Joseph MacDonagh




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Joseph MacDonagh (1883–1922), known as Joe, was born in Cloughjordan, was the youngest child of Joseph (1834–94) and Mary (née Parker; d. 1908). After completing his education at Rockwell College Joseph worked as a customs and excise officer with Inland Revenue based in Thurles, Co. Tipperary.

As a brother of a Thomas, Joseph was interned in the aftermath of the Easter Rising and forced to retire from his Inland Revenue position. In 1920 he was in a firm trading as MacDonagh and Boland based on Dame Street and later College Green, Dublin offering income tax advice.

He took a prominent position in the reorganisation of Sinn Féin and campaigned for Éamon deValera in Clare East. He was arrested on 30 August and sentenced to six months for making a seditious speech. He joined hunger strikers, republicans seeking prisoner-of-war status in Mountjoy jail and after the death of Thomas Ashe during forced feeding MacDonagh was released and became a principal witness at the inquest into the death of Ashe.

Joseph MacDonagh was elected to the Sinn Féin executive at the Ard-Fhéis in October 1917 where the party adopted a republican constitution. He was arrested several times undertaking further hunger strikes before being deported to Reading Jail, England. While imprisoned he was elected unopposed as Sinn Féin candidate for North Tipperary in the general election of 1918. He was released and attended the second session of the first Dáil in April 1919.

In 1920 he was elected to Dublin corporation as Alderman for Merchants Quay ward (1920-1922) and to Rathmines Town council. In January, 1921 Joseph was appointed as acting Dáil Minister for labour and director of the Belfast boycott.

MacDonagh’s organisation and enforcement of the Belfast boycott was considered relentless and efficient. The boycott was established in response to anti-catholic rioting of July 1920, and expulsion of workers from jobs and families from homes. He appointed a team of organisers and local committees empowered to impose fines, seize goods, and blacklist firms that were facilitating circumvention of the boycott by trans-shipment of Belfast goods through non-boycotted northern towns or through British ports.

Throughout the War of Independence MacDonagh was on the run and was imprisoned in Mountjoy in 1920. He was one of four Sinn Féin candidates returned unopposed to the second Dáil for Tipperary Mid, North, and South (1921–2).

Bitterly opposed to the Anglo–Irish treaty he became Manager of the anti-treaty bulletin Poblacht na h-Éireann. MacDonagh was arrested soon after the outbreak of the civil war, but escaped from Portobello military barracks. Rearrested on 30 September and imprisoned in Mountjoy jail, he fell seriously ill with acute appendicitis He refused to sign the required form to secure release for medical treatment as it recognised the legitimacy of the Free State government.

He was transferred to the Mater Misericordiae private nursing home where he died on 25 December 1922. He is buried in Glasnevin cemetery.

Joseph married (1913) Margaret (‘May’) O’Toole of Dublin; they had one daughter and two sons.

Joe, named after his father, maintained close family bonds with his siblings while becoming a formidable player in the world of Irish politics. Pronounced ‘the greatest young Irishman of his day’ the MacDonagh Museum Collections showcase his personality and his famly connections.


Hair lock of Joseph MacDonagh taken after death.

This hair lock was enclosed with a small bunch of dried flowers, in a beautifully handpainted card after his death on Christmas Day 1922. The card is inscribed ‘from my brothers grave’ by Joseph’s sister, Mary Josephine (Sr Francesca).



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