Skibbereen was synonymous with ‘The Great Hunger’ or ‘An Gorta Mór’ (1845-52) with reports of pestilence, starvation and death from that area on an almost biblical scale. However, there are also stories of extraordinary courage and heroic deeds about those who ministered to the afflicted and who did so much to alleviate their great distress.
Canon John O’Rourke, who visited Skibbereen when carrying out research for his book, The Great Irish Famine (1874), referred to the ‘bright and copious fountains of living charity which gushed forth.’ A.M. Sullivan, wrote: ‘No pen, nor tongue, can trace nor relate the countless deeds of heroism and self-sacrifice which the dreadful visitation called forth on the part, pre-eminently of two classes in the community, the Catholic clergy and the dispensary doctors.’
Daniel Donovan was one such dispensary doctor, perhaps the most fervent and dedicated of them all. In Skibbereen, the name of Dr. Daniel Donovan should never be forgotten. Dr. Donovan, or Dr. Dan as he was familiarly known, more than any other person helped to focus world attention on the plight of Skibbereen and district during ‘The Great Hunger’. For this reason, and also for his great exertions on behalf of the people of this area, Dr. Donovan emerges as one of the most heroic figures of that time.
Skibbereen, 1847: Starvation Fever