Mrs Thomas McDonagh
A Double Tragedy
Fr Eugene Nevin's evidence
Of the many visits paid to the victims of Easter Week and after, none stand out so poignantly clear as that to the young widow of Thomas McDonagh and her two baby orphans, boy and girl, at her residence, Oakley Road, opposite the original St Enda’s College.
A convert to Catholicity, Muriel Gifford before marriage, sister of Mrs Grace Plunkett who like her namesake, Maud Bridal of Malahide, was widowed three hours after marriage. A wife and a widow, a maid and a bride.
Mrs McDonagh was still a girl in years and ways; in manner and appearance attractive; and as she sat there a baby on each side lisping alternatively a daddy’s name whose homecoming they never more shall hear, it was a sight calculated to draw tears from those who came to console. Sad indeed it was, extremely so; even when removed from the scene, as a sort of compensating balance or comforting thought, one might repeat over Tom Moore’s lines:
‘Dark falls the tear of him who mourneth
Lost joy, or hope that n’er returneth
But brightly falls the tear
Wept o’er a hero’s bier’.
Though her widowhood was rendered happy by the possession of her two lovely babies, it was short-lived for she was accidentally drowned in the early part of the following summer 1917. The Relief Committee had rented a large house in Skerries where the children of their charge with their Mothers could together spend a few weeks holiday at this popular seaside resort; and thither went Mrs McDonagh to lend a hand in the good work. The Holiday House, regarded as a capital idea, was highly appreciated by both parents and children and it soon became the rendezvous for friends and sympathisers every evening. But on Sunday afternoons there would be quite a large gathering come to treat and be treated by the children after their guiless (guile-less) fashion. Having spent a couple of hours there, that ne’er to be forgotten Sunday afternoon, I bade goodbye to the happiest ever group of children, Mrs McDonagh one with them and leader in their merrymaking. I never dreamt then, who could? that the angel of death was already hovering over, claiming its victim amongst them, and that, this joyous leader. Yet so it was.
Later on in the evening she essayed to reach one of the small islands lying off the coast but, though an expert swimmer, through some mishap or other she unfortunately failed, her dead body being rescued from the sea a few hours afterwards. May her gently soul rest in peace. Her babies are now doubly and tragically orphaned; she has joined her beloved in Heaven who on earth by his habitual good humour, charm of manner and ready wit, was the life and soul of many a meeting. We may, I think, appropriately apply to them the words of Holy Writ: ‘Lovely and comely their life even in death they were not divided’.
May their souls, those who died for Ireland, and all those of the faithful departed rest in peace.
In a recent talk with Donagh McDonagh – now District Justice – whose memory of his father and mother is the faintest, as he and sister were then mere babies, he told me from what he heard, his mother was strongly opposed to the idea of the Holiday House.
She went there to please others, and not to spoil sport; a sacrifice in a double sense as the event proved.