Dan "Sandow" O'Donovan

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Daniel "Sandow" O'Donovan (born 1890, Cork (city)[1] – d. Mallow, Co. Cork 31 July 1975), was a leading member of the Irish Republican Army during the Irish War of Independence.

Early life[edit]

Dan O'Donovan was an early recruit to the Irish Volunteers and paraded with the Cork Volunteers at the funeral of Jeremiah O'Donovan Rossa at Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin, in 1915, at which Patrick Pearse gave his famous oration ending with "Ireland unfree shall never be at peace".

War of Independence[edit]

He was later a prominent officer of Cork's No. 1 Brigade of the Irish Republican Army during the Irish War of Independence. On 3 September 1917 he led a successful raid for arms at Cork Grammar School, a school for the middle class Anglo-Irish ascendancy, which maintained its own armoury for training potential army officers. O'Donovan acquired the nickname "Sandow" around this time because of his resemblance to the American wrestler Eugen Sandow.

O'Donovan led or participated in many daring raids against British forces in County Cork, including the capture of Blarney's Royal Irish Constabulary barracks on 1 June 1920. He was also involved in the assassination of Colonel Gerald Bryce Ferguson Smyth at the Cork and County Club on 17 July 1920.[2] Some weeks earlier Smyth had gained notoriety when members off the RIC in Listowel, County Kerry mutinied rather than carry out his orders to "shoot to kill" all persons with their hands in their pockets or who were suspected rebels.

Under the command of Seán O'Hegarty, O'Donovan and others organised the Coolavokig Ambush near Macroom in February 1921. He was also involved in the seizure of a large cache of guns and ammunition from the British naval tender, Upnor, off the coast of County Cork, having commandeered a smaller vessel at Cobh (then known as Queenstown).[3]

Civil War[edit]

After the signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921, O'Donovan took the anti-treaty side in the Irish Civil War. He was involved in another attack on British naval personnel, also at Queenstown/Cobh, this time using IRA men dressed in National Army military uniforms in an attempt to bring the pro-Treaty and anti-Treaty sides together to re-open the fight against the British. As a result of this incident a reward of £10,000 was offered for information leading to the capture of O'Donovan and five other named republicans.[4]

On 22 August 1922, O'Donovan chaired a meeting of surviving IRA officers in Long's Bar (The Diamond), Béal na Bláth, County Cork. Present were senior national figures including Liam Lynch, Tom Barry and Éamon de Valera. Later the same day General Michael Collins, Commander-in-Chief of the National Army and Chairman of the Provisional Government of the Irish Free State was killed in an ambush a half mile away.

Post-war years[edit]

In later years O'Donovan worked with the Irish Sugar Company in North Cork where he managed Ballybeg Quarry, near Buttevant, which the company owned.

Dan "Sandow" O'Donovan died in 1975 and was interred in a family plot at St. Finbarr's Cemetery, Cork City.

O'Donovan is often erroneously referred in history books of the period as "Donovan".


  1. ^ http://www.census.nationalarchives.ie/reels/nai001857879/
  2. ^ MacEoin, Uinseann (1987). Survivors: the story of Ireland's struggle (2nd ed.). Argenta Publications,. p. 255. Retrieved 2009-10-31. 
  3. ^ see account in Seán O'Hegarty O/C First Cork Brigade IRA, Girvin, Aubane Historical Society, 2007.
  4. ^ Republican Cobh & the East Cork Volunteers since 1913, Kieran McCarthy, Nonsuch Press,, Dublin 2008.