Origin of the O'Donovan Clan Name

The O’Donovans are possibly descended from Donnubhán Mac Cathail or Donnóbhán, which includes the elements donn, dark brown and dubh, or black and the diminutive suffix án. Cathal was the 10th century ruler of the Uí Fidgentí kingdom based in West Limerick with the Rivers Maigue and Morning Star as boundaries. He was also possibly also the ruler of the Uí Cairbre, a subclan of the Uí Fidgentí in 982 when he succeeded his older brother.

Rivals of the O’Briens, it was Donnubán mac Cathail who formed an alliance with his Viking in-laws of Limerick and Mael Muad against the Dal gCais, and hatched a plot to capture and kill Mahon, son of Cinnéide, their leader. Mahon was the brother of Brian Boru. Brian subsequently avenged his death by killing all those involved at the time of the Battle of Cathair Cuan in 978. 

O'Donovan, clans of Ireland

Cathal, son of Donnubhán, is also known to have led his clan into the Battle of Clontarf 1014, where he fought with the O'Mahonys on the side of Brian Boru. It is believed his mother was the daughter of the Viking King of Limerick, possibly Ivar, whom his father Donnúbhan, as the leader of the Uí Cairpre tribe, had married. Its seat is said to have been Adare, Co. Limerick on the banks of the River Maigue. Donovan ruled from Bruree, further along the river and seat of the kings in East Limerick.

When the Normans arrived in the 12the century, many clans were pushed southwest and the O’Donovans were no exception. With the death of Amlaíb, the O’Donovans allied with the more powerful MacCarthys, who were instrumental in the resistance to the Normans and their defeat at the Battle of Callan in 1261.

The lineage of Clancahill survived various alliances and feuds with other clans down the centuries and can claim many links with other ancient family lines including O’Donoghue, O’Grady and Gearóid Mór, the 8th Earl of Kildare, known for his harsh rule and interest in the black arts. Gearóid Mór also resided at Adare Castle in the 1500s. 

Croom Castle in Co. Limerick has long been associated with the O'Donovan lineage and Crom O'Donovan died here in 1254.

Castle Donovan is situated in the heart of O’Donovan territory in West Cork, near Drimoleague, and was built in the time of Donal of the Hides, who was Lord of Clancahill from 1560 until his death in 1584. 

The O'Donovan Crest includes a sword for valour and military might, and the serpent for fertility and long life.