Thomas McDonagh was born in Cloughgordon, County Tipperary. His father was from Roscommon and his mother from Dublin. Both parents were teachers. He inherited his love of music from his mother and his love of Ireland from both but especially his father. He came from a large family of which four sons became famous - Thomas - poet, plarywright, teacher, soldier and signatory of the 1916 Proclamation proclaiming an Irish Republic. Joseph - Sinn Fein T.D. from 1918 till the Treaty and Diector of the Belfast Boycott in 1920 John - playwright who fought in Jacob's factory with his brother, he later became Productions Diector of Rdio Eireann Terrence- the youngest became a musician in England Thomas was educated by the Holy Ghost Fathers, and he studied to be a priest at Rockwell College, Cashel.
Realizing that was not for him, he left for France turning to the teaching profession. Later he went to the University College, Dublin;
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He taught Latin, English and French at Colman's College in Fermoy, Cork, where he learned Irish before going to the Aran Islands to become fluent in the language.
He had a good singing voice and enjoyed singing French folk songs and Irish traditional ballads. His love of Irish traditional ballads was carried on by his son Donagh who is a well know singerm,(also district justice and author) MacDonagh was known in the Aran Islands as "Fear an Rothar" the man with the bicycle. He was the first person to bring a bike to the Aran Islands. It was in the Aran Islands that Pearse and MacDonagh met.
He joined the Gaelic League, 1901. McDonagh was a keen educationalist and in 1908 he helped Padraig Pearse found St. Enda's School for boys wherein the pupils were taught through the medium of Irish, including the use of firearms, to inspire them to be 'Gaelic and Free'. In the same year McDonagh produced his play When the Dawn is Come at the Abbey Theatre under the direction of J.M. Synge. In 1911 he founded the Irish Review with Padraig Colum and David Houston. McDonagh studied Literature at the National University where he obtained an MA and became a lecturer in English Literature. In 1912 McDonagh began tutoring Joseph Plunkett in Irish and they edited the Irish Review together. In 1913 McDonagh joined the Irish Volunteers and was a member of the Volunteers National Executive.
Thomas McDonagh organized the O’Donovan Rossa funeral, 1915 McDonagh was a Signatory of the Proclamation of the Irish Republic and following the 1916 Rising he was imprisoned in Kilmainham Gaol, Dublin and executed by firing squad on May 3rd, 1916. McDonagh's prophetic poem Of a Poet Patriot was first published in Songs of Myself(1910).
Thomas MacDonagh commanded the garrison at Jacob's Biscuit Factory and all the forces in Stephens Green, the College of Surgeon's and Harcourt Street Station. His second in command was Michael Mallin, and one of his chief operation officers was the Countess Markievicz, who operated from the College of Surgeions with Mallin.
He was married to Muriel Gifford and they had two children Barbara and Donagh. Muriel was was tragically drowned a few months after his execution. His sister-in-law married Joseph Plunkett just minutes before Plunkett was executed.
When MacDonagh laid down his arms at the time of surrender, he said he "would give anything to see Muriel once more". When somebody offered to go for Muriel, he declined, not wanting his wife to see and remember what the area looked like during defeat.
He was executed at 3:30 am May 3. His wife had not been able to reach him, but his sister, a nun was able to see him shortly before his death. When his sister entered the cell and saw that was no water, she asked the guard for some water, the guard, acting under orders refused the request. His sister gave him a rosary that had belonged to their mother, she said she wished that after his death that they would return the rosary to her. As MacDonagh put the rosary around his neck he said no, "they will shoot it to bits" . Only four beads were shot away, and his sister did eventually receive the rosary back.
In his final letter to his wife written a few hours before his death he said" I am ready to die, and I thank God that I am to die in so a holy a cause. My country will reward my deed richly. I counted the cost of this, and I am ready to pay it."
His songs were a little phrase