01 February-Thomas MacDonagh

Thomas McDonagh, who was executed for his part in the Easter Rising 1916, taught at St Kieran’s College in Kilkenny. He was a founder of the ASTI (Association of Secondary Teachers of Ireland). MacDonagh was a teacher, poet, playwright and founding member of the Irish Volunteers.

Thomas McDonagh was born in Cloughjordan County Tipperary 1n 1878. Both his parents were teachers and music and learning played a major role in his home life. From a young age both he and his seven siblings were instilled with a love of both English and Irish culture. At the age of fourteen in 1892 he was sent to Rockwell College near Cashel in County Tipperary and two years later decided to train for the priesthood. In 1901 he abandoned the idea of becoming a priest and moved briefly to France.

On his return to Ireland, in 1902, McDonagh was appointed as a teacher in St Kieran’s College in Kilkenny. In the same year he published ‘Through the Ivory Gate’, his first book of poems. A year later he was employed as a teacher of French, English and Latin at St Colman’s College, Fermoy County Cork. He formed a branch of the Gaelic League there. He was also one of the founding members of the ASTI. A meeting was held in St Colman’s college on St Patricks Day in 1909 to establish the Association.

He moved to Dublin to teach at St Enda’s school in Rathfarnham where Patrick Pearse was the headmaster. While teaching at St Enda’s, MacDonagh was also studying part-time at UCD (University College Dublin). In 1911, he was awarded an MA for his thesis ‘Thomas Campion and the Art of Poetry’. He 1912 he married Muriel Gifford and was appointed as lecturer in English at UCD. He continued with his literary activities, writing poetry and had a play ‘When the Dawn is Come’ produced at the Abbey Theatre.

Thomas Mac Donagh developed a close friendship with Patrick Pearse, Eoin MacNeill and others. This friendship, and other events, appears to have influenced his views to change from pure constitutionalism to militarism. In 1913 he joined the Irish Volunteers and played an active part in their activities. In 1916 he was one of the signatories of the Proclamation and was commander of the garrison at the Jacob’s biscuit factory in Bishop Street, Dublin. The garrison saw little fighting. His most senior officers were John MacBride and also Michael O’Hanrahan who had lived in Carlow town. When the rising ended the garrison at Jacob’s was ordered to surrender on April 30th. Following the surrender Thomas MacDonagh was found guilty at his court martial and sentenced to death. He was executed by firing squad on May 3rd 1916. He was 38 years old.

Thomas MacDonagh was born in Cloughjordan, County Tipperary in the year 1878 On This Day.

Thomas MacDonagh in uniform, half-length portrait on 1915-01-01