O'Donoghue, David James (1866–1917), biographer, editor, and librarian, was born 22 July 1866 in Chelsea, Middlesex, England, of Cork-born parents. He studied at local Roman Catholic primary schools, and was self-educated at the British Museum library, where he read widely on English literature and became familiar with many languages, including Latin, French, German, and Irish. In 1886 he joined the Southwark Irish Literary Society, which aimed at the cultivation in London of Irish literature, history, and art; quickly becoming an active member, he helped create subscriptions for Oisín magazine. His articles written with Francis A. Fahy (qv) for the Dublin Evening Telegraph were collected in book form as Ireland in London (1889), discussing members of the Irish population of London who had achieved literary, scientific, or artistic success. He corresponded with W. B. Yeats (qv) on the formation of the London branch of the Irish Literary Society, officially established in 1892; O'Donoghue was appointed its assistant secretary in 1893.
O'Donoghue is best remembered for his biographical dictionary The poets of Ireland (1892–3), one of the most comprehensive compilations of Irish biographical research of its time; a revised edition appeared in 1912. A lecture that he gave to the Royal Society of Literature in 1894 on ‘Irish poetry of the nineteenth century’ (published in Transactions RSL, xvii (1894)) is evidence of his talent as a literary critic. His early writings drew attention to writers such as the Nation poets Thomas Davis (qv) and Denis Florence MacCarthy (qv). In The humour of Ireland (1894), he compiled a diverse miscellany of humorous poems, stories, and extracts, drawn from celtic folklore through to the irony of Anglo-Irish literature. Moving to Dublin in 1896, he worked as a bookseller and publisher, and became vice-president of the National Literary Society in Dublin. Deeply interested in the writings of William Carleton (qv), and arguing for the historical value of Carleton's work, he contributed a biographical memoir to an 1895 edition of Carleton's novel Fardorougha the miser. He helped organise financial assistance for two of Carleton's daughters then living in poverty in Balham; in gratitude, they gave him manuscripts of Carleton's work, including an unfinished autobiography. His completion of The life of William Carleton (1896) in two volumes was regarded as a major achievement in literary research. He also edited editions of Carleton's Traits and stories of the Irish peasantry (1896) and The black prophet: a tale of Irish famine (1899), a powerful story of human struggle first published in 1847. Another writer whom he vigorously championed was James Clarence Mangan (qv), whose writings he believed had been neglected by critics. He wrote The life and writings of James Clarence Mangan (1897), and edited both the Poems of James Clarence Mangan (1903) – compiled after the discovery of previously uncollected poems – and The prose writings of James Clarence Mangan (1904). He was instrumental in creating the memorial to Mangan in St Stephen's Green, Dublin, by the National Literary Society (1909).
O'Donoghue's book An Irish musical genius (Richard Pockrich) the inventor of the musical glasses (1899), originating with an article that he wrote for the Freeman's Journal in 1897, described the career of the quixotic projector Richard Poekrich (qv). He wrote an introductory note on the United Irish leader William Drennan (qv) in A treasury of Irish poetry in the English tongue (1900), edited by Stopford A. Brooke (qv) and T. W. Rolleston (qv). A regular writer for the Irish Book Lover periodical, he also contributed over sixty articles to the Dictionary of National Biography (1885–1901), dealing with Victorian figures. In 1902 he completed his Life of Robert Emmet. His book on Sir Walter Scott's tour in Ireland in 1825 (1905), besides giving a detailed account of Scott's travels, also treats his relationships with Irish writers such as Maria Edgeworth (qv) and Charles Robert Maturin (qv). O'Donoghue also published The geographical distribution of Irish ability (1906), a biographical record of the intellect of Irish people according to geographical location that is of questionable validity.
During visits to Paris in the late 1880s O'Donoghue became friendly with J. M. Synge (qv), and later wrote about the influences behind Synge's plays – contending, for example, that The playboy of the western world derived from Baudelaire. Yeats in his Autobiographies gives an unflattering portrait of O'Donoghue as ‘an obstinate little man’ who moved to Dublin from London ‘in a fit of patriotism . . . spoke the most Cockney dialect imaginable, and had picked up . . . a dislike for the poetry of Thomas Moore [qv]’ (‘The trembling of the veil’, bk. 2, pt. 4). Appointed librarian at UCD (1909–17), he helped expand the collection through the purchase of the library of Heinrich Zimmer (qv), a celtic scholar. A member of the libraries committee of Dublin Corporation, he collaborated with Douglas Hyde (qv) on a valuation of the library of John T. Gilbert (qv), the results being published as Catalogue of the books and manuscripts comprising the library of the late Sir John T. Gilbert (1918).
O'Donoghue married Florence White; they had four daughters. He died suddenly 27 June 1917 at his home on Auburn Avenue, Donnybrook, Co. Dublin, and was buried in Dublin's Glasnevin cemetery. His premature death left his family in financial straits, and a fund was organised for them by members of the Irish Literary Society and readers of the Irish Book Lover.