Donagh MacDonagh

1912-68 [fam. “Don”], b. 22 Nov. Dublin, son of Thomas MacDonagh (d. 1916; q.v.); his mother Muriel [née Gifford] drowned through exhaustion while swimming from Skerries to Lambay, 9 July 1917; raised by Jack MacDonagh and by Eleanor Bingham, Co. Clare; infected by live TB vaccination, 1917, leading to frequent hospitalisation and causing stunted growth and scholiosis; ed. Belvedere College from aetat. 12, and later at UCD with contemporaries Niall Sheridan, Denis Devlin, Cyril Cusack, Brian O’Nolan, Charlie Donnelly and Mervyn Wall; attended Kings Inn concurrently with UCD; called to bar 1935; appt. district justice in Mayo, 1941;
m. Maura Smyth, with whom two children (Briefné and Isseult) and who died from an epileptic fit in her bath [not while swimming as sometimes alleged]; he then m. Nuala Smyth, her sister, and mother of his children Niall and Barbara; served on the bench in County Wexford for many years, ending as a judge in Dublin up to his death; also broadcaster, poet and playwright; published Twenty Poems with Niall Sheridan (1934); staged first Irish production of Murder in the Cathedral with Liam Redmond, later his brother-in-law; bar practice, 1935-41; edited the Irish Times book page, and issued Poems from Ireland (1944), with an introduction; acted as a popular broadcaster on Radio Éireann; wrote poetic dramas and ballad operas;
issued Happy as Larry (1946), a ballad-opera and the most successful play in London in post-war years though produced unsuccessful in New York in an elaborate production by Burgess Meredith; God’s Gentry, frequently acted but unpublished play about tinkers [travellers] (Aug. 1951, Belfast Arts Theatre); Lady Spider, a version of the Deirdre story, [unpublished] and Step-in-the-Hollow (11 Mar. 1957, Gaiety Theatre) [var. Gate], verse plays; poems include ‘‘The Hungry Grass’’ and ‘‘Dublin Made Me’’; ed., with Lennox Robinson, Oxford Book of Irish Verse (1958); d. 1 Jan. in Dublin; a sis. Barbara m. Liam Redmond. NCBE DIB DIW DIH DIL FDA OCIL

Letters written by Thomas MacDonagh, 32 Upper Baggot Street to Donagh MacDonagh, addressed care of Muriel MacDonagh, on the occasion of his birth and on the day he was one month old. Letters are full of fatherly pride and wishes for the future, “I must myself formally congratulate you on having such a mother. You are the most fortunate child in the world, as I am the most fortunate man. Please God we three are going to have a long and happy and loving life together.” [2 items, with envelopes / 22 Nov and 22 Dec 1912; contained in Thomas MacDonagh Family Papers held in National Library of Ireland [NLI] as as MS 44,318-MS 44,345 - available as a PDF catalogue compiled by Harriet Wheelock (2008) - online. A few of Donagh McDonagh's papers are also listed on p.45.

See Listing of the Works of Donagh MacDonagh made by his son Niall - online
The site incorporates PDF copies of the majority of his works.
[Accessed 14.09.2018]

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  • Happy as Larry: A Play in Four Scenes [ded. to Nuala] (London: Maurice Fridberg 1946), 81, ivpp., ill. [Embellishments by Francis Rose; printed by Helys, Dublin]; Do. [An Hourglass Book] (London: Fridberg; Dublin: Dolmen 1967), 91, vpp.; and Do., Modern Verse Plays, ed. in E. Martin Browne (Harmondsworth: Penguin 1958) [see details].
  • Step-in-the-Hollow (1957), in Three Irish Plays (Harmondsworth: Penguin 1959).
  • Lady Spider, ed. & annotated by Gordon M. Wickstrom, in Journal of Irish Literature, 9 (Sept. 1980), pp.3-82.
Poetry Collections
  • with Niall Sheridan, Twenty Poems (Dublin: priv. 1934), 26pp.
  • Veterans and Other Poems (Dublin: Cuala 1941), 36pp. ltd. edn. 270 copies].
  • The Hungry Grass (London: Faber & Faber 1947), 71pp.
  • The Ballad of Jane Shore (Dublin: Dolmen Press 1954), ill. [design cut by Eric Patton], 4pp. [pamph.].
  • A Warning to Conquerors, preface by Niall Sheridan (Dublin: Dolmen Press), 69pp.
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Miscellaneous [chiefly anthols.]
  • ‘The Reputation of James Joyce: From Notoriety to Fame’, in University Review, 3, 2 (Summer 1963), pp.12-20 [available at JSTOR - online].
  • ‘My Grandfather was Irish’, in The Penguin New Writing, ed. John Lehmann, No. 19 (Oct.-Dec. 1944), pp.55-63 [see extract].
  • Information, Please! (Dublin: Mellifont Press 1944), 99pp., and Do. [2nd edn.] (Dublin: Pillar Publishing Co. 1945), 80pp.
  • Letters of People in Love (Dublin: Mellifont Press 1944), 112pp.
  • ed. & intro., Poems from Ireland (Dublin: The Irish Times 1944), 91pp. [see details].
  • The Ballad of Jane Shore [Dolmen Chapbook, No. 1] (Dublin: Dolmen Press 1954), [4]pp., ill. [hand-coloured woodcut by Eric Patton; ltd. edn. of 250 copies, 25cm.].
  • ed., with Lennox Robinson, Oxford Book of Irish Verse: 17th century-20th Century (Oxford: Clarendon 1958; 1959).
  • ‘James Joyce and “The Lass of Aughrim”’, in Hibernia 11 (June 1967), p.21.
  • ‘The Lass of Aughrim or the Betrayal of James Joyce’, in The Celtic Master: Contributions to the First James Joyce Symposium Held in Dublin, 1967, ed. Maurice Harmon (Dublin: Dolmen 1969), pp.17-25 [prev. in Hibernia concurrently with the conference].
  • God’s Gentry [article], in The Word (St Patrick’s, Donamon: Divine Word Missionaries 1964) [on tinkers in Ireland].
  • Ballads of the Invincibles, compiled by D. Mac Donagh (Dublin [Abbey Theatre] 1967), 1 sh. 58x46 folded to 29x12 cm. [NLI copy from Lantern Th. Collection, MSS Acc 6067].
  • [as ed.,] Ulysses Map of Dublin [designed by Signa] (Dublin 1968), [6]pp., ill., map, plan, port.
  • “The First Time I Met My Love” - No. 1 of Four songs, by Adrian Beecham; words by MacDonagh (London: Joseph Williams [1950]), 4pp.

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Bibliographical details
Poems from Ireland
, ed. with an intro. by Donagh MacDonagh; preface by R. M. Smylie (Dublin: Irish Times 1944), 91pp; also Biographical notes, pp.xiii-xvii, covering G. M. Brady; Rev. Patrick Browne; Joseph Campell; Austin Clarke; Rhoda Coghill; Maurice Craig; John Lyle Donaghy; Lord Dunsany; Padraic Fallon; Irene Haugh; George Hetherington; John Hewitt; F. R. Higgins; Valentine Iremonger; Fred Laughton; A J Leventhal; C. Day Lewis; Donagh McDonagh; Roy McFadden; Francis McManus; Brinsley MacNamara; Louis MacNeice; Ewart Milne; Myles na gCopaleen; Frank O’Connor; Roibeárd Ó Faracháin; Seumas O’Sullivan [sic]; W. R. Rodgers; Richard Rowley; ‘Michael Scot’ [sic]; Niall Sheridan; W. B. Stanford; Sheila Steen; L. A. G. Strong; Francis Stuart; Geoffrey Taylor; Peter Wells; W. B. Yeats [see Bibliographies, “Anthologies”, infra].

Four Modern Verse Plays (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books 1957), 269pp. Contents: Charles Williams, “Thomas Cranmer of Canterbury”; T. S. Eliot, “The Family Reunion”; Christopher Fry, “A Phoenix too Frequent”; Donagh MacDonagh, “Happy as Larry”.

Love Duet: from the play God’s Gentry, by Donagh MacDonagh; decorations by Louis Le Brocquy [Dolmen Ballad Sheets, B3] (Dublin: Dolmen Press 1951), 1 sh., ill., 37 x 25cm. [To be sung to the tune of “One morning in May”; Set and printed by hand; ltd. edn. of 525 copies; UL copy signed]. Note: A framed copy is held by Melanie le Brocquy; part of a ltd. edn. of 525 copies, of which 25 are hand-coloured and signed. Uncoloured copies were published on St Stephen’s Day, 1951, for the opening of the author’s play God’s Gentry at the Gate Theatre (Dublin), and offered for sale at there during the run of the play. a broadsheet of verses from Happy As Larry, ill. and hand-painted by Louis le Brocquy is extant.

Note: Some papers incl. in “Thomas MacDonagh Family Papers” held as MS 44,318-MS 44,345 - available as a PDF catalogue compiled by Harriet Wheelock (2008) - online.

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Robert Hogan, After the Irish Renaissance (1986), pp.154-58; D. E. S. Maxwell, Modern Irish Drama 1891-1980 (Cambridge UP 1985) [q.pp.]; Gordon M. Wickstrom , ‘Donagh MacDonagh’ in Bernice Schrank & William Demastes, ed., Irish Playwrights, 1880-1995: A Research and Production Sourcebook (CT: Greenwood Press 1997), pp.169-74. See also Irish Book Lover 30.

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Poems from Ireland, ed. by MacDonagh with a preface by R. M. Smyllie (Dublin: The Irish Times 1944), incl. an autograph notice on the editor-contributor, ‘Donagh MacDonagh has published verse in Ireland, England, Scotland, and America; a barrister, a student of history, a broadcaster, his latest book of verse was Veterans, published by Cuala Press.’

E. Martin Browne, ed., Three Irish Plays (Harmondsworth: Penguin 1959), incls. Donagh MacDonagh, Step -in-the-Hollow [pp. 165-236]. Browne’s Introduction notes that MacDonagh is ‘the son of one of the martyrs of the Easter Rising of 1916, and is a District Judge in the Irish courts.’ Further, ‘This proves useful as a background of knowledge to the racy tale of a judge who is a good deal more of a rogue than most of those he tries. Step-in-the-Hollow is an outrageous farce in the Falstaffian vein, with a hero as amoral, and as funny, though never as touching, as the Fat Knight. It was first staged by Hilton Edwards, who with Michael MacLiammoir has for many years provided in his Gate Theatre management the breadth of civilisation which the Abbey failed to give, without the loss of any of that exuberant vitality which Irish actors can provide. The play was a great success with Edwards as the Judge ... here printed for the first time. Laughter of the scale evoked by Step-in-the-Hollow is rare, and will be enjoyed with gratitude.’ [Note var., Martin E. Browne.]

John Montague, ‘The Impact of International Modern Poetry on Irish Writing’, in Irish Poets in English: The Thomas Davis Lectures on Anglo-Irish Poetry, ed. Sean Lucy, Cork: Mercier Press 1972): ‘[... H]ere we strike against a dismaying aspect of our literature, our tendency to regress from an advanced position. Thus Mac Donagh’s early work was intellectual and urban (he wrote his M.A. thesis on Eliot) but he gradually retreated to a simplified version of the Irish tradition. Again I am not saying that Ezra Pound is necessarily more important than Egan Ó Rahilly for an Irish poet (one has to study both) but the complexity and pain of The Pisan Cantos are certainly more relevant than another version of “Preab San Ól”.’ (p.153.)

Anthony Cronin, Laughing Matter: The Life and Times of Flann O’Brien (London: Grafton 1989), writes of ‘Donagh MacDonagh, son of martyred 1916 leader, also a poet, law student who, later in life, found it temptingly easy to claim an inheritance in the new order as a District Justice.’ (Cronin, op. cit., 1989, p.55).

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My Grandfather was Irish”, in Penguin New Writing, 19 (Oct.-Dec. 1944), pp.55-63: ‘“My father, your Grandfather, the old fellow we’ve just left in his lonely grave, was a smallholder in his young days, not two miles from here. Above opposite the churchyard. He had a five acre farm and a little cottage and damn the thing else only a couple of cows, a pig or two, and a few chickens. Himself and my mother were married three or four years, and though they the grandest-looking pair in the country they hadn’t a sign of a family. Nobody could understand it al all. When the farm work wasn’t too hard he used to do a bit of work on the roads, breaking stones, or spreading them, or clearing ditches and the like. I believe he was a fair devil for stonebreaking and a great man at the game. He had a pal called Peter Joyce, a fellow abut the same age as himself, who used to be on the road with him. A great man for the beer he was. Of course my fad used to have a great mouth on him for it too before he got married, but after that he laid off it all right. Barring, of course, the occasional pint. / Well, one fine night anyway,’ me bould Peter Joyce, Josie Conway and a lad called Jack Taylor were out on a terrible skite down the local pub - Mulcahy’s it was, we’ll pass it a bit up the road here. They rambled in there about five in the evening with five or six shillings each in their pockets, - that was a lot of money in those days. They started drinking porter and they drank till it came out in their eyes. They were sitting there drinking and talking and singing, telling stories and cutting the bowels out of every mother’s son in the ten parishes. There wasn’t a girl in the county could escape their tongues, and to hear them talking you’d think they’d seduced every woman this side of the Shannon. /“Jack!” said my mother. “Remember the children”.’ [...; for full text version, see RICORSO, Library, “Various Irish Writers”, via index, or direct.

Irish poetry in English: ‘Where Irish poetry in English is going in the future it is not easy to guess - every child who faces the microphone in a Gaelic “quiz” programme is able to give a thumbnail history of Gaelic poetry, to quote long passages from eighteenth century poets and to sing long and complicated Irish songs. The study of English literature in the schools has become a subject with the same importance as French or latin instead of the major subject which it once was, and the majority of teaching is completely through Irish. In these circumstances it seems reasonable to suppose that either a new native poetry will begin to develop, or, at the very least, poetry written in English will show ever more signs of the Gaelic influence. Already many of the older poetrs and most of the younger ones are able to use Irish as a second language, a fact which is obvious in such poems in this collection as Joseph Campbell’s Butterfly in the Fields, Austin Clarke’s The Blackbird of Derrycairn, Padraic Fallon’s Mary Hynes, Roibeárd O Faracháin’s The King Threatens the Poets and the translations of Myles na gCopaleen and Frank O’Connor, and perhaps it is as well that our poets should concentrate on doing what they do supremely well writing verse which is demonstrably non-English, rather than emulating something that English poets can do very much better.’ (See further under Bibliographies, “Anthologies”, [ infra].)

Athlone Bridge
Posted on Facebook by Niall MacDonagh (25.09.2018.)

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Robert Hogan, ed., Dictionary of Irish Literature (Dublin: Gill & Macmillan 1979), cites also God’s Gentry; ‘essentially theatrical rather than literary ... tremble on the verge of doggerel ... a similar thinness in his verse’.

Seamus Deane, gen. ed., The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing (Derry: Field Day 1991), Vol. 3, 248, 498n, 657 [no extracts], Donagh MacDonagh’s famous poem, ‘Dublin Made Me’, appeared in The Hungry Grass (Faber 1947). BIBL, unpublished play in 3 acts, God’s Gentry, 68pp. [De Burca Cat. 18 £95.00].

John Montague, ed., Faber Book of Irish Verse (London: Faber 1974), incls. “Hungry Grass”; “Prothalamium”.

Grattan Freyer, Modern Irish Writing (1979), incls. “The Day Set for Our Wedding”; “Going to Mass Last Sunday”; “Dublin Made Me”, and “A Warning to Conquerors”.

Helena Sheehan, Irish Television Drama, A Society and Its Stories (RTE 1987), lists All the Sweet Buttermilk (1969), dir. Michael Bogdanov, adpt. Normany Smythe; God’s Gentry (1974), Donagh MacDonagh/Noel O’Brien [217]; Happy as Larry (1966), dir. Jim Fitzgerald [100].

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High-class: is protrayed as Donaghy in Flann O’Brien’s novel At Swim-to-Birds (1939), as follows: ‘[he was] fast acquiring a reputation in the Leinster Square area on account of the beauty of his poems and their affinity with the high-class work of another writer, Mr Pound, an American gentleman […]. We talked together in a polished manner, utilizing with frequency word from the French language, discussing the primacy of America and Ireland in contemporary letters and commenting on the inferior work produced by writers of the English nationality.’ ([Penguin Edn. 1986, p.45].)

Austin Briggs, ‘The First International James Joyce Symposium: A Personal Account’, in Joyce Studies Annual, Summer 2002, pp.5-31: ‘McDonagh’s paper tells of lucky discovery of the text of “The Lass of Aughrim”, verses which Bartell D'Arcy sings with profound consequences in “The Dead”. At very moment MacDonagh reading letter of Joyce's that mentions the ballad, daughter entered singing “Lady Gregory”, which he immediately recognised as variant of “Lass of Aughrim”. MacDonagh introduces his daughter Pretty teenager in pink dress, Barbara MacDonagh appears incongruous in this gathering of knowing university students and rather innocent-looking professors. Seating herself on stool, tunes her guitar for a moment, then delivers “Lady Gregory”. Voice untrained, but each note placed [17] precisely and discretely in small, clear soprano; Irish phrasing sad and sweet. This is what many of us have come to Ireland to hear.’ (p.17.) Remarks that MacDonagh irritated the other paper-givers by getting his printed in large part in Hibernia.

Wonderful: ‘Don was wonderful with children; no matter what age you were he spoke to you as if you were an adult, an unusual thing at the time.’ (Memoir of John Garvin, provided by Tom Garvin [his son].)

Namesake author?: Martha Graham: A Biography (NY: Praeger 1973), x, 341pp.; The Rise and Fall of Modern Dance (NY: Dutton 1970).

Sources: Details of his marriage to Maura and Nuala Smyth [in Life, supra] have been provided by Niall MacDonagh, a son.

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