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Family Harvest Genealogy

Upated: 2007 April 10

The Donovan Family

The research for this branch of the Donovan family has been slow and frustrating. Like so many other Irish families who emigrated from their island homeland to the American continent, they encouraged their progeny to become americanized. This meant that family history and traditions, which contribute so strongly to the Celtic makeup, were not passed to successive generations. So it has been with this family.

Now, five generations after our immigrant Donovan ancestors arrived in search of a better life, interest in the family's heritage has increased. With some luck and a lot of patience, the story will finally unfold and the knowlege will be restored.

Surname History

Name Meaning: little brown poet
(donn, meaning brown/dark haired; davhan, meaning little poet)

The person considered the founder of the Donovan family was Cormac, King of Munster (A.D. 483). For several centuries, Cormac's descendants ruled the large petty kingdom of Ui Cairbre, a district located in County Limerick along the banks of the River Maigue, with its stronghold at Bruree.

About 950, the O Donovan kingdom was spilt into two--the former royal family taking over the eastern portion, retaining its seat at Bruree. For that reason, the chiefs of this territory were known as the Kings of Bruree.

In 976, King Donnabhan was involved in a dynastic feud over the kingship of Munster. In a plot to gain control of the throne, Donnabhan had Mahon, King of Munster, killed. Mahon's brother, Brian Boru, assumed the throne and invaded Donnabhan's territory, killing him and burning his fort.

Cathal McDonovan, Prince of Cairbre (and son of Donabhan), later fought with Brian Boru in 1014 at the battle of Clontarf, permanently ending the Viking power on April 23 of that year. It was Cathal who later assumed the name Ua Donnabhan (son of Donnabhan), which was later modernized as O Donovan or Donovan.

However, old feuds and distrust of the O Donovans by the O Briens (Brian Boru's descendants) continued. Donal Mor O Brien, King of Thomand (North Munster), expelled the O Donovans from Limerick. They went to southwest County Cork and settled on the land of the O Donnells, alongside their allies, the MacCarthys. They gave their new territory the same ancestral name of Ui Cairbre, which is still known today as Carbery East and Carbery West.

The O Donovans retained considerable power and extensive holdings until after the defeat of the Stuart cause under King James II.

Name variations: Donavan, Dunavan, Dunivan, Doniphant

Blazon Description

O'Donovan Blazon
Argent, issuing from the sinister side of the shield a cubit dexter arm,
vested gules, cuffed of the first, the hand grasping a scian in pale,
the blade entwined with a serpent, all proper

Donovan Motto

Vis Super Hostem (strength over the enemy)
or Vir super hostem (a man above or over his enemy)

Donovan Ancestors

Not much is known about the ancestors. Even the given name of "Uncle Rink-A-Dink" was unknown for 80+ years by his nephews. In 1998, during an extended visit to NARA in Massachusetts, it was finally discovered to be "John"! (1880 U.S. Census for the City of Lowell)

The family bible was lost during a move in the 1950s, so the research will depend largely on the few tidbits remembered by the older generation and some clever deductions!

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See the Donovan Database for more information about this family.

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