Almost Everybody Knows One

It seems almost everybody knows an O’Donovan.

Some of us know nine or 10 of them.

All told, there are 11 siblings and they tend to be an active and creative bunch. After seeing different brothers and sisters pop up at different community events, it is only natural for one to wonder where they all came from.

The answer is, Cathy O’Donovan, the matriarch of this large clan.

O’Donovan moved north to Inuvik with her husband Diarmuid in 1974, and after a short tenure in Dawson City, they settled in Whitehorse. Cathy is glad they did.

“I like the slower pace,” she says. “It’s not as hectic [as the south].”

Some might find it ironic to hear a mother of 11 speaking about the virtues of a relaxed life, but then again, O’Donovan has never found being part of a big family to be a daunting task.

She, herself, had five brothers and sisters. “Having a large family is all I know,” she says. O’Donovan wouldn’t change anything, even if she had the chance.

“I only see the benefits,” she says of her family’s size.

She rattles off a few of these benefits in quick succession: “When you are doing a big job, there are always lots of extra hands to help you out. And family gatherings like Christmas and weddings are always great when everyone gets together.”

Of course, certain people will point out the obvious: having a larger family means that income will inevitably get spread more thinly. O’Donovan, however, perceives this to be a blessing in disguise.

“We were always able to provide our kids with everything they needed – not all of the extras though. But I think that taught them valuable lessons about hard work and managing money.”

Gradually, O’Donovan watched as her children grew up, and today most of them have left home and are out pursuing their own interests.

Dairmuid, the oldest son, works for the United Nations in Turkey. Ryan and Declan, number eight and nine, respectively, comprise half of the band Scotch and are currently living and playing in Montréal.

And the list goes on.

It would seem that this is finally O’Donovan’s chance for a little rest, but that just isn’t what she’s interested in. “I would not like peace and quiet,” she says.

So in order to maintain a satisfactory level of activity, O’Donovan has pushed the doors of her house wide open. Over the years, the O’Donovans have been a surrogate family to an impressive collection of high school kids on exchange, summer workers, ESL students, adventure seekers and friends of the family. “I always like it when our kids invite their friends over,” she says.

It is tempting to point out how remarkable this all is.

But one gets the feeling that O’Donovan would find nothing remarkable about it. Acting generously toward others is something she has been doing for a long time … and, as they say, old habits are hard to break.

Still, Cathy O’Donovan does allow herself to derive a bit of personal satisfaction from all of the guests she accommodates.

“Being surrounded by activity keeps me feeling young,” she says. She plans on feeling young for a long time yet.

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