love and friendship

Rare personal papers shed light on private lives of 1916 signatories

The Seán MacDiarmada and Thomas MacDonagh collections are the latest tranche of Easter Rising-related documents to have been digitised by the National Library.

PERSONAL PAPERS RELATING to two of the seven leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising have been made available to view online for the first time.

The National Library of Ireland (NLI) collections include letters and photos charting key developments in the lives of Seán MacDiarmada and Thomas MacDonagh.

The documents shed light on the more private personalities of the two proclamation signatories, offering a glimpse into their relationships with friends and family.


Highlights from the collections include a 1911 letter from MacDonagh to his fiancée, Muriel Gifford.

In a light-hearted note, headed “Testament of Intentions”, MacDonagh describes himself as “bachelor of arts and artfulness, being in a state of perfect poverty and health (barring a slight cold)”.

“It is my intention to wed, marry and spouse the said lady,” he writes.

Capture National Library of Ireland National Library of Ireland


Three years later, in a letter to her then husband, Muriel writes about their son Donagh’s behaviour on the way home on the tram.

“The Don was a bad boy in the tram coming back. I won’t tell you what kind of badness but you may guess,” she tells MacDonagh.

I feel terribly lonely and blank without you darling… While I am writing this the boy is wandering around the floor and singing a little song with Dadda as the refrain.

macdoangh Muriel, Donagh and Thomas National Library of Ireland National Library of Ireland


McDonagh’s 1913 application for appointment to the chair of history, English literature and mental science at University College, Galway, is also available to read online.

In one of 12 testimonials included in the application, WB Yeats says the young academic has “enthusiasm and character and an original mind”.

He has great gifts of expression, and will, I believe, do valuable work for scholarship.

Capture National Library of Ireland National Library of Ireland


Included in the Seán MacDiarmada material is a 1913 letter to “my dear Joe”, Irish-American nationalist Joseph McGarrity.

MacDiarmada writes to his friend about his health, his father’s death and doubts about Jim Larkin’s patriotism.

In a reference to the trade union leader, he says he believes others in the nationalist movement will soon learn “not to place their faith in the English working man any more than in the English hand”.

Capture Seán MacDiarmada National Library of Ireland National Library of Ireland


Another highlight is a 1916 letter from MacDiarmada’s sisters Kate and Rose to McGarrity, thanking him for his “kind words of sympathy and comfort” following their brother’s execution.

“Even in our extreme grief, we are conscious of the suffering the tyrants’ blow has inflicted on all,” they write.

Capture O'Connell Street in the aftermath of the 1916 Rising National Library of Ireland National Library of Ireland

The papers join the Éamonn Ceannt material published online in December, as well as the Tom Clarke and James Connolly collections, which were made available last month.

The NLI will have over 20,000 items relating to the signatories digitised by April 2016.

The latest tranche of digitised records is available at

Read: New photographic exhibition bring you to the heart of the Rising

Read: These gorgeous cartoons will help you easily understand what happened in 1916

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