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Muriel – Thomas MacDonagh’s widow – 1916

The Catholic Press 28th December, 1916 (abridged)

Muriel, Donagh and Thomas MacDonagh, 1913 National Library of Ireland
Muriel, Donagh and Thomas MacDonagh, 1913
National Library of Ireland

by Eileen Moore
One of the first three men executed on May 3rd by the English Government as leaders in the Irish Revolution was Thomas MacDonagh, M.A. His young widow is a sister of the prison bride of Joseph M. Plunkett, who was executed on May 4. Another of the same family, Miss Nellie Gifford, suffered six weeks’ imprisonment as a rebel.

Mrs MacDonagh presented a pathetic appearance in her deep mourning, with her three and a half-year old son, Donagh, clinging to her skirt. She is transparently pale, with copper coloured hair and blue eyes. Her eyes have an appealing look. Perhaps that is the reason why General Maxwell is said to have sent her a command to appear in public as little as possible, fearing that her appearance might excite public sentiment. This command was directed particularly to Requiem Masses which were being celebrated all over the city for the souls of the dead patriots.
Mrs MacDonagh is the mother of two children – the boy mentioned, little Donagh, and a baby girl called Barbara, 18 months old. There is a dazed look in her eyes as if she had not yet recovered the shock of her husband’s death. Her story was the most pathetic of any I had listened to from the women of the Revolution. She was the only one who had not the consolation of seeing her husband for even the brief 20 minutes allotted by the Government to the relatives and friends of the Revolutionists. Mrs Pearse did not see her sons, but Mrs MacDonagh was the only wife who did not see her husband. She did not know of his imprisonment or death until the news was flashed to her in an evening paper.
“It was cruel,” Mrs MacDonagh said, with tearless eyes, “that I should be denied the consolation of a last interview with my husband. I did not see him after he left the house on Easter Monday. News that the Proclamation of Independence had been read by James Connolly reached me. I had a copy and placed it over the mantelpiece. I brought my little son to look at it.”

“When the days passed and I heard no word from Thomas, I could stay in the house no longer. I went out. All the week I had been listening to the roar of the machine guns, and all the week I had been praying for my husband’s safety. I heard the “Stop Press” calling. I bought a paper – the first thing I saw in big headlines was the execution of my husband. I don’t remember how I got back to the house. The authorities never sent me any official notice of my husband’s death. I wish the whole world to know of this fact. It was cruelly unjust to me.  Someone told my little son that the soldiers killed his father – that was very unwise. Now the child screams at the sight of a soldier and hides his face. He worshipped his daddy. I shall tell him the true story when he grows up. We have no home now.”

“Our lease of Cullingswood, our home, expired many months ago. Mrs Harvey O’Kelly, the owner, the first woman to be imprisoned in Ireland for suffrage, wouldn’t accept the extra rent due. She was very kind to the children and myself. Cullingswood was opposite the first St. Enda’s College. It was an historic old house with memories of ’98.”

“I was very ill,” continued Mrs MacDonagh, “from the shock of my husband’s death. I was with him in the work for the freedom of Ireland. Before Easter Week, when things were taking shape,  he had to be away a great deal from home, but there was scarcely a night but he managed to spend a few minutes with us. He always like to kiss the children good night. I am proud that he died for Ireland. He was a good father, a good son, and a good husband. ”

“His two brothers stuck to him. His brother Jack was taken prisoner. The soldiers did not know that he was a brother of Thomas. When they found it out they abused him shamefully.

I am not strong like other women, but I am strong enough to feel proud of my husband. A humble neighbour came in to sympathise with me the other day. She burst into tears when she saw me in my black dress. I told her not to cry, for Thomas died a noble death in a great cause – the freedom of Ireland.”

“Did you visit the slums?” she asked suddenly. “If the machine guns had only managed to destroy them instead of some of the other buildings they ruined it would have been a blessing – they are a disgrace to civilisation.”

In my walk through the city I had noticed the run down looking tenements near Liberty Hall and had wondered how they had escaped the general devastation.