Remembering Thomas McDonagh – Irish Revolutionaries
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Remembering Thomas McDonagh

Remembering Thomas McDonagh

The Irish Revolutionary, poet and one of the leaders of the 1916 rising was executed on this day in 1916.

He was born, as Joseph McDonagh, in Cloughjordan, County Tipperary, to Joseph McDonagh, a schoolmaster, and Mary Parker. He grew up in a household filled with music, poetry and learning and was instilled with a love of both English and Irish culture from a young age.

Both his parents were teachers; who strongly emphasised education. MacDonagh attended Rockwell College. While there MacDonagh spent several years as a scholastic, sometimes preparation for a missionary career, however, after a few years he realised that it wasn't the life for him, and left.

Very soon after, he published his first book of poems, Through the Ivory Gate, in 1902. He taught in St Kieran's College in Kilkenny and from 1903 he was employed as a professor of French, English and Latin at St. Colman's College, Fermoy, Co Cork, where he also formed a branch of the Gaelic League.

While in Fermoy, MacDonagh was one of the founding members of ASTI, the secondary teachers association which was formed in the Fermoy College in 1908. He moved to Dublin, soon establishing strong friendships with such men as Eoin MacNeill and Patrick Pearse.

His friendship with Pearse and his love of Irish led him to join the staff of Pearse's bilingual St. Enda's School upon its establishment in 1908, taking the role of French and English teacher and Assistant Headmaster.

On January 3rd 1912 he married Muriel Gifford (a member of the Church of Ireland, though neither she nor he was a churchgoer); their son, Donagh, was born that November, and their daughter, Barbara, in March 1915. Muriel's sister, Grace Gifford, was to marry Joseph Mary Plunkett hours before his execution in 1916.

MacDonagh was a member of the Irish Women's Franchise League. He supported the strikers during the Dublin lockout and was a member of the "Industrial Peace Committee" alongside Joseph Plunkett, whose stated aim was to achieve a fair outcome to the dispute.

In 1913 both MacDonagh and Plunkett attended the inaugural meeting of the Irish Volunteers and joined its Provisional Committee. MacDonagh was later appointed Commandant of Dublin's 2nd battalion, and eventually made commandant of the entire Dublin Brigade.

MacDonagh developed stronger republican beliefs, joining the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB), probably during the summer of 1915. Around this time Tom Clarke asked him to plan the grandiose funeral of Jeremiah O'Donovan Rossa, which was a resounding propaganda success, largely due to the graveside oration delivered by Pearse.

MacDonagh was a signatory of the Proclamation of the Republic and during the rising MacDonagh's battalion was stationed at the massive complex of Jacob's Biscuit Factory.

On the way to this destination the battalion encountered the veteran Fenian, John MacBride, who on the spot joined the battalion as second-in-command, and in fact took over part of the command throughout Easter Week, although he had had no prior knowledge and was in the area by accident.

As it was, despite MacDonagh's rank and the fact that he commanded one of the strongest battalions, they saw little fighting, as the British Army avoided the factory as they established positions in central Dublin. MacDonagh received the order to surrender on April 30th, though his entire battalion was fully prepared to continue the engagement.

Following the surrender, MacDonagh was court-martialled, and executed by firing squad on May 3rd 1916, aged thirty-eight. He was the 3rd signatory of the Proclamation to be shot. It is said that as he was taken from his cell to be executed he whistled.

Fuair sé bás ar son saoirse na hÉireann


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