Donovan – Chieftains of Carbery

History of the Irish name Donovan. Image copyright Ireland Calling

The Irish surname Donovan dates back to the 10th century. It is a royal line that can be traced back to a medieval king.

It is one of the most common surnames in Ireland and has several variations including Donavan Donevan, Donevane, Donnavon, Donnovin, O’Donovan and many more.

The name originated in the Munster province of Ireland and is still prominent in the counties of Cork and Limerick.

Three parts to the surname

It comes from the surname O’Donnabhain. The prefix ‘O’ meant that a person with the name would be a ‘grandson of’ or ‘descendent of’ Donnabhain.

Donnabhain was an old Gaelic personal name that consisted of three parts; ‘donn’ which meant brown, ‘dubh’ which meant black, and finally ‘an’ which was a common suffix for names at the time.

This means that Donnabhain would have had dark brown or black hair and the O’ Donnabhains were his descendants.

Donnabhain was the son of the ferocious Ceallach who was King of Munster in the 10th century. Ceallach is also the ancestor of the Callaghans.

Well respected and noble family

The O’Donnabhain clan originally controlled a huge territory that stretched along the River Maigue in Co Limerick. They were well respected and thought of as a noble family. Their territory was known as ‘Burgh Riogh’ which means ‘Royal Residence’.

However, they were forced to travel south following the Norman invasion of 1170. They soon asserted their authority again and became chieftains in Carbery with a large territory.

While the McCarthys were the dominant family in the region, the Donovans ruled Carbery until the early 17th century.

In 1688, the Donovans supported the army of King James II against the combined forces of William of Orange and the English Parliamentarians. However, James was overthrown and was the last ever Catholic monarch to reign over England, Scotland and Ireland.

After the Stuart family lost their throne, the Donovans became outlawed and lost their wealth and power in Ireland.

Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa

Jeremiah Donovan Rossa
Jeremiah Donovan Rossa

Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa was an Irish Fenian leader in the 19th century. He established the Phoenix National and Literary Society, a movement to liberate Ireland from the British using force of arms. They later merged with the Irish Republican Brotherhood.

In the 1880s he became the first man to organise bombings in English cities. However, this didn’t appeal to many Irish people and is thought to have slowed the independence movement.

Famous Donovans

Several Donovans have achieved success in their chosen fields over the years.

Landon Donovan is an American soccer player. He has the MLS Cup five times with the San Jose Earthquakes and Los Angeles Galaxy. He has helped the US national team win five CONCACAF Gold Cups and has been named US Soccer Athlete of the year four times. He has represented his country over 150 times.

Jason Donovan is an Australian actor and singer. He appeared in the Australian soap opera Neighbours before embarking on a music career. He sold millions of albums and starred as Joeseph in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat.

Jeffery Donovan is an American actor. He is famous for his roles in films such as Hitch, Changeling and J Edgar in which he played Robert F. Kennedy.

Tate Donovan is an American actor and director. He has appeared in several films including Argo, Good Night and Good Luck, Swordfish and Shooter. He has also appeared in hit TV shows such as Friends, Ally McBeal, the OC, Hostages and 24.

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