This great Irish family can trace their name back to Donnabhain, the son of Callaghan, a 10th century Munster King. Donnabhain is composed of the Gaelic elements "donn" meaning "brown", dubh - black plus the diminutive suffix "an". The original homeland of the (O) Donovans was the extensive territory of the River Maigue in Co. Limerick where they were considered a noble race and named their stronghold Brugh Riogh which translates as the "Royal Residence". After the Norman Invasion of 1170, the (O) Donovans moved under force to south west Cork where they acquired much territory and became chieftains in Carbery.The family supported the army of James 11 in Ireland (1690). Jeremiah O'Donovan (1831-1915) called Rossa, the revered Fenian patriot, who went to America following his release from prison, is the most famous namebearer in Irish history. The first recorded spelling of the family name is shown to be that of O'Donnabhain, which was dated circa 1169, in the "Annals of the Four Masters", during the reign of Rory O'Connor, known as "The High King of Ireland", 1166 - 1198. Surnames became necessary when governments introduced personal taxation. In England this was known as Poll Tax. Throughout the centuries, surnames in every country have continued to "develop" often leading to astonishing variants of the original spelling.
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