The Amazing Story of Denis Donovan.

I was watching the telly the other night and a lovely programme called "Abhainn" came on. It features a different Irish river (Abhainn is the Irish for river) each week and brings us on a trip from its source to sea over a half hour. This week it was the turn of the River Bandon in County Cork.

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The Amazing Story of Denis Donovan.

The River Bandon gets it’s name from the Celtic goddess for water – Bann – and rises near the town of Drimoleague. Through the many aerial shots used in the programme we see all the towns, bridges and castles along the way. And we meet many of the local characters. During its first few miles it flows through country associated with the O’Donovan family name.

A few months back I travelled around this area and came across one of the Castles shown in the programme – Togher Castle – a stronghold of the McCarthys. As I stood there taking pictures from a distance on a cloudy day, a man came out of a nearby farmhouse (you can see one of the pictures and more on the O’Donovans here).

Togher Castle

Togher Castle, County Cork

We nodded and stood beside each other looking at the castle in the distance. It turned out that he bought the castle with the farm a few years back. He was a Donovan who had been on the road all his life while running a transport company. He decided to settle down twenty years ago and bought the farm – and now he told me that “the only way I’ll be out of here is in the foxy box”.

We talked a while about the castle and it’s history – and how we might be related (I’m part Donovan also) – and after a while we parted. It stayed with me since how this man had made his decision about the place he wanted to stay and see out his days. I suppose for a lot of us it is a privilege to be able to choose our final resting place.

Then, a few days later I saw a mail from one of our readers, Melinda Stahl. A story about another Donovan and how he got to choose his final resting place.

A Lake and an Irish Surname. 

Melinda’s story was about the Big Rideau Lake in Ontario, Canada – and one of her ancestors:

“My great great great grandfather is Denis Donovan who was born in 1795 in County Cork. By the 1820s he had moved to New York, USA and then on to Ontario, Canada. In 1842, he bought 50 acres of land in the area near Donovans Point on the Big Rideau Lake. He and his family operated an apple orchard and market garden in this location. He died on December 18, 1851 and was buried on his property. When his widow and son sold the property in 1860, it was for the entire 50 acres with the exception of a small parcel, 9 feet long by 6 feet wide, the burial place of Dennis Donovan.

One story (not verified) goes that the deed for this 9 foot by 6 foot wide plot was given to the City of Cork in Ireland. These are the roots of the fictional “Rideau Canal worker buried in Irish soil” story that appeared in local newspapers. Donovan’s headstone was found in 1970, it read “DENIS DONOVAN departed this life Dec. 18, 1851 aged 56 years, a native of the County Cork, Ireland.”

Thank you very much Melinda for sharing. What a great story! A man who was determined to be buried on Irish-owned soil – and he somehow got his wish. My next step is to head into the archives department in the City Library here in Cork and see if there is any chance of finding such a document that was given by the Donovan family all those years ago. If I find anything – I will let you know.

Do you have any stories about the ancestors in your family?

If you have a question, do let me know in the comments section below.

That’s it for now!

Slán, Mike.

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