James O’Donovan, a leading volunteer in the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and Nazi collaborator also known as Séamus or Jim O’Donovan, is born on November 3, 1896 in County Roscommon. He is best known for his contacts with the Abwehr military intelligence of Nazi Germany.
O’Donovan is an explosives expert and reputedly invents the “Irish War Flour” (named after the flour sacks in which it was smuggled into Dublin aboard ships) and “Irish Cheddar” devices. He subsequently becomes IRA Director of Chemicals in 1921. During the Irish War of Independence he is imprisoned in Mountjoy Prison and Kilmainham Gaol and later interned in Newbridge, County Kildare.
In addition to fighting in the Irish War of Independence, O’Donovan fights on the Anti-Treaty side during the Irish Civil War. In 1930 he becomes manager at Electricity Supply Board (ESB) headquarters in Dublin.
In August 1938, at the request of IRA Chief of Staff Seán Russell, O’Donovan writes the S-Plan, a bombing campaign targeting the United Kingdom. In his unpublished memoirs he writes that he “conducted the entire training of cadre units, was responsible for all but locally-derived intelligence, carried out small pieces of research and, in general, controlled the whole explosives and munitions end” of S-Plan. During this time he and Russell are the only GHQ members of the old IRA still in the organisation.
As “Agent V-Held”, O’Donovan visits Germany three times in 1939 on behalf of the IRA. On February 28 he negotiates an arms and radio equipment delivery at the Abwehrstelle in Hamburg. On April 26 he concludes a new arms deal with the Abwehrstelle and establishes, with the help of a Breton, a secret courier connection to Ireland via France. On August 23, he receives the last instructions for the event of war.
On February 9, 1940, Abwehr II agent Ernst Weber-Drohl lands at Killala Bay, County Sligo aboard U-37. He is equipped with a ‘Ufa’ transmitter, cash, and instructions for O’Donovan, who by this time is the chief IRA contact for Abwehr I/II. The transmitter is lost upon landing, but when Weber-Drohl reaches O’Donovan at Shankill, Killiney, County Dublin, he is 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.
O’Donovan becomes increasingly enamoured of Nazi ideology during this time, and visits Germany three times. In 1942 he writes an article arguing that Ireland’s future lay in an alliance with a victorious Germany and attacks Britain and the United States for being “centres of Freemasonry, international financial control and Jewry.” Even long after the pact with the Germans falls apart, he continues to express his sympathy for the Nazi regime. His son, Gerard O’Donovan, recalls that every Saturday night a visitor would come to the family home and send messages to Germany.
In 1940, O’Donovan is involved in setting up Córas na Poblachta, a minor Irish republican political party which proves unsuccessful.
O’Donovan dies in Dublin on June 4, 1979.