Thomas MacDonagh, political activist, poet, playwright, educationalist, revolutionary leader, and one of the seven leaders of the Easter Rising of 1916, is born in Cloughjordan, County Tipperary, on February 1, 1878.
MacDonagh grows up in a household filled with music, poetry, and learning and is instilled with a love of both English and Irish culture from a young age. He attends Rockwell College and spends several years in preparation for a missionary career but soon realizes that it isn’t the life for him and leaves the college. He teaches briefly at St. Kieran’s College in Kilkenny and, from 1903, is employed as a professor of French, English, and Latin at St. Colman’s College, Fermoy, County Cork, where he forms a branch of the Gaelic League. He moves to Dublin and establishes strong friendships with such men as Eoin MacNeill and Patrick Pearse.
In Dublin, MacDonagh joins the staff St. Enda’s School upon its establishment in 1908, as a French and English teacher and Assistant Headmaster. In January 1912 he marries Muriel Gifford and takes the position of lecturer in English at the National University, while continuing to support St Enda’s. MacDonagh remains devoted to the Irish language and, in 1910, he becomes tutor to a younger member of the Gaelic League, Joseph Plunkett.
In 1913, MacDonagh and Plunkett attend the inaugural meeting of the Irish Volunteers and join its Provisional Committee. MacDonagh is later appointed Commandant of Dublin’s 2nd battalion and eventually made commandant of the entire Dublin Brigade. MacDonagh develops strong republican beliefs and joins the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) in the summer of 1915. Around this time, Tom Clarke asks MacDonagh to plan the grandiose funeral of Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa, which is a resounding propaganda success largely due to the graveside oration delivered by Pearse.
MacDonagh joins the secret Military Council that is planning the rising in April 1916, just weeks before the rising takes place. Although joining the Council during the late stages of the planning process, MacDonagh is, nevertheless, a signatory of the Proclamation of the Republic.
During the rising, MacDonagh’s battalion is stationed at the massive Jacob’s Biscuit Factory complex. On the way to this destination the battalion encounters veteran Fenian John MacBride, who joins the battalion as second-in-command.
Although MacDonagh’s battalion is one of the strongest, they see little fighting as the British Army avoids the factory and establishes positions in central Dublin. MacDonagh receives the order to surrender on April 30, although his entire battalion is fully prepared to continue the engagement. Following the surrender, MacDonagh is court martialled and executed by firing squad at Kilmainham Gaol in Dublin on May 3, 1916, at the age of thirty-eight.