cavan during the early 19th century saw the building of a new wide street that still bears the name Farnham Street. This was lined with comfortable town houses, public buildings (such as the courthouse which dates from 1825) and churches. From the mid 19th century, Cavan became an important rail junction for the Midland Great Western Railway (MGWR) and those of the Great Northern Railway (GNR). The Town Hall was built in just over a year, 1908–1909.
In 1938, work began on the Cathedral of Saints Patrick and Felim, the main church of the Catholic Diocese of Kilmore. Five kilometres (3 mi) south-west of Cavan Town, on the R198, is the Church of Ireland Kilmore Cathedral, which contains a Romanesque doorway dating from the 12th century, reputed originally to have come from Trinity Abbey, located a short distance away upon Trinity Island in Lough Oughter. Most of the neo-Gothic Kilmore Cathedral was built in the late nineteenth-century. A short distance from Kilmore Cathedral is the See House, a late Georgian style house constructed in the 1830s. This house, designed by William Farrell, was formerly the official residence (or 'Bishop's Palace') of the Church of Ireland Bishops of Kilmore, Elphin and Ardagh.
On 23 February 1943, a fire at St Joseph's Orphanage in the town claimed the lives of 35 children and an elderly woman. A Public enquiry found no culpability on the part of the nuns who ran the orphanage, but the circumstances surrounding the high death toll in the fire remain controversial to this day. The secretary of the Commission of Enquiry, Brian O'Nolan, is better known to posterity as the writer Flann O'Brien. He certainly felt that the Commission had not found the truth.
The former Cavan Town R.I.C. Barracks was demolished in 1968. Its successor stood on the corner of Farnham Street (also known as Casement Street) and Abbey Street. The current Garda Station is further along Farnham Street, just across from the Courthouse.