Arms have been granted or registered by at least ten separate O'Donovan individuals, in addition to the arms claimed by various septs of the O'Donovans. The armorial bearings, although distinct from each other, share a number of similar elements. The mottos associated with the various arms include: 'Adjuvante Deo in hostes' (Latin) – 'With the assistance of God against our enemies'.) 'Vir Super Hostem' (Latin – 'A man above his enemies') 'Giolla ar a-namhuid a-bu' (Gaelic – 'A man over his enemies forever') 'In Deo faciemus Virtutem (Latin – ' With God I shall be valiant and virtuous') 'Croom a boo' (also, 'Croom abu') (Old Irish – 'Croom to victory') 'Imagines majorum as virtutem accendunt' (Latin – the images of our ancestor's lives inspire us to ever increasing valiancey and virtue').
An ancient race in Munster, a portion of the O'Donovans became Cairbre Eva (or Uí Chairpre, see map) within the ancient regional kingdom of the Uí Fidgenti, once approximately co-extensive with the modern County Limerick, and were for many centuries allies of the Eóganachta, to whom they were related by common descent from Ailill Flann Bec (or Ailill Aulom). Although allowed to be princely in multiple ancient sources, in the Irish class structure the Uí Fidgenti were only middle tier among the ruling septs of the land, as they never contested for the kingship of the greater provincial kingdom of Munster, in which they were located. However, the Uí Fidgenti did not pay tribute to the Eóganachta kings of Cashel. The Book of Rights, transcribed as a medieval topographical poem set forth the rights of the O'Donovans:
Their extensive territory followed Limerick's River Maigue, before the Dál gCais and O'Brien dynasty, and later the FitzGerald dynasty, forced them out of their territory between the late 12th and mid-13th century. O'Donovans were noted as taking refuge in 1169 in County Kerry, but were noted in their historical territory near Bruree and Croom in the mid-1200s. The relocation of some O'Donovans to Carbery in the later County Cork, appears to have occurred during the mid to late 13th century, primarily through their association with the MacCarthy Reagh sept. The majority of O'Donovans were associated with the MacCarthy Reagh sept, although considerable documentation exists that some O'Donovans maintained relations with groups hostile to the MacCarthy Reaghs, including other MacCarthy septs (MacCarthy Mor and MacCarthy of Muscry) and Anglo-Irish rulers (Earls of Desmond and Kildare). Only the O'Donovan chiefs of territories south of Kilmallock were inaugurated by the MacCaarthy Reagh; the O'Donovan chiefs of Bruree and territories north of Kilmallock were inaugurated by their Fidgheinte kinsmen. The O'Donovans in Carbery may have been joined by a junior sept of their Ó Coileáin kinsmen from Uí Chonaill Gabra. A large number of O'Donovans of Carbery and Cork may also descend from the Dunavans of the Corca Laidghe, which was a completely different, and perceived as inferior (less royal) race than the descendants of Eoghan Mor.
Later, the title Prince of Carbery (Cairbre) would be adopted by the MacCarthy Reaghs, although there is significant doubt as to whether this is actually derived from the former tribal name of the O'Donovans (Ui Chairpre of the Ui Fidgente), and if so, then what circumstances led to it being extended well beyond the territories belonging to the O'Donovans. In any case, the Carberry septs of the Donovans were junior to the MacCarthy Reaghs, from whom they received the White Wand. The leading family of the Carbery O'Donovans, Clann Cathail, paid to their overlords a surprisingly small, economically insignificant rent, but the precise reason for this is lost to history. Possibly earlier times were recalled, or it may be due to the special relationship they developed with Fíngin Reanna Róin Mac Carthaig (see below).
From their association with Ivar of Limerick, the O'Donovans are related to the Norse Uí Ímair, through a daughter of the Limerick king married to the family's eponymous founder, Donnubán mac Cathail, Lord of Uí Fidgenti. The influence of the Danes on the O'Donovans was significant, as they carried Danish names for the next three centuries.
Donndubhán was a major figure and opponent of Mathgamain mac Cennétig and his brother Brian Bóruma in the Cogad Gáedel re Gallaib. He was in part responsible for the death of Mathgamain, and may have been slain by Brian for it, together with his brother-in-law Harald Ivarsson (Aralt mac Ímair), newly elected King of the Foreigners of Munster, by Brian in or around the year 978 in the Battle of Cathair Cuan. However, Donnubán's son Cathal mac Donnubáin was later in 1014 one of the Munster kings supporting Brian in the Battle of Clontarf.
Another figure was Donndubán mac Ímair (Ivarsson) of Waterford, a son of Ivar of Waterford, presumably by a daughter of Donndubán mac Cathail. Mentioned twice in the Annals for his involvement in slayings of cousins within a month of each other in 996, he was slain himself in retaliation in the same year.
Finally, Amlaíb Ua Donnubáin, the last recorded king of Uí Chairpre Áebda, was slain by William de Burgh and the sons of Domnall Mór Ua Briain in the year 1201. The lines of Clan Cathail, Clan Aneislis, and Clan Loughlin comes through the contemporary Ragnall Ua Donnubáin, assumed to be a near relation of Amlaíb. By 1300, most of the O'Donovans had vacated the geographical territory held for the previous thousand years. Most of the Ui Chairpre who moved to the Carbery area merged with Donovans of the Corca Laidghe. Of the family remaining in County Limerick after the 13th century unfortunately few records are preserved. Clearly, however, there were O'Donovans in the Limerick and Tipperary areas during the period 1400-1575, and the senior descendent of the last chief of the Ui Donabhains of Fidgheinte sat in the 1689 Parliament along with an O'Donovan from both Clan Cathail and Clan Lochlan.
Reverend John Begley (see references), of St. Munchin's, gives an account of the Christianization of the Norse of Limerick by the O'Donovans, and their long intermarriage. Mainchín of Limerick is the patron saint of the Diocese of Limerick and Bruree, and he may have been adopted by the Norse of Limerick city from the family. Begley argues that he was, but the O'Briens also claimed him indirectly at some point and obviously have their own supporters.
The longphorts were the Viking ship fortresses and later settlements, although the term soon enough came to mean simply encampment. However, the original meaning remained in usage and in the 10th century there were at least two Norse longphuirt, extensions of Limerick, which were deep in Uí Chairpre controlled territory.
Many Irish families intermarried with the Scandinavians, but it was a question of degree. In their case the O'Donovans simply took a particularly large dose. Nearly all of the long history of the Danes in Munster has been lost, although those living in Uí Chairpre are not known to have left, being last noted in Donnubán's company in 978. The later advent of the Norman invasion of Ireland ruined them as a political class. For the fate of the Limerick Norse see History of Limerick. Only the Cotter family of East Cork continue to prosper today in Ireland, but they are not of Limerick provenance.
From the later 16th century Scandinavian names have been very little used by the O'Donovan family, when once they were as popular as the Gaelic. But see the important Ímar Ua Donnubáin.
The O'Donovans are first found associated with the MacCarthys only four years after the death of Amlaíb. The Annals of Inisfallen report that in 1205
The political influence of the O'Donovans with the Ui Chairbre decreased as the Mac Carthy influenced increased,and then splintered. By 1232, certain septs of the MacCarthys ruled from where they had relocated to the south of the historical territory of the Ui Fidghente, and controlled the Ui Chairbre. In 1260 the O'Donovans are found raiding Norman lands alongside none other than Fíngin Reanna Róin Mac Carthaig, according to Norman documents. This was one year before his famous victory at the Battle of Callann, where the O'Donovans of Ui Chairbre are also believed to have been at his side. In 1259 he aided them in a fight against the O'Mahonys, who appear to have been blamed for the slaying of Crom Ua Donnubáin.
Up until this period the O'Donovans and O'Mahonys are generally regarded to have been allies, their ancestors Máel Muad mac Brain and Donnubán having joined forces against the Dál gCais in the 10th century. In 1283, the long and tumultuous relationship between O'Donovans and the O'Sullivans, and which has involved minor warfare as well as intermarriage over the centuries, with both major septs of the O'Sullivan dynasty.
Following an active 13th century, and after their move south the O'Donovans of Ui Chairbre fall into relative obscurity for approximately two centuries, primarily because the records for Munster during this period are few. Fragmenting into several smaller-sized lordships, they became subordinate to their overlord, MacCarthy Reagh, who was at odds with the MacCarthy Mor, who was at odds with the MacCarthys of Muscrery, who were at odds with both the Norman settlers (Barrys) and the old Irish (O'Callahan, O'Keefe), and with Gaelicized English (Fitzgeralds- Earls of Desmonds, FitzGibbons – Earls of Kildare and the White Knight), all of whom were or were not, depending on changing politics, at odds with the English monarchs.
O'Donovans of Ui Chairpre reappeared in various annals and records about 1500 . Domhnall Ó Donnabháin was Bishop of Ross in the mid-late 15th century, while Donal mac Melaghlin O'Donovan, was killed for piracy, along with his O'Driscoll accomplices, by the lords of the O'Driscolls in 1551.
However, despite similar obscurity for an exended period, an O'Donovan sept (the remnants of the Ui Donabhain of the Ui Fidghente, holding territory in Donovan-Synan near Doneraile, were still counted among the 64 leading Gaelic families in all of Ireland in the mid-16th century Book of Howth list, with their Chief noted as being the Chief Irish of his countrie (i.e. region).
Following the migration of some of the O'Donovans of the Ui Chairpre into Cork and the death of Ancrom O'Donovan in 1254, few Munster records survived which provides information on the history of the Ui Chairpre O'Donovans for the next three centuries. But when they reappear in the mid-16th century they are found in a similar state as other septs in Ireland at that time: rival branches assassinating each other and each supported by more distantly related septs. It appears that by a fortuitous marriage to an O'Leary of Carrignacurra and the ardent support of Clan Aneslis that the branch of the celebrated Donal of the Hides were able to set aside their rivals, in the person of Diarmaid an Bhairc ("Dermot of the Bark", meaning born at sea), who were supported by Ire (Ivor) O'Donovan [Ó Donnabháin Íomhair] of the Sliocht Íomhair ("Seed of Ivor"), descendants of the legendary Ímar Ua Donnubáin, younger son of Cathal, and also by the Sliocht Tioboit ("Seed of Toby"), another distinguished sept of Clancahill. In a terrible local conflict occurring in Rosscarbery in 1560, where Diarmaid was being inaugurated with the White Wand by the MacCarthy Reagh, Donal, with Clan Aneslis and a contingent of O'Learys, stormed the town, slaying Diarmaid and a great number of the Sliocht Íomhair at the start, and others of his followers were soon found and slaughtered in the streets of the town. The MacCarthy Reagh, who would have been Cormac na Haoine MacCarthy Reagh, 10th Prince of Carbery, then inaugurated Donal na g crocieann with the White Rod, declaring him "O'Donovan", after he had just run his kinsman Diarmaid through. The story has significant doubt as to its veracity, though John O'Donovan considered it "probably true".
Ellen O'Leary and Donal na g crocieann (of the Hides) were married at Dromale, and their issue was, among other sons, Donal II O'Donovan, who may or may not have been a bastard born before their marriage was solemnised. In any case he succeeded to the chiefship in 1584 upon the death of Donal of the Hides, and received the White Rod from his father-in-law, Owen MacCarthy Reagh, 12th Prince of Carbery, to whose daughter the Lady Joane he was now married. Previously he was married to Helena de Barry, daughter of William Barry of Barryroe, son of James de Barry, 4th Viscount Buttevant, and she was mother to his son and heir Donal III O'Donovan, but it is not known in what year she may have died or was possibly divorced.
Donal III joined the so-called Irish Rebellion of 1641 under Donough MacCarthy, Viscount Muskerry, with the result that his lands were later wasted and two of his castles blown up by the Cromwellians. Later in the Irish Confederate Wars he would assist his near neighbour, James Tuchet, 3rd Earl of Castlehaven in the taking of a number of fortifications in County Cork. For all this he was eventually stripped of his estates by Oliver Cromwell in 1652. Donal married Gylles O'Shaughnessy, daughter of Sir Roger Gilla Dubh Ó Seachnasaigh, and his heir by her was Donal IV O'Donovan.
In 1660 Daniel IV was eventually restored to a small portion of his father's estates by Charles II of England, who gave the rest away to Cromwell's soldiers. In 1689 he sat as a member of the House of Commons of the Patriot Parliament of James II, and in the next year, under Governor Sir Edward Scott, was the Deputy Governor of Charles Fort, Kinsale, when besieged by John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough (then 1st Earl). After holding out for ten days, they received guarantees before surrendering, O'Donovan delivered the keys to Marlborough, and they and the 1200 strong garrison were allowed to march out to Limerick. See Siege of Cork.
Daniel IV's last descendant in the male line was General Richard II O'Donovan, who was the first person in two hundred years to declare himself "the O'Donovan", based on his lineage and social stature. Following his death in 1829, the title 'the O'Donovan' was assumed by Protestant clergyman Morgan O'Donovan but his claim was not accepted by the clan. General O'Donovan willed the last of the ancient Clancahill estates, Bawnlahan, to the family of his wife, by whom he had no issue. General O'Donovan's self-pro claimed chiefship was passed by his agreement to a cadet line in the person of the Reverend Morgan O'Donovan of Montpelier, who was a descendant of Teige O'Donovan, of Mauleycorane, son of Donal II by the Lady Joanna née MacCarthy Reagh. The title of O'Donovan of Clan Cahill has been passed to subsequent generations from Rev. O'Donovan.
The grandson of the Reverend Morgan was Morgan William II O'Donovan, who fought in the Second Boer War 1900–1902, and was mentioned is despatches. He was later Colonel of the 4th Battalion, Royal Munster Fusiliers 1903–1914. His mother was Amelia, daughter of Gerald de Courcy O'Grady, The O'Grady.
Morgan William's son was Morgan John Winthrop O'Donovan, who fought in World War I and was decorated with the Military Cross. He later commanded the 1st Battalion, Royal Irish Fusiliers during World War II.
Morgan Gerald Daniel O'Donovan (Murchadh Gearóid Dónal Ó Donnabháin) was born in Pau, France, in 1931, died 25 January 2016, was the son of Morgan John Winthrop O'Donovan by his wife Cornelia Bagnell (died 1974). Educated at Stowe and Trinity College, Cambridge, O'Donovan resided near Skibbereen, in West Cork. O'Donovan was a member of the General Synod of the Church of Ireland, and served as Chairman of the Standing Council of Irish Chiefs and Chieftains. He was married to Frances Jane, daughter of the late Sir Gerald Templer, with whom his father served in the Royal Irish Fusiliers. They have issue: a son, Morgan Teige Gerald (born 1961), educated at Harrow and Girton College, Cambridge and two daughters, Katharine Jane (born 1962) and Cecilia Mary Cornelia (born 1966) [married N.G.F. Chamberlain, 1996 and has issue].
O'Donovan served on the Council with O'Donoghue of the Glens, McGillycuddy of the Reeks, O'Callaghan (Tortosa), Baron Inchiquin and O'Grady, the last his distant cousin. O'Callaghan and O'Donoghue are much more distant cousins through the MacCarthys. O'Donovan was profiled and interviewed by Ellis, Curley, and Chambers, for which see the list of references below.
Gaelic rank and titles
Gaelic titles are historically difficult for outsiders to understand, because medieval Ireland recognised no less than three grades of king, in addition to other nobility. From the 10th to the beginning of the 13th century the O'Donovans were titled rí or rig and belonged to the middle grade, either as kings of Uí Fidgenti, a once relatively large regional kingdom, or as kings of Uí Chairpre, itself a smaller but expanding regional kingdom containing at least two local petty kingdoms and a number of other tuatha, as well as additional occupied and conquered territories, stretching into County Tipperary and apparently including the majority of the lands surrounding Norse Limerick, according to the author of the Cogad Gáedel re Gallaib himself. According to the historian William F. T. Butler, Uí Chairpre alone contained six to as many as ten tuatha and Uí Chonaill sixteen more. A king of the middle or regional grade was known as a Ruiri or "over-king", and was of inferior rank only to a Rí ruirech or "king of overkings", generally otherwise known as a provincial king. No O'Donovan ever achieved this last rank, the family having risen in the wrong time and place to be contenders, which might be said for many families.
These O'Donovans are notable for many accomplishments. An important junior sept, the Donovans of Ballymore, established themselves in County Wexford. Many have distinguished themselves in political office and the military.Jeremiah O'Donovan (MP Baltimore)
Juliana Donovan, Countess of Anglesey – scandalised widow of Richard Annesley, 6th Earl of Anglesey
Edward Westby Donovan – fought in the Crimean War, later Commander of British Troops in Hong Kong. Chevalier of the Légion d'honneur.
The current representative of Clan Loughlin and the Ballymore sept is the scholar Brian Donovan of Trinity College, Dublin, a descendant of Donal Oge na Cartan O'Donovan, Lord of Clan Loughlin (died 1629). He is the CEO and co-founder of the historical research company Eneclann, based at Trinity.
For a male line descent of the O'Donovan septs of Carbery derivation into the time of Elizabeth see Crom Ua Donnubáin. Unfortunately this is not very extensive, and considerable differences exist in published lines. For the synthesised pedigrees themselves, see O'Donovan, O'Hart, Cronnelly, and also Todd, all in the list of references below. Each used the late medieval and early modern originals available to them. Burke is useful for the later lines.
The O'Donovans are associated with the Uí Ímair (House of Ivar). A variant even appeared in the Encyclopedia Britannica for a few decades, namely that some O'Donovans are actually male line descendants of the son of Ivar of Waterford mentioned above,. Although agreed upon by scholars to have been quite prominent during the second half of the 10th century and first two centuries of the second millennium, the family are poorly documented during this period, except for references in the epic political tracts Cogad Gáedel re Gallaib and Caithréim Chellacháin Chaisil because the sources as they have come down to us are very fragmentary. The Danish dynasty repeatedly used six names throughout their history and of these the O'Donovans were fond of no less than three, namely Ragnall, Amlaíb, and Ímar itself. Two of these even became sept names which were still known as late as the 17th century. The historical Sliocht Íomhair, who were undoubtedly considered O'Donovans, clearly have a Danish lineage. Furthermore, Ragnall, the very favourite, and once as common or more in the family as any Gaelic name, was also the favourite name of the royal family of Waterford. So intermarriage is a 100% certainty even if the sources are few. The Scoto-Irish Clann Somhairle, today represented mainly by the Clan Donald, are also widely regarded to be at least maternal descendants of the Uí Ímair, even their successors in the Isles. They are fond to this day of two out of six, namely Ragnall and Gofraid.
A neglected connection with another family must be mentioned. One or two important tales may be suggestive of association with one or another of the southern septs of the great De Burgh dynasty, beginning in the second half of the 13th or first half of the 14th century. Their ancestor William de Burgh was of course the leader of the expedition resulting in the death of Amlaíb in 1201, but the Burkes soon enough became very Gaelicized and integrated into Irish society, sprouting numerous septs throughout the provinces. Some members of one of these from County Limerick may actually have settled in O'Donovan territory, on lands granted them within his own by Ímar Ua Donnubáin, according to a legend recorded by Edith Anna Somerville.
Between them, Clancahill and Clan Loughlin controlled the entire harbour of Glandore, the former on the west side and the latter on the east, although before the 1560s the Clancahill portion appears to have been controlled by the Sliocht Íomhair. Clan Loughlin were seated at Cloghatradbally, now called Glandore Castle, a 13th-century Norman castle built by the Barretts, from whom they took it. This is the sacred harbour of Clíodhna.
Clancahill came to control half of Castlehaven harbour as well, the ancient O'Driscolls of Corcu Loígde in control of the other. From the ocean the territory of the O'Donovans then stretched north and northwest into the area of Drimoleague, with the well known Castle Donovan found in a valley not far from that village. This, up in the mountains, in a remote area, was the principal seat of the Clancahill main line until the early 17th century.
At what was probably their height in Carbery, between the late 16th century and their partial dispossession following the so-called Irish rebellion of 1641 and the Irish Confederate Wars in the mid 17th, the O'Donovans were in control of approximately 100,000 acres right in the center of the principality, with territories both in West and East Carbery. Of this, however, only around 15,000 acres were usable as farmland. In the remaining they were still owed rents and had the rights to hold court(s), fairs, and so on. From the several harbours and bays they controlled actually came their chief income, which was the case for lords all along the South Munster coast. Following the Cromwellian confiscations, the infamously ungrateful Charles II of England, after first giving his deceitful word he would restore them entirely, granted the vast majority to soldiers of Cromwell's army in lieu of pay. The O'Donovans would regain possession of less than one twentieth their former territories, a few thousand acres... although this was better than many Gaelic families did. The great MacCarthys Reagh lost virtually everything, receiving not enough back to even live on respectably, a few hundred acres out of the approaching 600 square miles (1,600 km2) they once controlled at their height (this included the O'Donovan territories, which were at one time probably much less than 100,000 acres), so they eventually left.
Clanlouglin lost their estates twice, first the majority of the fairly immense Manor of Glandore in the 1650s to Cromwell and his soldiers, and then the Manor of the Leap, a descendant of the remains of the former, in 1737, when one of their dynasts, Jeremiah II O'Donovan, sold it.
In 1878 various branches of the O'Donovan family were reported successful (landed) and in possession of 17,213 acres of estates in several counties in southern Ireland, not counting estates and homesteads of less than 500 acres. By this time Donovans were well established in England, Australia, Canada, Argentina and the United States. More than 1,000 Donovans served in the Civil War in the United States.
To date, fairly few O'Donovans have been tested, but it is expected that in the future the relationships between the various alleged Eóganachta septs will be better understood. It may or may not be possible to separate the Eóganachta from the more ancient Érainn. There appears to be a South Irish R1b cluster which is clearly distinct from the Irish Type III of the Dál gCais to the immediate north.
One of Ireland's most celebrated historians was John O'Donovan, who claimed descent from a supposed son, Edmond, of Donal II O'Donovan. He published an Irish Grammar and translated and edited the first complete edition of the Annals of the Four Masters, and is often regarded as the greatest Irish scholar of the 19th century. The enormous amount of knowledge collected by John O'Donovan in the Irish countryside is still frequently relied upon for research, for example the recent title on Royal Inauguration in Gaelic Ireland by Elizabeth FitzPatrick.
A son of John O'Donovan was the war-correspondent Edmund O'Donovan, famous for his journey to Merv.
According to relatives, the great William Joseph Donovan, whose grandfather Timothy O'Donovan was from Skibbereen, had traced his ancestry back to medieval times. But whatever genealogy there might have been is now lost, if so, and his sept may or may not ever be known. Wild Bill Donovan was the most decorated American soldier of World War I, and later headed the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) in World War II. He is known as the "Father of American Intelligence" and the "Father of Central Intelligence."
William Joseph Donovan was a Knight of Malta and Knight Grand Cross of the Order of St. Sylvester, the only American ever to be made the second.
Jeremiah O'Donovan Rossa, the prominent Fenian leader and writer, was most likely a descendant of the Clan Aineislis or MacEnesles O'Donovans, as concluded upon by himself and John O'Donovan. His descendants still live in both Rosscarbery and Staten Island, New York City.
James B. Donovan was an American lawyer and famed negotiator central in the defense and later exchange of Rudolf Abel for Francis Gary Powers, as well as negotiations with Fidel Castro for the return of prisoners following the Bay of Pigs Invasion. He was portrayed by Tom Hanks in the 2015 Steven Spielberg film Bridge of Spies.
See Notable people surnamed O'Donovan.