Calling California: Castleisland Reaches Out to Donovan Descendants

Castleisland historian T M Donovan had much to say about his home town, and his Popular History of East Kerry remains a valuable resource for researchers of Castleisland in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.


His name appeared frequently in the columns of the local press on all matters of history but he was also outspoken on social, political and religious affairs.


An example is the following opinion piece about Pound Lane in which Donovan looked at ways to solve ‘the problem of the slum’:


In the lowest depths of Slumland – the living hell of the submerged of London, we have sordidness and misery unrelieved; here in Kerry we have merely insanitary surroundings and a certain regrettable amount of drunkenness and immorality.  ‘Pound Lane,’ said his Honour Judge Charles Dromgoole at the Quarter Sessions, ‘Oh that is a terrible place!’  And all the lawyers, officials and police agreed that it was a terrible place.  But to those who know the capital cities of the world and who get a peep at their lowest hells, Pound Lane in the town of Castleisland is comparatively a lower heaven.


Donovan, who lived in Church Street, argued that ‘every town in Kerry has its Pound Lane’ but he reasoned that they could be eradicated if people could be encouraged to invest:


Suppose that £2,000 would be enough to buy out Pound Lane and build 20 decent cottages to replace the present tumbledown dwellings.  Could we get 200 persons who could well afford it to take a fully paid-up share of £10 each in the ‘Pound Lane Trust Limited.’  The ten pound note would make each a shareholder in a sound business transaction.


Donovan believed, however, that his idea would not work as there was ‘a dearth of honest and reliable men’ available to manage it and believed that ultimately everyone was to blame ‘for the existence of the Pound Lanes all over the world.’


He reckoned that Pound Lane did not deserve its reputation:


The present day Pound Lane is not as black as it is painted.  There is a certain amount of wasteful spending of war money, a certain amount of drunkenness and bad language and sin but there are certain amounts of all these evils in higher quarters than Pound Lane throughout the length and breadth of Ireland.  There are also hard working honest respectable people there as there are in all parts of Ireland.


Donovan described the Pound Lane he remembered from the 1870s and 1880s:


Where could you find better labouring men – honest hard workers, living on the scrapings of the rich man’s pot for a miserable wage; their food yellow meal bread, potatoes and skim milk, and their beds straw under the ‘drop-down.’  It is a miracle that they were so honest and so laborious and so patriotic.  Yes, patriotic without hope of free or reward when during the Land War of the 1880s they the Pound Roaders were in the front at every battle.  They themselves gained very little by it, for the emigrant ship carried off most of their children.[1]


All Take Notice! The recently published Pound Road and its People produced by Castleisland District Heritage in collaboration with Mikey Conway is available in local outlets.  On the right, Pound area undergoing construction work in 1969


In Dublin, in the National Library of Ireland, the T M Donovan Papers are held which include a correspondence with Pachal Robinson.  They represent a study of the early twentieth century in local history, politics and religion.[2]


Here in Castleisland, the great work of the historian is cherished but it is regretted that the family headstone in St Stephen’s Churchyard does not record his death in Castleisland in 1950.


Donovan and Lenihan


T M Donovan was the son of Michael Donovan (Michael is on record as a pensioner from the Ordnance Survey) and Ellen Lenihan of Castleisland.[3]  Michael and Ellen seem to have had four surviving children.[4]


Michael Donovan died on 12 December 1888 aged 71, his son Michael present at his death.  Ellen Donovan died on 3 September 1914 aged 83.[5]


Children of Michael and Ellen


Timothy M Donovan, who spent a great part of his adult life teaching in Queensland, was twice married but as far as can be seen there were no children of either marriage.


His older brother was scholar Rev John Donovan of the Society of Jesus (SJ) who died in 1933.  Rev John Donovan was buried in St Stephen’s churchyard where his memorial was described in detail:


A beautiful memorial slab of Carrara marble to commemorate Father John Donovan, SJ, and executed by Mr P O’Reilly, may be seen at his Monumental Works, Church Street.  It is intended to be placed on the family vault in St Stephen’s, where repose the ashes of one of the greatest churchmen of our time, world-renowned alike for his scholastic attainments and his virile championship of the Faith.  The work is rarely delicate and beautiful.  A chalice set in an aura and partly enfolded by an exquisite rose-wreath, surmounts the inscription in gilt lettering – a very masterpiece of the sculptor’s art.  The distinguished Jesuit’s no less gifted brother, Mr T M Donovan, is responsible for this slab of rare beauty, which shall endure whilst a stone remains upon a stone in our renowned old Church, and reflect an added lustre on the master hand that fashioned it.[6]


A photograph of the above memorial, of which nothing now remains (nor the metal fence which surrounded it) records partial inscription:


The remains of
Rev John Donovan, SJ MA
Scholar Professor Author
A Defender of the Gospel
Born 1861 Died 1933
Requiescat in Pace


St Stephen’s Church of Ireland, Castleisland in the grounds of which is the burial place of the Donovan family


Youngest son, Michael Joseph Donovan, lived in Pasadena.  He was married to Dora Bell on 28 June 1910 in Los Angeles.  Michael and Dora had three children (two daughters and one son).  Michael Joseph Donovan died in 1951.


His eldest daughter Ellen (1911-1980) was married first to Clifford A Williams and subsequently to Taylor J Hand.  Second child Agnes Catherine (1915-2006) was married to Howard William Hurley in 1947 and had three children, Christopher, Stephen and Timothy.  Michael, the youngest, born in 1920, seems to have married Lorraine Smith in about 1941 and had children William, John, Mark and Matthew Phillip (1954-2002).[7]


St Stephen’s Churchyard


The Donovan headstone in St Stephen’s churchyard is inscribed as follows:


Pray for the Souls of
Michael & Ellen Donovan
Erected by their Son
Timothy M Donovan


Castleisland District Heritage would welcome contact with descendants of Michael Joseph Donovan to look into the possibility of honouring the town’s historian with a suitable memorial.


[1] ‘The Problem of the Slum,’ Kerry Weekly Reporter, 11 March 1916. 

[2]  They also include elements of Donovan’s personal life.

[3] Alternative spellings Linehan/Lenehan.  Michael, son of John Donovan, married Ellen, daughter of Denis Lenihan of tClucan (Tullighan) in Castleisland on 18 September 1859.  The marriage was witnessed by John Duane and Patrick Cullinane.  ‘Let us go back to the green fields of tClucan – there over the Nohoval churchyard, to your left as you come from Tralee.  There are four comfortable homesteads standing out on the hillside, surrounded by grassy fields, waving crops, and meadows.  About 150 years ago all this cultured farm land was a wild moor covered with furze, bracken, heath and bog.  It was given at a nominal rent to my great-grandfather, Thade Lenihan.  He and his three sons, Denis, Michael, and Teig, and their sons, made green fields out of the heathery and boggy moor.  And when this waste land was, by herculean labour, turned into profitable, cultivated land, the landlord stepped in and claimed it as his own’ (A Popular History of East Kerry (1931) by T M Donovan, pp84-85).  See Lenihan of Woodville House, Ballyegan

[4] Irish Genealogy records six children born to Michael and Ellen Donovan in Castleisland following their marriage there on 18 September 1859: John 13 October 1861, unnamed 1863, Timothy 1865, Mary 1868, Ellen 1871 and Michael 1875.  In his article published in the Westminster Review in 1902, Donovan referred only to four: ‘My old hardworking mother is still living in Kerry ... Her four children are in foreign parts.’

[5] William Barry was present at her death.

[6] Kerry Champion, 26 August 1933.

[7] Sincere thanks extended to Martine Brennan for genealogical research.