Leading light of Cork theatre and gifted teacher

Dan Donovan obituary – May 12th, 1926; died – March 4th, 2018

Dan Donovan, who has died in a Cork nursing home in his 92nd year,was a giant of theatre in the city, and an inspirational teacher for generations of secondary school students.

He was outstanding actor and director, championing the work of John B Keane, when the playwright was little known. He directed several of the early works and for some years he was part of a company that toured Munster towns in summer, performing Keane and other works.

From his schooldays he was enthusiastic about theatre, and adventurous in his choice of material. He was one of a gifted group at “Pres” (Presentation Brothers’ College) who came together to perform. They later formalised themselves as the Presentation Players.

Donovan was a founding member of the Everyman Theatre Group. This led to the establishment of Cork’s Everyman Theatre, where he was one of the group which oversaw the modernisation of the building. He was involved in staging classic plays, including Greek tragedies. Later, with Everyman, he added modern European and American works to the repertoire.


Bhí dúil aige sa Ghaoluinn, leis. Bhí sé ar bhunaitheoirí “Chompántas Corcaí”, a léirigh drámaí sa teanga.

He acted into his middle-70s, then took up adjudicating at drama festivals.

Humorous, imaginative and humane

Donovan was also an inspirational teacher, and several ex-pupils went on to make their mark as actors. He communicated that literature, art and theatre really mattered. He was so inspirational that, when teaching drama or poetry, the teacher in the classroom next door would often stop their class. That class would listen, transfixed, to Donovan.

Former pupils remember a gentle, humorous, imaginative and humane teacher. One former pupil returned late to class after lunch. Immediately he noticed many classmates were absent, then remembered that Gentlemen Prefer Blondes was opening that afternoon in the Savoy Cinema. The pupil put his hand up and said: "Sir, I have a dental appointment." Donovan immediately gave permission for the "appointment". As the pupil left, he said: "Enjoy."

Daniel Christopher Donovan was born in Ballincollig, Co Cork, in May 1926, youngest of four children to Tim Donovan, a retired sergeant in the Royal Irish Constabulary, and his wife Bridget (née Cody), a National School teacher.

He was educated at the local National School; received secondary education at “Pres”; and was then awarded a scholarship to UCC. He studied English, Latin and Irish at undergraduate level, followed by an MA in English. He then returned to “Pres” to teach English and Irish for some 40 years, retiring as a vice-principal.

After his father’s death in the early 1940s the family moved to the Turner’s Cross area of Cork City. He lived in the house for more than 70 years until moving to sheltered housing.

Always enthusiastic for life, theatre was only one interest. Donovan was a director of both the Cork Film and Cork Choral Festivals. He was a fine choral singer. He was extremely knowledgeable about classical music, and was an avid listener.

He swam every year in Cork Harbour till the end of October; took part in the traditional Cork pastime of hunting with the harriers; and enjoyed sailing round the West Cork coast, and as far as South Kerry.

Above all, he was generous in his encouragement of others: and in his care for his two older sisters.

He is survived by his niece Christine and nephews Tim and John. He was predeceased by his sisters Patty and Kitty and brother Tim.