Thomas MacDonagh Family
Thomas MacDonagh’s Parents
Joseph MacDonagh (1834–1894) and Mary Louise MacDonagh (née Parker ) (d. 1908) were both National School teachers who moved to Cloughjordan from Cloghan, Co. Offaly to take up roles as managers of the boys and girls Catholic School. The school was newly established in 1877 and while reported as being ‘cramped and underfunded’, it maintained large numbers of students. They arrived in Cloughjordan with their daughters Mary and Eleanor, Thomas and his brothers John, Joseph and James (Jim) were born in Cloughjordan.
Mary became a Catholic convert and the MacDonagh home was a religious one with the family gathering to recite the Rosary together every evening. But it was also filled with music and literature with Mary supplementing the family income teaching parish children to play piano and Joseph instilling a love of the countryside which became so much a part of the poetry Thomas would later write.
When Thomas was 16 years old his father died, and he became aware of his mother’s struggle to rear and educate the family. He returned frequently to his home in Cloughjordan until her death in 1908. His son, Donagh MacDonagh, wrote:
Thomas MacDonagh’s Siblings
The MacDonagh children are recalled as ‘high-spirited’, playing games, and roaming the fields and surrounding countryside. Residents of that time recalled with affection this talented and well-loved family.
Mary Josephine MacDonagh (1872-1954)
Mary MacDonagh, the eldest sister of Thomas MacDonagh, became Sister Francesca in 1895 when she entered the Sisters of Charity Convent, Dublin. She seems to have taken a central role in looking after the interests of her siblings, especially her brothers, and keeping the family in contact. She remained close to Muriel after MacDonagh’s death, and to their two children. In the aftermath of MacDonagh’s death she took responsibility for preserving their personal and literary papers and protecting them during the War of Independence. (See Thomas MacDonagh Family Papers held in NLI)
Eleanor Louise MacDonagh (1876-?)
Eleanor, known in the family as Ellen or Nell, was born in Cloghan, Co. Offaly in 1876.
John MacDonagh (4 October 1879 - 1961)
John MacDonagh traveled to Turin in Italy where he trained as a tenor and later joined various theatre and opera companies in Dublin, England and America. He wrote musical plays and popular songs and wrote and produced a successful series of musical comedy sketches for the theatre known as the Dublin Review. In 1914 he helped his brother Thomas with the establishment of the Irish Theatre, which he was to manage and act for. The Irish Theatre also produced some of John’s own plays, such as Author! Author!
Like his brother Thomas, John was a member of the Irish Volunteers, and served with his brother during the Easter Rising. He was imprisoned because of his participation and was interned in Frongoch Camp with many of his fellow revolutionaries. After his release John returned to Dublin and continued with his literary works, he also worked for RTÉ’s drama department. (See Thomas MacDonagh Family Papers held in NLI)
James MacDonagh (1882 - 25 May 1933)
The achievement of their younger brother James was the most significant of the family in the world of music. He excelled in woodwind instruments and gave a recital in Scoil Éanna for students and staff. He appears to have played in a Fife and Drum Band, connected with the local branch of the Land League.
He left Cloughjordan to become a drummer boy in the British Army but instead was given an oboe to ‘master’, which he did with international success. James was a founder member of the BBC Symphony Orchestra, in which he played cor anglais and oboe. In 1949 in Woodwind Magazine, bassoonist Gwydion Brooke recalled James MacDonagh as, ‘the outstanding cor anglais exponent of the day, and indeed the man who set the present British standard in cor anglais tone’.
Joseph MacDonagh (18 May 1883 - 25 December 1922)
The clarinet was the preferred instrument of the youngest of the MacDonagh brothers, Joe, who appeared on the programme of a concert in Cloughjordan. At such a concert Thomas sang Aililiú na Gabhna and availed of the opportunity to speak about the Irish language in the early days of the Gaelic League.
Joe continued to be politically active and canvassed on behalf of Eamon de Valera in the historic by-election in Clare in 1917. Joe was elected Sinn Féin MP for North Tipperary in 1918 unopposed, as John Esmonde MP stood down in the face of MacDonagh’s popularity. He was deputy Minister for Labour to Countess Markievicz. He served until his death in 1922. He died, while on hunger strike during the Civil War, on Christmas Day 1922.
Thomas MacDonagh’s Family
Muriel Gifford (18 December 1884 - 9 July 1917)
Muriel Gifford was born in Rathmines into a prosperous South Dublin family. Along with her sisters, MacDonagh was active in the Women’s Franchise League and Inghinidhe na hÉireann. She married Thomas MacDonagh in 1913, and they had a daughter, Barbara, and a son, Donagh. Muriel was the older sister of Grace Gifford who later married Joseph Mary Plunkett – also a signatory of the Proclamation – on the eve of his execution. In 1917, Muriel died tragically, suffering a heart attack, while swimming off Skerries, Co. Dublin.
After Muriel’s death, Donagh and Barbara were the subject of a legal custody battle between the MacDonaghs and the Giffords; in the climate of Ne Temere. Donagh and Barbara were placed in a foster home after Mary MacDonagh won their custody in court, though other family members were willing to bring them up with their own children. Jack and Eileen MacDonagh took over their care several years later.
Donagh MacDonagh (22 November 1912 - 1 January 1968)
Donagh MacDonagh was an Irish writer, judge, presenter, broadcaster, and playwright.
Barbara / Bairbre MacDonagh (24 March 1915 - November 17, 1987)
While Secretary of the UCD Dramatic Society, Barbara met and married Irish actor Liam Redmond, Director of the Dramatic Society. They had four children.
Terence MacDonagh (3 February 1908 – 12 September 1986)
John Alfred Terence MacDonagh OBE (was an English oboist and cor anglais player, the son of the oboist and cor anglais player James MacDonagh, and the nephew of Thomas MacDonagh. He performed with the Scottish National Orchestra, the BBC Symphony Orchestra and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. From 1945 to 1978 MacDonagh was professor of oboe at the Royal College of Music.