World history has seldom been influenced more by any other race than by that of the Irish people. Not only does Ireland have the world's oldest standing structure, was home to the earliest missionaries to Scotland and England and was possessed of a refined culture, but there is also reasonable claim to the statement that the Irish were the first settlers in North America.
Entwined amongst the romantic chronicles of this great land is the distinguished history of the Irish sept Donovan. The works of O'Hart, McLysaght and O'Brien, the Four Masters and Woulfe, supplemented by church baptismals, parish records, and ancient land grants, have been used to reconstruct the family name history.
We found that the family name Donovan was first recorded in county Limerick where they were seated from very ancient times at Bruree, on there hereditary territory on the lands along the banks of the river Maigues in that county. They were descended from Crom, the Chief of the Donovans, who built Crom Castle, and he in turn was descended anciently from Eoghan Mor (Eugene the Great), King of Munster. Amhailgadh II's son, Crom's great-great-grandfather, was a commander with King Brian Boru in the Battle of Clontarf against the Danes, and it was at this time through marriage that they lost the throne of Munster.
Several spelling variations of the name were found in the archives and most of these variations were the result of families translating the name from the Gaelic into English. Recorded versions of the name Donovan included Donovan, Donavon, Donavan, Donevan, Donnovan, Donnavon, Donnavan, Donnovin, O'Donovan, and many more. Frequently a name was spelled several different ways during the lifetime of the same person, when he or she was born, married and died.
The legendary Kings of Ireland, some 1500 years B.C., were descended from King Milesius of Spain, the grandson of Breoghan (Brian), King of Galicia, Andalusia, Murcia, Castile and Portugal. Milesius turned his attention northward to Ireland to fulfill an ancient Druidic prophecy. He sent an army to explore this fertile island. On finding that his son had been murdered by the three resident Irish Kings (the Danans), Milesius vengefully gathered another army. He died before he embarked on the voyage but his surviving eight sons conquered Ireland.
Heremon, eldest son of Milesius, reigned in Ireland for fourteen years, along with his brothers Heber, Ir, and Ithe. They named the land Scota or Scotia, their mother's name, the land of the Scots. This name would later be taken by the Irish King Colla in 357 A.D., when he was exiled to Scotland, leaving the name `Ir-land', land of Ir, the youngest of the four sons of Milesius, to the Emerald Isle.
The great Gaelic family of Donovan emerged in later years in Limerick. However with the Anglo-Norman invasion by Strongbow in 1172, the Donovans were forced to move south west to county Cork. Later, the Donovans rebelled against the Cromwellian invasion in the 17th century, they lost most of their lands, moving to many parts of Ireland, and even to France where they joined the Irish Brigade. Notable amongst the family at this time was Donovan of Limerick.
In 1172 A.D., Dermott McMurrough, King of Leinster, requested King Henry II of England for assistance in achieving the Kingship of all Ireland. Through treachery, many proud native Irish families lost their chiefships, territories and the spoils were divided amongst the Norman knights and nobles. This was followed by Cromwell's invasion in 1640 and later, Ulster in the north was seeded with Protestant Scottish and English.
In 1845, the great potato famine caused widespread poverty, and the exodus from Ireland began. Many Irish joined the fleet of sailing ships which sailed from Belfast, Dublin, Cork, Holyhead, Liverpool, and Glasgow, bound for the New World or to Australia. Some romantics called these ships the White Sails while others, more realistically called these vessels the "Coffin Ships", because 30% to 40% of the passengers died of disease and the elements.
In America, some of the first migrants which could be considered kinsmen of the sept Donovan and of that same family were Daniell Donavan who settled in the Barbados in 1680; Ann, Bat, Bridget, and Catharine Donavan all settled in Boston Mass. between 1847 and 1850; they also settled in Philadelphia Pa., Maryland, and New York; Cornelius, Daniel, Denis, James, Jeremiah, John and Martin Donovan all settled in Philadelphia Pa. between 1774 and 1880; the Donovans also settled in California and New York; Daniel Donevan settled in Salem Mass. in 1823; Florence Donevan settled in Boston Mass. in 1849; Patrick Donevan settled in Philadelphia in 1865; Daniel Donnovan settled in Philadelphia in 1835, followed by Cornelius in 1850; Timothy Donnovin settled in Maryland in 1776. In Newfoundland, the Donovans settled in Harbour Main, Quidi Vidi, St. John, Carbonear, Harbour Grace, Melrose, Port de Grave and many more from 1756 to 1871.
In the New World the Irish played an important part in building the nation, the railroads, coal mines, bridges and canals. They lent their culture to the arts, sciences, commerce, religion and the professions.
The Irish moved westward with the wagon trains, and settled the mid west, some trekking over the Rockies to the distant west coast. During the American War of Independence some were loyal to the cause, joining the Irish Brigades. Others were loyal to the Crown, and moved north into Canada, becoming known as the United Empire Loyalists and being granted lands on the banks of the St. Lawrence and the Niagara Peninsula.
Meanwhile, the family name Donovan produced many prominent people Professor Desmond Thomas Donovan, Geology, University of London; Hedley Donovan, Editor in Chief, Time Inc.
The most ancient grant of a Coat of Arms found was:
Silver, an arm issuing from the sinister side of the shield, holding a scian blade up entwined with a serpent.