‘Mid an isle I stand.
Under its only tree:
The ocean around
Around like eternity:
‘Mid my life I stand,
Under the bough of thee.
“In an Island” Thomas MacDonagh
Three leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising by Irish patriots against the British Empire were also poets and aspiring playwrights: Thomas MacDonagh, Commandant 2nd Battalion, Patrick Henry Pearse, Commander-in-Chief, and Joseph Plunkett, Commandant-General, Dublin Brigade, Irish Volunteers. All were executed on May 3-4 for their part in the failed rebellion. Their collective deaths robbed Irish letters of an important piece of its cultural heritage. We can’t know how this may have affected the future development of Irish letters—MacDonagh was certainly considered a leading figure in Dublin’s literary world—but if these executions happened today, they would probably be condemned as a form of cultural genocide.
All three men were educators by profession and of the three, only Plunkett had some formal training in military tactics. In all, sixteen leaders of the rebellion were executed in its aftermath—casualties of a different sort in the War to End Wars.
It remained for MacDonagh’s friend and fellow-poet Francis Ledwidge to commemorate MacDonagh’s death:
He shall not hear the bittern cry
In the wild sky where he is lain,
Nor voices of the sweeter birds
Above the wailing f the rain…
But when the Dark Cow leaves the moor
And pastures poor with greedy weeds,
Perhaps he’ll her low at morn,
Lifting her horn in pleasant meads.