Muriel McAuley & Michelle Drysdale
Muriel McAuley & Michelle Drysdale

Michelle Drysdale

~ In the Magnolia Theatre ~

Friday, Saturday, & Sunday, 12-1pm

Michelle Drysdale lives in Galway in the West of Ireland with her husband Andrew and her two children Grace and Matthew. Growing up in Dublin, the stories of her great grand parents Thomas and Muriel MacDonagh and the 1916 Easter Rising were prevalent and the family stories of the MacDonaghs and Giffords were regularly told and retold. Much of the family history has been passed on to Michelle by her mother Muriel, who had the stories handed down to her by her aunt Grace Gifford.

Michelle is passionate about keeping the family stories of Thomas and Muriel MacDonagh and the Gifford sisters alive, by not only passing on this history to her own children, but also in her classroom where she teaches 10 and 11 year old children about the Easter Rising, those who fought, and those who were left behind.

As a wife and mother, Michelle has felt a strong connection towards Muriel MacDonagh, wife of 1916 Leader Thomas MacDonagh. She has often reflected on what life must have been like for her both in the run up to the Rising and as a widow with two young children afterwards.

In Michelle’s presentation “Married to MacDonagh”, she charts the meeting and courtship of Muriel and Thomas, their wedding, and the birth of their two children. She examines the events surrounding the Rising from Muriel’s viewpoint as well as the days and months following Thomas’ execution. Michelle also describes the relationships that Muriel had with her Gifford sisters and her parents Isabella and Fredrick. Michelle’s presentation will be followed by a Q&A and will be approximately 1 hour in duration.

Thomas MacDonagh was born in Cloughjordan where his parents were teachers. After his father’s death, he went to Rockwell College. He considered becoming a priest, and taught in Rockwell, but changed his mind before he went to their novitiate and moved to Kilkenny. It was there he attended a meeting of Conradh na Gaeilge (Irish League) and became interested in Irish culture and nationalism. In the Aran Islands, he met Padraig Pearse and when Pearse opened St. Enda’s school, MacDonagh became second in command. From then he joined and became heavily involved with the Volunteers when it was founded. He was a lecturer in English at UCD when he married Muriel Gifford in January 1912. They had two children, Don and Barbara. He was a signatory of the Proclamation and commandant in Jacob’s during the Rising and was executed on the 3rd of May 191.

After the Rising and the execution of the leaders which included Thomas MacDonagh his widow, Muriel, was left with two small children, Donagh (aged 3) and Barbara (aged 1). In the course of the following year, she participated in fundraising to help the families of those who had died or been jailed and, when they were released, those who had been imprisoned. This included having photographs taken with the children for fundraising publicity.

In July 1917, she was persuaded to join the other widows and their children on holiday in Skerries. After two RIC men removed a tricolour they had erected on the beach (which her sister retrieved), she decided to swim to Shennick Island to hoist it there. She tried one day, but turned back, but said she would try again. On 9th July whilst swimming, she was caught in a strong current and swept out to sea. According to the autopsy, she did not drown but her heart gave out. Huge numbers of people from all over the country attended her funeral.

Muriel McAuley was born on the anniversary of that funeral and was named for her. Thomas MacDonagh and Muriel Gifford were her grandparents.

May 3rd, 2023 marks 107 years since the death of 1916 Easter Rising Leader Thomas MacDonagh, a teacher and intense nationalist among the 15 men court-marshaled by the British for their role in the Rising’s organization and operation.

At his court-martial, MacDonagh remained mute until the end where he said he “did everything I could to assist the officers in the matter of the Surrender, telling them where the arms and ammunition were after the surrender was decided upon.” Reflecting on this statement, he wrote in a letter to his wife just before he was executed: “At my court-martial in rebutting some trifling evidence, I made a statement… On hearing it read after, it struck me that it might sound like an appeal. It was not such. I made no appeal, no recantation, no apology for my acts. In what I said I merely claimed that I acted honorably and thoroughly in all that I set myself to do… In all my acts… I have been actuated by one motive only, the love of my country, the desire to make her a sovereign independent state. I am ready to die and I thank God that I die in such a holy cause.”

Portions of content above taken from an article written by Dermot McEvoy @IrishCentral