Wednesday, February 01, 2017



On the 1st February 1878 - 139 years ago on this date - a child, Thomas, was born in Cloughjordan in Tipperary, into a household which would consist of four sons and two daughters - the parents, Joseph and Mary (Louise Parker) MacDonagh, were both employed as teachers in a near-by school. He went to Rockwell College in Cashel, Tipperary, where he entertained the idea of training for the priesthood but, at 23 years of age, decided instead to follow in his parents footsteps and trained to be a teacher. He obtained employment at St Kieran's College in Kilkenny and, while working there, advanced his interest in Irish culture by joining the local 'Gaelic League' group and was quickly elected to a leadership role with same - ' 1905 he had left the League and moved on to teach at St Colman’s College, Fermoy, where he also established himself as a published poet. Three years later he moved to a new position, as resident assistant headmaster at St Enda's, Patrick Pearse's school then based in Ranelagh. In 1911, after completing his BA and MA at UCD, he was appointed lecturer in English at the same institution. In 1912 he married Muriel Gifford, sister of Grace, who would later marry Joseph Plunkett in Kilmainham Gaol.

In the years prior to the Rising MacDonagh became active in Irish literary circles and was a co-founder of the Irish Review and, with Plunkett, of the Irish Theatre on Hardwicke Street. MacDonagh was a witness to Bloody Sunday in 1913 and this event appears to have radicalised him so that he moved away from the circles of the literary revival and embraced political activism. He joined the Irish Volunteers in December 1913 and was appointed to the body's governing committee. In 1914 he rejected John Redmond's appeal for the Volunteers to join the fight in the First World War. On 9 September 1914 he attended the secret meeting that agreed to plan for an armed insurrection against British rule. By March 1915 he had been sworn into the ranks of the Irish Republican Brotherhood and was also serving on the central executive of the Irish Volunteers, was director of training for the Volunteers and commandant of the 2nd Battalion of the Dublin Brigade...' (more here.)

At the age of 38, he joined his comrades in challenging a then world power, England, over the injustices which that 'world leader' was inflicting in Ireland and, with six of his comrades, he signed a proclamation in 1916 declaring the right of the people of Ireland to the ownership of Ireland and to the unfettered control of Irish destinies, free of any external political or military interference. He was found guilty by a British court martial that followed the 1916 Rising, and was sentenced to death. He was executed by firing squad on the 3rd May 1916 on the same day as Pearse and Tom Clarke. His friend and fellow poet Francis Ledwidge wrote a poem in his honour after his death (Ledwidge, the 'Poet of the Blackbirds', fought for the British in the 'First World War' and was injured in 1916 - he was recovering from his wounds in hospital when news reached him of the Rising and he let it be known that he felt betrayed by Westminster over its interference in Ireland) -

Lament for Thomas MacDonagh.

He shall not hear the bittern cry

In the wild sky where he is lain

Nor voices of the sweeter birds

Above the wailing of the rain.

Nor shall he know when loud March blows

Thro' slanting snows her fanfare shrill

Blowing to flame the golden cup

Of many an upset daffodil.

And when the dark cow leaves the moor

And pastures poor with greedy weeds

Perhaps he'll hear her low at morn

Lifting her horn in pleasant meads.

In his address to the court martial, Thomas MacDonagh said : "Gentlemen of the court martial, I choose to think you have done your duty according to your lights in sentencing me to death. I thank you for your courtesy. It would not be seemly for me to go to my doom without trying to express, however inadequately, my sense of the high honour I enjoy in being one of those predestined to die in this generation for the cause of Irish freedom. You will, perhaps, understand this sentiment, for it is one to which an Imperial poet of a bygone age bore immortal testimony : "Tis sweet and glorious to die for one's country." You would all be proud to die for Britain, your Imperial patron, and I am proud and happy to die for Ireland, my glorious fatherland...there is not much left to say. The Proclamation of the Irish Republic has been adduced in evidence against me as one of the signatories. I adhere to every statement in that proclamation. You think it already a dead and buried letter - but it lives, it lives! From minds alive with Ireland's vivid intellect it sprang, in hearts alive with Ireland's mighty love it was conceived. Such documents do not die.

The British occupation of Ireland has never for more than one hundred years been compelled to confront in the field of flight a rising so formidable as that which overwhelming forces have for the moment succeeded in quelling. This rising did not result from accidental circumstances. It came in due recurrent reasons as the necessary outcome of forces that are ever at work. The fierce pulsation of resurgent pride that disclaims servitude may one day cease to throb in the heart of Ireland — but the heart of Ireland will that day be dead. While Ireland lives, the brains and brawn of her manhood will strive to destroy the last vestige of foreign rule in her territory. In this ceaseless struggle there will be, as there must be, an alternate ebb and flow. But let England make no mistake. The generous high-bred youth of Ireland will never fail to answer the call we pass on to them, will never full to blaze forth in the red rage of war to win their country's freedom. Other and tamer methods they will leave to other and tamer men ; but for themselves they must do or die. It will be said our movement was doomed to failure. It has proved so. Yet it might have been otherwise.

There is always a chance of success for brave men who challenge fortune. That we had such a chance, none know so well as your statesmen and military experts. The mass of the people of Ireland will doubtless lull their consciences to sleep for another generation by the exploded fable that Ireland cannot successfully fight England. We do not propose to represent the mass of the people of Ireland. We stand for the intellect and for immortal soul of Ireland. To Ireland's soul and intellect, the inert mass drugged and degenerated by ages of servitude must in the destined day of resurrection render homage and free service receiving in turn the vivifying impress of a free people. Gentlemen, you have sentenced me to death, and I accept your sentence with joy and pride since it is for Ireland I am to die. I go to join the goodly company of men who died for Ireland, the least of whom is worthier far than I can claim to be, and that noble band are themselves but a small section of the great, unnumbered company of martyrs, whose Captain is the Christ who died on Calvary. Of every white robed knight of all that goodly company we are the spiritual kin. The forms of heroes flit before my vision, and there is one, the star of whose destiny chimes harmoniously with the swan song of my soul. It is the great Florentine, whose weapon was not the sword, but prayer and preaching ; the seed he sowed fructifies to this day in God's Church. Take me away, and let my blood bedew the sacred soil of Ireland. I die in the certainty that once more the seed will fructify."

Thomas MacDonagh - born 1878, executed by Westminster 1916.


By prisoners from E1 Landing, Portlaoise Prison, 1999.


Grateful thanks to the following for their help, support, assistance and encouragement, and all those who helped with the typing and word processing over the past few months. Many thanks to Cian Sharkhin, the editor of the book, Mr Bill Donoghue, Governor, Portlaoise, Mr Seán Wynne, supervising teacher, the education unit in Portlaoise Prison and the education staff, especially Zack, Helena and Jane. Education officers Bill Carroll and Dave McDonald, Rita Kelly, writer, print unit, Arbour Hill.

First Print : November 1999, reprinted March 2000, illustrations by D O'Hare, Zack and Natasha. Photograph selection : Eamonn Kelly and Harry Melia.

WASTED TIME. (By Harry Melia.)

In the base such peace and quiet

I lie on my bed and my mind

goes back in time.

Seventeen years a lifetime

if only I could start again.

Always on my mind

I'm hand in hand with my wife

all the wonderful times we shared

screw - checking the door

locks my mind again.

I'm in the prison ten years now

Dublin has changed

making me afraid when I think of going home

as the time draws nearer I'm scared

but don't know why.

Never happened me before

If only I could turn back the hands of time

change and everything would be fine

the good times are back

all the love, fun and craic

Wasted time. So much wasted time.

(Next - 'The Joint', by Harry Melia.)


St. Brigid's Well, in Clondalkin, Dublin (pictured,left) is a local landmark that is considered to be a 'magic well' of sorts and was, 'back in the day', situated on what was known as 'Brideswell Common', an abandoned piece of land which travellers passed on their way to Kildare. The 'Well' and surrounding land was 'owned' by William Francis Caldbeck Esq., who rented it to a Mr. Ormsby. The 'Commons' area at that time consisted of just two fields with a rough lane dividing them , and a natural spring which the locals named 'St.Brigid's Well' , in honour of St.Brigid who, according to folklore, would baptise so-called 'pagans' in the waters of the Well - and, in return, the locals payed particular homage to her on the 1st February each year : 'the Feast Day of St. Brigid', one of four major 'fire' festivals (known as 'quarter days' in Irish mythology - the other three such 'days' are Beltane, Lughnasadh, and Samhain). St. Brigid was a 'fire goddess', and a perpetual flame burns in her honour at a shrine in Kildare, not too far from the Clondalkin site.

Infants that died before they could be baptised were said to be buried in this immediate area as a lease signed by Caldbeck allowed for burials in a 'ground [area] of 4 perches...' and this and the fact that St. Brigid made regular 'pit stops' there soon ensured that the Well became a 'special place' , the waters of which were said to improve the eyesight of young girls , once their eyes were washed with a wet cloth which was then hung on the nearest tree to dry - as the cloth dried , the eyesight of the girl who had been washed with it improved. Another belief associated with St. Brigid is that of the 'Brigid's Bed', where single females of the area would each make a doll (a 'Brideog') to represent Brigid and dress it with as much colour as they could and then make a bed for the doll to lie in.

On St. Brigid's Eve (31st January), the girls and young women would gather together in one house to stay up all night with the 'Brideog', and are then visited by all the young men of the community who must ask permission to enter the home, and treat them and the doll with respect. We still have girls, young women and young men in this world today, but 'respect' for them is in short supply, it seems...


The role of the trade union movement in Ireland in relation to the continued imperialist occupation of the North and to the foreign multi-national domination of the Irish economy - both north and south - remains an area of confusion for many people. John Doyle examines the economic policy of the 'Irish Congress of Trade Unions' (ICTU) and the general failure of the official Labour movement to advance the cause of the Irish working class, except in terms of extremely limited gains. From 'Iris' magazine, November 1982.

Since the 1930's, the majority of trade unionists in the Free State have supported Fianna Fáil, initially because of its populist policies and 'republican' image, more so today because of traditional voting patterns and Fianna Fáil's residual nationalist image. Equally in the North, partition has inevitably polarised trade unionists along nationalist and unionist lines.

These patterns have not been broken, because of the inadequacy of the Labour Party in the Free State and its rejection of James Connolly's socialism, and also because - it must be said - of republicans' practical (and sometimes political) inability to come properly to grips with social issues over the same period.

Equally, the partitionist and economistic positions of the 'Workers' Party' offer no alternative to the sterile contortions of the Labour Party and their refusal to advance socialist policies. (MORE LATER).


On the 1st February 1923, the IRA burned down what they obviously perceived to be a symbol of 'British landlordism' in County Mayo - 'Moore Hall', which was at the time associated with a Free State 'Senator', Colonel Maurice Moore.

By all accounts, Maurice Moore himself was a 'mixed bag', politically speaking, and the Moore clan themselves had the reputation as 'not the worst' to deal with : a family member from 'the old days', John, fought alongside the 'United Irishmen' in 1798 and was captured by the British and sentenced, by 'Lord' Cornwallis, to deportation and, during 'An Gorta Mór', it is recorded that no one died on 'their' lands from hunger during that period and no evictions took place. The 'Senator Colonel' '..served with the Connacht Rangers in the Boer War and became involved with human right issues (and) is credited by many as the founder of The Irish Volunteers. He was appointed by the First Dáil as envoy to South Africa in 1920 (and) served in the (FS) Seanad from 1923 under both W T Cosgrave and E DeValera where he moved legislation for the return of Irish prisoners in English jails (and) was also deeply involved with the establishment of the co-operative movement in Ireland...' (from here).

Peadar O'Donnell, in his book 'There will be Another Day', touched on a meeting he had with the man : "..Senator Colonel Maurice Moore called at my home with the manuscript of a pamphlet he proposed to publish - 'British Plunder and Irish Blunder', and he hoped that I might use it serially in 'An Phoblacht'. I knew of Colonel Moore's sustained protest in the Free State Senate against the payment of land annuities to Britain, on the ground that the Free State was under no legal obligation to pay them. I did not seek him out, and 'An Phoblacht' took little notice of his speeches. For one thing I held it against him, as I held it against W.B. Yeats , that he allowed himself to be nominated to membership of so mean a body as the Free State Senate (and) for another thing, adventuring as I was beyond the limits of IRA policy in my use of 'An Phoblacht', it would not occur to me to link up with a Free State Senator who could invoke no better argument than British Acts of Parliament.."

However - regarding the burning of 'the Big House on the Hill' : the following letter, from George Moore, was published in 'The Morning Post' newspaper on the 14th February 1923, thirteen days after the fire :

'Sir – so many trite and colourless descriptions have appeared in the newspapers of Irish bonfires that it occurs to me you might like to publish the few lines which I quote, telling of the burning of Moore Hall on the first of this month.

I was sitting in my lodge reading when armed men who where perfect strangers to me came to the door and demanded the keys. I asked what for, and was told that a column was going to be put up for the night. I wanted to go over, but would not be allowed; other armed men were patrolling the road from Annie's Bridge to Murphy's Lodge. I had no option but to give up the keys, and suspecting what was on I pointed out to the leader that the house was not Colonel Moore's property. This had no effect. I sat up all night, hoping that when all would be clear I could save even a portion of the library. At four o'clock I heard four loud explosions. At five I went to the place and found the whole house a seething mass of flames. I at once saw that all was hopeless. A fire brigade would be powerless, so firmly had the flames gripped the entire building.

I could do nothing but stand by and await the end with the same feeling that one has when standing by the open grave of a very dear friend. I do not say this in a 'Uriah Heapish' way, for I really loved that old house. To me it was a modern edition of King Tutankhamen's tomb. At six o'clock the roof fell in with a terrific crash. When the fire died down I got ladders up to the library windows, hoping to save even a few books, but nothing living could enter, so fierce was the heat. When Mr Ruttledge returns I would like to have instructions as to what is to be done. There is several feet of litter on the ground floor. I don't know if it be worth while to remove this – except steel or iron one cannot hope to find anything. In one sense, perhaps, the house had outlived its usefulness, but still it would be a pity even now to let it become a real ruin. If nothing else be done I would suggest building up all the lower windows to prevent people trafficking in and out as they please.

These lines will seem to many too simple to be considered as 'literature' ; the many like ornament. But the simple directness of the lines appeals to me ; I doubt the story could have been better told ; and if they recall to others, as they did to me, Virgil's celebrated words,
Sunt laerimae verum ['These are the tears of things'], they will justify their publication.

– Yours, etc., George Moore, 121 Ebury Street, London, S.W.1'

The Moore family may indeed not have been 'the worst in the world' but their unfortunate connection, at that time, to the 'landed gentry', was their downfall on that particular occasion.



By Jim McCann (Jean's son). For Alex Crowe, RIP - "No Probablum". Glandore Publishing, 1999.

Biographical Note : Jim McCann is a community worker from the Upper Springfield area in West Belfast. Although born in the Short Strand, he was reared in the Loney area of the Falls Road. He comes from a large family (average weight about 22 stone!). He works with Tús Nua (a support group for republican ex-prisoners in the Upper Springfield), part of the Upper Springfield Development Trust. He is also a committee member of the 'Frank Cahill Resource Centre', one of the founders of 'Bunscoil an tSléibhe Dhuibh', the local Irish language primary school and Naiscoil Bharr A'Chluanaí, one of the local Irish language nursery schools.

His first publication last year by Glandore was 'And the Gates Flew Open : the Burning of Long Kesh'. He hopes to retire on the profits of his books. Fat chance!

PSYCHOLOGICAL WARFARE (does my head in...)

For the rest of the day we were to take turns sitting at the gate of Cage 22 and the other cages shouting abuse at the screws. I'm talking serious slander here, the mortal sin stuff. We were broken up into sections and allocated a time for when we had to take our place at the gate.

As the canteen staff we were told to take our turn after the evening meal - the canteen staff of Cage 22 at that time could abuse non-stop for Ireland, but don't get me wrong : we could curse like the best of them but this was very demeaning and belittling to us. This was not out of any vestige of respect for the screws, as we had none. This was for ourselves.

We listened to our comrades during the course of the day screaming abuse at the screws. Every swear word you could think of clustered together in sentences, paragraphs and then some. The tirade of abuse lasted a good eight hours and then it was our turn. We protested to Martin who told us orders were orders and that while the Cage staff didn't like it either there was nothing could be done... (MORE LATER).

Thanks for reading, Sharon.