A native of County Roscommon, he was an explosives expert and reputedly invented the "Irish Wallflower" and "Irish Cheddar" devices. He subsequently became IRA Director of Chemicals in 1921. During the Irish War of Independence he was imprisoned in Mountjoy and Kilmainham prisons and later interned in Newbridge, County Kildare.
Involvement with Abwehr (German Intelligence)
As "Agent V-Held", he visited Germany three times in 1939 on behalf of the IRA.
On 28 February he negotiated an arms and radio equipment delivery at the Abwehrstelle in Hamburg. On 26 April he concluded a new arms deal with the Abwehrstelle and established with the help of a Breton a secret courier connection to Ireland via France. On 23 August, O'Donovan received the last instructions for the event of war.
On 9 February 1940, Abwehr II agent Ernst Weber-Drohl landed at Killala Bay, County Sligo aboard U-37. He was equipped with a 'Ufa' transmitter, cash, and instructions for O'Donovan who by this time was the chief IRA contact for Abwehr I/II. The transmitter was lost upon landing, but when Weber-Drohl reached O'Donovan at Shankill, Killiney, County Dublin, he was able to deliver new transmission codes, $14,450 in cash, and a message from "Pfalzgraf Section" asking that the IRA concentrate its S-Plan attacks on military rather than civilian targets.
In 1940, he was involved in setting up Córas na Poblachta, a party which proved unsuccessful.
O'Donovan died in Dublin in June, 1979.
- "O'Donovan, James". Archives: Letters of James O'Donovan. University College Dublin. Retrieved August 1, 2012.
- "PORTLAOISE AGONY EASES: DEATH OF GOERTZ". Éire Nua. Republican Sinn Féin. 1997. Retrieved August 1, 2012.
- Hull, Mark M., Irish Secrets: German Espionage in Wartime Ireland 1939–1945, Dublin: Irish Academic Press, 2003, pp. 72–73.