John MacDonagh (1880-1961) Collection

Repository: Dublin City Archives

Identity Statement

TitleJohn MacDonagh (1880-1961) Collection
Archive ReferenceIE DCLA/ITA/286
Web Link to this Entry
Creation Dates1916-1978
Extent Medium2 boxes and 4 outsize items. Comprising 7 series, 6 files and 26 items.


Creator(s): John MacDonagh

  • Administrative History ↴

    John MacDonagh was born in 1880 in Cloughjordan, County Tipperary. During his life he had a prolific and varied career as a playwright, film director, writer, poet, singer and musical composer, as well as participating in the 1916 Easter Rising as a member of the Irish Volunteers. He trained as a singer in Italy and began his working life in the theatre touring with the Moody-Manners Opera Company, performing in various grand opera productions in England and the United States, before writing the script for D.W. Griffith’s 1910 film “The Fugitive” (Griffith, as a historical side-note, was the director of the notorious 1915 film “The Birth of a Nation”). He returned to Ireland and became actor-producer with the Irish Theatre Company, founded in 1914 by Edward Martyn, his brother Thomas MacDonagh, and Joseph Plunkett. Here, he produced plays by masters of theatre such as Tchekoff, Ibsen, Strindberg and Maeterlinck for the first time in Ireland. A member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, though not a member of its Military Council, John MacDonagh served as a Lieutenant with the Irish Volunteers during the 1916 Easter Rising. Stationed at the Jacob’s Biscuit Factory (now the site of the National Archives of Ireland) on Bishop Street, Dublin, he served alongside his brother Thomas. Thomas MacDonagh served as Commandant of the 2nd Battalion of the Irish Volunteers during the Rising, with Major John MacBride as his second-in-command. Other notable figures also garrisoned at Jacob’s were Michael O’Hanrahan, who had served with MacBride’s Irish Transvaal Brigade, established to fight alongside the Boers against the British in the Boer War, and Peadar Kearney, author of the lyrics of Amhrán na bhFiann. Following the surrender of the rebels Thomas MacDonagh was court martialled and sentenced to death by firing squad. For his own part in the Rising, John was initially sentenced to life imprisonment, and was incarcerated firstly at Knutsford Jail, Cheshire, England, before being moved to the Frongoch internment camp in Merionethshire, Wales. Frongach housed approximately 1,800 Irishmen following the Rising, where they were accorded prisoner-of-war status. It played host to many notable future leaders of the Irish struggle for independence and earned the nickname “The University of Revolution.” MacDonagh was released in August 1916 and returned to Ireland. He joined the newly established Film Company of Ireland, working alongside its main director and Abbey actor Joseph Michael Kerrigan. He directed several motion pictures, including “Willie Reilly and his Colleen Bawn (1920),” filmed in the grounds of St. Enda's (the school founded by Padraig Pearse and Thomas MacDonagh to promote Irish education), in which he also acted, and a short propaganda film advertising Republican loan bonds, featuring Arthur Griffith, Michael Collins, and other members of the first Dáil. He went on to produce several of his own plays, and had particular success with “The Irish Jew (1921),” his play about a Jewish man who becomes Lord Mayor of Dublin, and which went on to be produced in the US. In 1924 he established his new revue called “Dublin Tonight” (revue being a very popular entertainment genre at the time), garnering much public acclaim. His short plays, sketches and songs were also contemporaneous favourites on Irish radio. In 1937 he was appointed to the newly created post of Productions Manager at Radio Éireann, which he held until 1947. Following this position he produced the sponsored radio programme for the Irish Hospitals’ Sweepstakes. John MacDonagh died on 1 July 1961, at the Meath Hospital, and is buried at Dean’s Grange Cemetery, Dublin.
  • Archival History ↴

    The collection was donated to the Dublin City Library and Archive by Joan Heneghan and Eileen Heneghan on 16 December 2015. Their great-aunt, Eileen, was married to the playwright John MacDonagh, brother of Thomas MacDonagh (1916 Proclamation signatory).
  • Immediate Source Acquisition ↴


Content & Structure

  • Scope & Content: John MacDonagh ↴

    The collection consists of material collected primarily by John MacDonagh. A small amount of material contained in his scrap book, including newspaper notices of his death and funeral arrangements, were added subsequently by person(s) unidentified. The majority of the material consists of MacDonagh’s plays – multiple copies in many cases – in complete, partial, draft, and annotated forms; thus providing the researcher with an insight into MacDonagh’s creative processes and idiosyncrasies.

    As well as his full length plays, the collection contains two files of short plays, suited to radio or revue, as well as two hard-backed volumes primarily containing hand-written sheet music for musical theatre productions. The collection also features correspondence in relation to the production, licensing and promotion of his song “Did Santa Claus come from Ireland?”

    Concerning John MacDonagh’s credentials as a republican, the collection contains a hand-written letter, signed “Henry,” regarding the conditions in the Frongach Internment Camp to the London Aid Committee, and a 1932 Easter Week commemorative pamphlet featuring one of his poems.

    From his time as Productions Manager with Radio Éireann, the collection contains a series of short ghost stories submitted my members of the public as part of a competition.

    Finally, it includes several ephemeral items, including a 78 rpm record (content unknown), a scrap book consisting mainly of newspaper clippings, both about MacDonagh himself and other prominent Irish cultural figures, and a copy of the opera “Faust.”

  • Appraisal Destruction ↴

    Permanent Retention
  • Arrangement ↴

    The collection is arranged into seven series.

    Series 1, “Full Length Plays,” is the largest in the collection. Due to the difficulty in dating the manuscripts they have been arranged in alphabetical order. While it may be possible to date the first production or publication date of at least some of the works, there are, for the most part, no indications on the manuscripts as to their date of printing.

    Series 2 and 3 consist of “Short Plays and Sketches” and “Sheet Music” respectively. The same points as per the first series apply regarding dates.

    Series 4 is comprised of a single folder of correspondence, in original arrangement as accessioned to the Dublin City Archive, concerning the licensing, publication and promotion of songs by John MacDonagh, primarily but not exclusively “Did Santa Claus come from Ireland?”

    Series 5 is comprised of a single folder of ghost stories written by members of the public as part of a competition, from MacDonagh’s time as Productions Manager of Radio Éireann.

    Series 6 is the smallest but very significant in that, as well as two copies of a 1932 Easter Rising commemoration pamphlet featuring a poem by John MacDonagh, and a flyer featuring images of the Proclamation signatories, it contains a hand written letter dated 30 August 1916, to the London Aid Committee, describing conditions for Irish prisoners-of war in the Frongoch internment camp, signed “Henry.”

    Series 7 contains items of ephemera from the collection that did not fit organically within any of the other series. It includes a scrap book, a 78 speed record and a copy of the opera “Faust.” Note: the original scrap book has been returned to donor and a digital copy retained by Dublin City Archives.

Conditions of Access & Use

Access Conditions Available to view by public who apply for research card in Dublin City Library and Archive Reading Room, 138-144 Pearse Street, Dublin.
Conditions Governing ReproductionThe terms of the Copyright and Related Acts (2000) allows DCLA to provide photocopies of material for research purposes only. Researchers wishing to publish will be obliged to write to Antoine Giacometti for permission to do so.
Creation Dates1916-1978
Extent Medium2 boxes and 4 outsize items. Comprising 7 series, 6 files and 26 items.
Material Language ScriptEnglish
Finding Aids Descriptive catalogue Archive Web Link →

Allied Materials

Copies InformationIE DCLA/286/6/1-3 (Hand-written letter to the London Aid Committee regarding conditions in the Frongoch internment camp, Easter Week commemoration pamphlet, Provisional Government of Irish Republic 1916 leaflet) scanned, digital copies available. IE DCLA/286/7/2 (scrapbook) scanned, digital copies available, original returned to donors.
Related MaterialJohn MacDonagh’s statement to the Bureau of Military History: IE DCLA/JAC Jacob's Biscuit Factory Archive Programme from the Queen's Theatre in Dublin for a performance of “Dublin Tonight” (EPH E220) held at Department of Prints and Drawings, National Library of Ireland, Kildare Street, Dublin.
Publication NoteHogan, Robert and Richard Burnham. The Years of O’Casey. 1921-1926: A Documentary History. Newark: University of Deleware Press, 1992. Roche, Anthony. The UCD Aesthetic: Celebrating 150 Years of UCD Writers. Dublin: New Island, 2005. Rockett, Kevin, Luke Gibbons and John Hill. Cinema and Ireland. 2nd Edition. London / New York: Routledge / Taylor & Francis, 2014.

Descriptive Control Area

Archivist NoteDaniel Ayiotis
Rules/ConventionsIGAD: Irish Guidelines for Archival Description. Dublin: Society of Archivists, Ireland, 2009. ISAD(G): General International Standard Archival Description. 2nd ed. Ottowa: International Council on Archives, 2000.
Date of Descriptions42390