Monday 17 June 2019

Late Richard Donovan was a tireless community worker

Many tributes have been paid to the late Richard Donovan of Ballymore, Camolin, whose death took place last Thursday.

A noted community man, the news of his death was met with sorrow across the county. Ballymore Historic Features, the privately run museum at Ballymore, which he developed over many years with his wife Margaret, attracted hundreds of visitors annually. The award winning family museum was founded as a labour of love in 1994, and was a treasure trove of the history of a family which has been intricately linked with local life for centuries.

Born on April 20, 1927, Richard went to the Dragon School in Oxford and to the famous Rugby School, and then on to New College, Oxford, where he studied politics and economics. He then went on to study law, and practised in London, Canada and New York.

His beloved Ballymore was damaged by fire in 1957, and having taken over the farm on the death of his father, he returned to London and practised there for a year or two with with the intention of restoring the farm. He married in 1959 and came back to Ireland with the intention of practising here. He quickly found the farm took up all his time.

When he returned to Ireland, he also became involved in numerous community organisations. He was always concerned with community matters in the Ferns area, and was active on the Church of Ireland Ferns Diocesan Council. He was an active spokesman for the establishment of Ferns Play Group, and also supported the restoration of St. Mogue's Cottage in Ferns.

Further afield, he was also one of the original founder members of the charity Concern through his godmother Margaret Greene, an anthropologist who had experienced the horrors of the Biafran War.

From 1990 until recently, Richard served as Chairman of the Board of the Katherine Howard Foundation, a charitable organisation set up by his late friend. This Foundation, which gives grants especially to early childcare groups in communities and other worthy causes, was very dear to his heart. 'He served as Chairman for fifteen years,' said Philip Jacob, fellow board member. 'He was a hands-on Chairman, and was devoted to the work of the Foundation. He was an extraordinary man, and was very knowledgeable and interested in many things'.

Richard was also a member of the North Wexford Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and North Wexford Tourism, both of whom have paid tribute to him.

Richard was an early activist in the cause of conservation and ecology, which led him to take on the role of treasurer of the Wexford branch of An Taisce. It was there that he met Margaret, who shared his interest in protecting Irish heritage.

His interest in the arts meant that he not only played the flute and had a talent for drawing, but was keen to promote artistic activity in the Wexford area, culminating in his role in helping to found the Arts Centre in Wexford town. He was also a loyal supporter of the Wexford Festival Opera from its earliest beginnings.

He remarried in 1973, and farmed extensively for many years. He was a founder member of County Wexford Mart Ltd., and was actively involved in the IFA. He was Treasurer of the IFA committee which challenged the Poor Law Valuation System in the High Court in the 1980s. This led to the derating of all agricultural land in Ireland.

His agricultural background meant not only did the Ballymore museum have an antique farm display with equipment from down through the years, but Ballymore itself remains a working farm.

Richard took great pride in the family museum and he made for a genial host to visitors. When this newspaper paid a visit last year, he was only too eager to peel back the layers of family history. He was also devoted to his late aunt, noted artist Phoebe Donovan, whose work is on display at Ballymore.

He is survived by his loving wife Margaret, daughter Katie, sons Brian and Colin and daughter Rosalind. The large attendance at his Funeral Service in Ballymore Church on Saturday and Sunday last was a sign of the widespread respect and affection with which he was held.