Anniversary of the death of Muriel MacDonagh

It was on 9th July 1917 that Muriel, widow of Thomas MacDonagh died tragically in a drowning accident at Skerries, Co. Dublin.

In the time since the execution of her husband she had bravely maintained family life with their two children Donagh, (aged four) and Barbara (aged two). It had been a traumatic time with several violent searches of their home, having rifles trained on the house and being followed by the police. On many occasions, as relatives of ‘the rebels’, they experienced being shunned by neighbours and the general public.

The Irish Volunteers Dependants Fund, of which Muriel was a member, and the National Aid Association, both founded to support the widows and families of the 1916 Rising merged to form one association. This organisation rented a house in Skerries for a summer seaside holiday. It was a welcome respite for this group which included Muriel’s sister Grace (widow of Joseph Plunkett), Áine (widow of Éamonn Ceannt), Agnes (widow of Micheal Mallin) and the family of James Connolly, all close friends.

Muriel, however, had been reluctant to go as Donagh was in hospital, after a bad fall. At that time parents were discouraged from visiting their children while in hospital but Sr Francesca MacDonagh, sister of Thomas and a member of a nursing order of nuns, promised that he would be visited every day. With encouragement from all those around her Muriel arrived in Skerries for a short stay with toddler, Barbara, and Grace.

Muriel loved to swim and had been a competitive swimmer in her young days. However, having had rheumatic fever as a girl, her heart had been damaged. On the afternoon of 9th July, leaving Barbara on the strand in the care of Grace and Ina, the sixteen year old daughter of James and Lillie Connolly, Muriel went for a swim.

It was said that she had brought with her a tricolour flag, which she had made, and decided to swim to nearby Shenick Island to fly it from where it could not be confiscated. Flying the tricolour was banned at that time. Barbara, missing her mother, was comforted by watching her as she apparently waved. But Grace became anxious as she noticed, “She’s an awful distance out!”. Ina was sent to bring Barbara back to the house where they were staying and others ran to get help. However, as they were relatives of ‘the rebels’, some people in houses nearby were reluctant to respond.

Local people and others, including the young Noel Lemass and Jimmy O’Dea, failed to rescue her. The search continued through the night. Early next morning Rory O’Connor, a friend of Thomas, found her body on the strand. The post mortem found no water in her lungs. Aged thirty-two years she had suffered a heart attack, struggling against a strong current.

Three days later mourners lined the route from the Pro-Cathedral to Glasnevin Cemetery, where her funeral passed the hospital in which her beloved son, Donagh, was a patient. Both Donagh and Barbara were now orphans. And so begins another story.

At the Thomas MacDonagh Museum the family is remembered in the telling of this, and many other stories.

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