The first recorded spelling of the family name Donovan is actually O Donnabhain, found in the Annals of the Four Masters. O Donnabhain comes from the word “donn,” which means brown and “dubhan,” a derivative of “dubh,” the Irish word for black.
The O’Donovan name has several variations including Donnavon, Donraven, Donnovin and, the version most common today, Donovan. The O’Donovans held territory in County Limerick and are descendants of Eoghan Mor (Eugene the Great), King of Munster. His descendant “Crom” O’Donovan built a castle by the River Maigue in County Limerick that the town of Croom (which means bend in the river) grew up around. It is in the exact center of County Limerick, and is credited with being the place from which the form of poetry called the limerick originates.
Crom’s great-great-grandfather Cathal was one of Brian Ború’s chief commanders at the Battle of Clontarf, which drove the Danes out of Ireland in 1014. However, by the 12th century, the O’Donovans were driven out of Limerick by Donal Mór O’Brien, a descendant of Brian Ború. They moved further into the southwest, mostly settling in West Cork and parts of Kerry, where the name is still prominent.
The remains of a family residence, Castle Donovan, survive today outside Drimoleague, County Cork. Believed to have been the seat for the Clann Cathail sept of the O’Donovan clan in the 16th century, most of the 60-foot-tall tower house remain and is undergoing restoration. Castle Donovan was abandoned in the mid-17th century after being attacked by soldiers during the Cromwellian invasion.
An Irish Fenian who lived in exile for much of his life, Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa (1831-1915) was born to a family of tenant farmers in County Cork. In 1856, he created the Phoenix National and Literary Society, dedicated to the liberation of Ireland by force, which later merged with the Irish Republican Brotherhood. He was arrested and jailed twice – once in 1859, without trial, and again in 1865 for plotting a Fenian uprising. Though serving a life sentence in prison, he managed to be elected for the Tipperary constituency of the British House of Commons in 1869. A year later he was exiled to the U.S. where he continued his republican activity through Clan na Gael and the Fenian Brotherhood until his death at age 83. His body was brought back to Ireland, where Patrick Pearse delivered the oration at a huge funeral in Glasnevin Cemetery.
Marion Donovan (1917-1998), inventor of the disposable diaper, was not immediately recognized for her work. The post-World War II mother, frustrated with having to constantly change her child’s clothing and bedsheets, created a disposable diaper using a shower curtain. She also replaced the safety pins used at the time with snap fasteners. When no one showed interest in the invention, Donovan marketed the item on her own and it became an instant hit, debuting at Saks Fifth Avenue in 1949 and receiving a patent in 1951. She continued to improve upon her product in her later years, receiving 20 patents over her lifetime and inspiring Victor Mills to create Pampers in 1961.
Sculptor William O’Donovan (1844-1920) is known for his monuments and busts of notable Americans. After serving in the Confederate Army during the Civil War, Donovan moved to New York City and opened a studio where he began sculpting memorial pieces. His most famous sculptures include Lincoln and Grant in Grand Army Plaza in Brooklyn, New York, Irish-born Archbishop Hughes at Fordham University and a bust of Walt Whitman.
In the literary world, Michael Francis O’Connor O’Donovan, better known as Frank O’Connor (1903-1966), wrote over 150 works, including short stories, essays, poetry and novels. Raised in County Cork, many of his stories were based on his own life experiences, especially of the Irish War of Independence and the Irish Civil War. O’Connor served in the IRA during this time and was interned from 1922-1923 as part of the 12,000 combatants who were opposed to the Anglo-Irish Treaty. Largely raised by his mother, O’Connor used her maiden name as a pen name, reflecting on his tumultuous childhood and strained relationship with his father in many of his stories. Neil Jordan’s film The Crying Game is based on O’Connor’s short story “Guests of the Nation.”
Major General William Joseph Donovan (1883-1959), nicknamed “Wild Bill,” was an American soldier during World War I and II and was head of the Office of Strategic Services, a wartime intelligence agency. He is known as the “Father of Central Intelligence” for his role in creating the CIA, which he suggested as a centralized, peacetime American intelligence organization.
In sports, Landon Donovan (1982- ) is a soccer player for Los Angeles Galaxy and most recently played on the U.S. team for the 2010 World Cup. He played in all four games, and scored goals against Slovenia, Algeria and Ghana. Donovan is the all-time leader in scoring and assists for the United States national team. At 28, he has won every title and honor possible in American Major League soccer, helping to bring the U.S. team to international prominence at the World Cup.