The DONOVAN families are descended from the O'Donnabhain (meaning brown) sept. The original location of the sept was in the neighbourhood of Bruree, along the banks of the River Maigue in the south of County Limerick but they migrated to West Cork where the sept re-established itself in the south of the baronies of East and West Carbery at about the end of the 12th century. County Cork is still the principal home of the families of this name and many still live in the neighbourhood of settlement of their ancestors. Branches have also migrated and established themselves in County Kilkenny, County Waterford and County Wexford. The inland Munster county of Tipperary is second only in extent in Ireland to the Ulster county of Donegal, covering as it does over one million acres. The county is bounded on the east and north-east by the province of Leinster, having boundaries with the counties of Offaly, Leix and Kilkenny. On the south side County Tipperary has a boundary with County Waterford, marked for some distance by the River Suir. The community which mushroomed beside one rich colliery, which opened in the 18th century, one of the earliest to be exploited in the county, was named Coalbrook. Ironstone metal was also found in the pits there. As this county covered a large territory it accommodated anciently a number of septs; by the time of the arrival of the Anglo-Normans, branches of several Dalcassian septs from Thomond had also established themselves in the area.
An eminent member of the name was John O'Donovan (1809-61) the Irish Gaelic scholar, born in Kilkenny. He was educated at Dublin, and worked in the Irish Record Office on the Ordnance Survey, for which he visited every Irish parish to obtain accurate Irish place-names. His authoritative 'Letters' on these proved an invaluable historical source when published in 1924-32. He became professor of Celtic studies at Queen's College, Belfast in 1850. Michael O'Donovan was the Irish writer born in Cork in 1903. He wrote short stories, and Yeats said of him that 'he was doing for Ireland what Chekhov did for Russia'.
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