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The Morgan Family – Father Ted’s Forebears

Maigread and Donnchadh O Muireagain, aka Margaret and Denis Morgan, with Dermot Morgan as Father Ted in the foreground. Illustration: Derry Dillon.


Anyone who listened to ‘Scrap Saturday’ or watched ‘Father Ted’ can appreciate the genius of Dermot Morgan. Before his abrupt and unexpected death aged 45 in 1998, he was one of the best-loved comedians in Ireland. But to understand what made Dermot Morgan tick, you need to go back in time and look at the generations that came before him.

Denis Morgan, Dermot’s grandfather, was one of de Valera’s key fund-raisers operating in America at the time of the Irish War of Independence. Donnchadh Morgan, Dermot’s father, was a passionate artist, sculptor and actor, stranded in the civil service. Holly Morgan, Dermot’s mother, was a Dun Laoghaire beauty with a wicked sense of humour and it was she who taught her firstborn son the art of mimicry.


The Kingdom of Tethbae


Like any Irish family worth its salt, the Morgans claim descent from Niall of the Nine Hostages, the enigmatic Ulsterman who became High King of Ireland in the 5th century. Niall’s son Maine is said to have secured the large mini-kingdom of Teathbae in Westmeath and Longford, encompassing the eastern shores of Lough Ree. [1] Others maintain that Maine wasn’t Niall’s son at all but he was such a good warrior that when the O’Neills eventually won Tethbae, they figured it would give them extra kudos if they adopted Maine as one of their own. At any rate, between the 7th and 11th centuries, the southern Ui Neill (O’Neill) ruled over Tethbae, Amongst the septs that kowtowed to the O’Neills were the Ua Muiregáin (Morgan) of Munitr Tadgain, descendants of a sea-faring O’Neill kinsman called Muricen (meaning ‘mariner’). The Morgans were based within the near present day Ballymahon and Ardagh.

In 1036, Conaing Ua Muricen became the first of the Morgans to be King of Tethba but was killed two years later. In 1087, Mael Sechlainn, King of Tara, ‘was killed by Cathal MacMuiricen and the men of Tethba at Ardagh of Bishop Mel, through treachery’. Cathal had his comeuppance eight years later when his son and heir, Domnall Ua Muirecan, was likewise murdered by the Munster men. In all, seven Morgans held the kingdom but the family seems to have sunk into obscurity after the Anglo-Norman invasion. The sole exception was Muiregain O’Muireagain, Bishop of Clonmacnoise from 1171 until his death in 1213. [2] And that is where we lose track of the Morgans of Tethbae.

By the early 18th century, various members of the family were to be found in Dublin, prospering as merchants and town councillors. In the late Victorian Age, Dermot Morgan’s forbears were said to have been living on Dublin’s Castle Street, a turnip’s throw from Dublin Castle, the fortified seat of British rule in Ireland until 1922. There is no mention of the Morgans as principal occupant of any specific house in Castle Street so it may be they lived in one of the tenement buildings behind the castle.


The dapper Denis Morgan.


Denis Morgan (1885-1945)


Denis Morgan, grandfather of Dermot Morgan (Father Ted), was born in Dublin in 1885.[3] He went on to play a key role in the formation of the Irish Free State, soliciting both American sympathy and American dollars for the cause of independence. As a child, he must have often seen the carriages of the Anglo-Irish nobility and gentry trotting up Dame Street, preparing to decant the well-dressed occupants in advance of the balls and soirees of the Castle season. In the late 1890s, he was educated at the Christian Brother School (CBS) on Synge Street.

Synge Street CBS in Dublin where Dermot Morgan’s grandfather was at school.

Shortly after the death of Queen Victoria in 1901, 17-year-old Denis boarded a train at Heusten Station and made his way south to Waterford to take up employment as a teacher at the Mount Sion CBS, the site of the Blessed Edmund Rice’s original school and his final resting place. (A passion to teach remains strong in the Morgan bloodline. Before he turned to comedy, Dermot was a secondary school teacher in Dublin, while Dermot’s son Don [Donnchadh] Morgan was formerly a German and media teacher at Monkstown CBS.)

It was 1902 and Mount Sion school was celebrating its centenary. The young Dubliner was quick to make friends, joining Irish classes and cultural societies. From Waterford he went on to Clonmel where he taught in the High School. Many years ago, Denis’s later daughter Maire received a phone call from a woman whose uncle, Frank Drohan, had been at Irish class in Clonmel with Denis. The woman referred to an extract from Drohan’s diary from 1907 which said:

We are now joined at our courses by a new member, a live wire Dublin man, brother of Paddy Morgan, a friend of Arthur Griffith’. [4]


The Move to Thurles


In 1908, Denis moved to Thurles, which was to be his home for the next 15 years. Based at the CBS on Pudding Lane, he taught English, Irish and mathematics to senior Grades, and Irish to students at St Patrick’s Diocesan College in Thurles. The Census of 1911 shows Donnchadh as living as a boarder in Mary Tobin’s house in Main Street, now Liberty Square. He is described as an Oide Scoile – a school master. An indication of his republican and revolutionary thinking is displayed in the Census return. He stated to fill in the return in English but scratched this out and completed the return in Irish. The Census also shows that his brother Paddy also completed the return in Irish.

Maigread and Donnchadh O Muireagain, aka Margaret and Denis Morgan, at the time of their wedding in 1914.


In 1914, 29-year-old Donnchadh O Muireagain – as his friends now called him – married Margaret O’Connell, a young National teacher who he had met through the Thurles choir. Seven children would be born to the couple.

Denis and Margaret rented a house owned by the Diocesan College, near the bridge and opposite the Ursuline Convent where their good friend Josephine (Aherne) McNeill was a teacher. Another neighbour was Dick Mulcahy, a former Thurles CBS student, whose father was postmaster in Thurles and who would go on to command the pro-Treaty forces during the Civil War and serve as leader of Fine Gael.

Over the next few years, Denis bore witness to the dramatic changes which befell Ireland. The strike and lock out of 24,000 workers when Jim Larkin and the press magnate William Martin Murphy had their fall out. As the Gaelic League, Sinn Fein and the Labour movement rapidly banded together it was inevitable that the fiery young Irish teacher from Thurles would get involved

Conscription to the British army was strongly opposed in Thurles although there were, of course, many from the town who went to fight of their own accord. Amongst these Corporal John Cunningham, born in Hall Street, who was awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross in April 1917 after he single-handedly, and successfully, took on twenty Germans at a vital moment in the battle of Bois-en-Hache, near Barlin, France. The 26-year-old died of his wounds shortly after the battle.

In 1916, the year Thurles CBS celebrated its centenary, the reverberations of the Easter Rebellion and the execution of its leaders were felt keenly in Tipperary. Although there is nothing to say Denis was actively involved in the rebellion, it seems a small coincidence that he should have chosen to take a train to Dublin on Easter Monday morning. When Margaret Morgan called at Thurles Station later that day to enquire if they had any word from Dublin, she was surprised to see the gates locked and soldiers on duty on the platform. As a train came in, the Station Master advised her that ‘some very important prisoner’ was on board. The train only stopped for two minutes but that was enough time for Margaret to realize that the heavily bearded man in handcuffs was Sir Roger Casement, fresh from his arrest at Banna Strand.

Dan Breen was one of the first to spearhead the war against British forces in Tipperary when he and Sean Tracey killed two RIC Constables in Soloheadberg on 19 January 1919. Constable Finnegan of Thurles was killed a year and a day later.


The New Chairman of Thurles Urban Council


At the Urban Council election of 13 January 1920, Denis Morgan was nominated by Thurles Trades Co to stand for election on the Labour ticket. He had been resident in Thurles for twelve years by now and was a prominent member of the Teacher’s Association. Accepting the nomination, Denis declared:

Labour has now begun to feel its feet and know the working man as an important unit of society. Not as a serf or beast of burden but as one of God’s creatures with a right to live and have a voice in administration’.

Two days after his election to the Urban Council, Denis Morgan was elected Chairman of the Council.


The Killing Of Constable Finnegan


On 20 January 1920, four days after Denis Morgan became Chairman of the Thurles Urban Council, RIC Constable Luke Finnegan was fatally shot dead in the stomach while walking home from the town barracks. It was a year and a day since the War of Independence officially began with the unauthorized killing of two RIC officers at Soloheadbeg, Co Tipperary, by IRA volunteers Dan Breen and Seán Treacy.

Speaking before the American Commission on Conditions in Ireland eleven months later, Denis disclaimed all knowledge of either the cause or the perpetrators of Finnegan’s assassination.


The RIC Attack on Thurles


Constable Finnegan’s death prompted an immediate and violent night assault on this otherwise ‘peaceful agricultural’ town by the RIC in what is generally considered to be the first instance of police reprisals in this increasingly brutal war.

Denis always insisted he knew nothing of the plan to kill Finnegan. Nonetheless, as one of the town’s most prominent Republicans, his house was an obvious target.

The Morgans were preparing to sleep when they heard the RIC guns begin to blaze at the far end of town shortly after 11:00pm. Alarmed by the sustained gunfire, Denis and Margaret, who was eight months pregnant, grabbed their five-year-old son Seamus from his cot and ran down to the basement. It was ‘a miserable cold’ winter’s night and Denis had to go back upstairs to gather some clothes for his terrified wife and boy. Just as he made it back to the basement, the first bullets began to tear into their house.

They came in through the hall and swished by the door where we were standing’, he recalled. ‘We heard the glass going and the plaster falling off the ceiling. I placed my wife and the little boy flat on the floor.’

The Morgans lay there, clinging to one another, glass and plaster showering down upon them, while the RIC guns sashayed up the street, hurling hand grenades and blasting every window in sight. The nuns of the nearby Ursuline Convent watched the carnage in utter shock. [5] Even after the RIC had left the town, they remained on the cold stone floor ‘because we did not know at what moment it would break out again’.[6]


Mayhem & Murder in Tipperary


Over the next few days, the RIC continued to run rampant around Tipperary. Councillor Morgan later drew the American Commission’s attention specifically to this murder which took place in The Ragg (Bouladuff), a village outside Thurles, on 21 January 1920. Thomas Dwyer was the name of the suspected Republican. ‘A knock came at the door’, explained Denis, ‘and his [Dwyer’s] sister, a married lady, opened the door, and they demanded her brother. She said he was upstairs. He came down with a candle in his hand. Two shots were fired and he fell. A man at the door said: “I think I will finish him.” And he fired another shot into him.’ The American verdict was one of “Willful murder against the members of the Royal Irish Constabulary.” The Americans were particularly alarmed by what appeared to be a deliberate British policy of executing suspect rebels in front of their family.

At a wake for a young woman in Holy Cross, the RIC’s hell-raisers killed ‘a poor old simpleton, Mr. Rooney’ who happened to be standing outside ‘the corpse house’ when the RIC drove past.[7] Meanwhile, Denis received an anonymous letter advising him to ‘leave this town within 24 hrs’ or ‘you will depart this life’. The letter was signed ‘Vengeance’.


The Arrest


In fact, Denis Morgan did not leave Thurles of his own accord. On 30 January, just as the council was meeting to elect him chairman, he was arrested by the RIC. When he asked for his charge, he was told: ‘No charge – government orders’. He was marched to Thurles Barracks, where he was searched and the contents of his pockets taken away. (Maire Duggan (née Morgan) says he received the contents back ‘with the exception of the threatening letter’.) He was then handcuffed to another man, placed in a lorry, taken to Templemore Barracks and thrown in jail alongside Edmond Hayes (of the hotel family, perhaps?), Charles Culhane and Michael Eustace.

Denis’s arrest was part of a massive swoop by the British military in which 58 men across Ireland were detained under the Defence of the Realm Regulations as members of an illegal organizations, namely the IRA. Among those rounded up were two Sinn Fein MPs, two members of Dublin Corporation and Frank Drohan, Denis’s former classmate from Irish school. [8]

At midnight, Denis and his three colleagues were taken to Limerick and from there to Spike Island where they were lodged in the Male Prison. At Spike Island, Denis demanded that their handcuffs be removed. When a belligerent soldier stepped forward to smash his rifle butt into Denis’s face, the officer-in-charge shouted: ‘Put that down or you’ll feel my rifle’. The officer later confided that Denis had taught him in Middle Grade at Thurles CBS.

The entrance to Wormwood Scrubs prison outside London where Denis Morgan and 57 other Irishmen were incarcerated, without charge, in 1920.


Wormwood Scrubs


Guarded by armed soldiers, the prisoners – now numbering 55 – then proceeded to Cobh where two war sloops awaited them. Maire Duggan explained how the men had to cross the deck of the first sloop to get onto the second one.

Handcuffs were not removed. The captain of the second sloop said he would not permit any prisoners to pass the gangway of his sloop until the handcuffs were removed because it was too dangerous.’

The sloops took them across the Irish Sea to Milford Haven from where they boarded a special train to the internment camp at Wormwood Scrubs outside London. The ensuing three months must have been a deeply traumatic time for Denis. Not long after arrival, he learned that his wife Margaret had given birth to a baby boy, Donnchadh, father of Dermot. Just days later, he learned that Seamus – the small boy with whom he endured that dreadful attack in Thurles – had taken ill and died. Denis applied for parole and, later, for leave to attend his son’s funeral, but was refused. [9]

The prison at Wormwood Scrubs where Denis Morgan was held.

After three weeks, the prisoners submitted a request to be tried on a specific charge or released. This too was refused. Joseph McGrath, the leader of the prisoners, described as ‘a fountainhead of danger and unrest’, was forcibly removed to solitary confinement in Brixton prison. (He would later establish the Irish Sweepstakes). On 16 March, Denis heard that Thomas MacCurtain, Lord Mayor of Cork, “had been sentenced to death by the Royal Irish Constabulary.” Three days later, MacCurtain was murdered in front of his wife at his home. The British attempted to blame MacCuratin’s death on Sinn Fein extremists but without success. On 25 March, the Black & Tans arrived in Ireland.

In April, the 200 or so prisoners in Wormwood Scrubs went on hunger strike, resisting efforts to force feed them. Weak and exhausted, many – including Denis Morgan – were taken to St James Hospital and treated for three weeks, before their return to prison.

On 10 May, Denis was one of forty Wormwood Scrubs hunger strikers to be released under a general amnesty. As Maire Duggan explained, the deal was that each prisoner received a voucher to return to the place where they had been arrested.

Some had friends in London who came to their aid and they got back home safely. My father was not so lucky – he kept applying for money that had been taken from him on entry to Scrubs. This was not returned until six weeks after he had got home. His rail fare was never recouped’.

At length, he got back to Ireland in June and swiftly resumed his chairmanship of the Urban District Council in Thurles. Maire Morgan recounts:

His first job was to call assembly to appoint Judges for the Republican system of Arbitration Courts. The Government Courts of Thurles had fallen into disuse for about twelve months by reason of the fact that people refused to use these courts. These Republican Arbitration Courts were the only courts in Thurles and lawyers practiced in them. The assembly appointed five judges viz. Mr O’Byrne, Mr Dwyer, Mr Leahy, Fr O’Brien and Mr Hassett.


The American Commission


In the autumn of 1920, an American Commission on Conditions in Ireland was set up in Washington to investigate atrocities alleged to have taken place in Ireland during the War of Independence. While England refused to end any delegates, Arthur Griffith selected four people to stand as witnesses on behalf of Ireland. These were Eamon de Valera, Dr John Derham (acting mayor of Balbriggan), Mary McSwiney (sister of Terence, the late Lord Mayor of Cork) and Denis Morgan, Chairman of Thurles UDC. De Valera subsequently withdrew from the mission, apparently owing to an illness, and substituted Denis Morgan in his place.

Denis Morgan and John Derham sailed together on a small trading vessel. They were soon joined by Muriel and Mary MacSwiney, widow and sister of the late Lord Mayor of Cork, as well as the sisters-in-laws of Thomas MacCurtain, also the late Lord Mayor of Cork. Mrs MacCurtain herself was unable to make it to America, having delivered stillborn twins a few months after her husbands’ murder.

On 18 November 1920, Denis Morgan took the stand in Washington before the American Commission. The Irish-American community was still reeling from the execution of 18-year-old medical student Kevin Barry in Dublin three weeks earlier. Denis duly described conditions in Ireland, referring to that awful night when the RIC attacked his house, the burning of Templemore as well as the murders at the Ragg and Holy Cross. He added that the terror of the country roads was no different in Dublin, recalling a day in October 1920.

You might be going down the main streets any City Streets time of the day and suddenly you hear a shout, “Whoop,” and suddenly both ends of the street are stopped up. Shots are fired over the heads of the bystanders and then everyone is searched. Now they are always accompanied by armored cars carrying machine guns. The armored cars drive up on the footpath where the people stand so that they have to clear out in all directions in order to escape. On almost any street of Dublin you can see these armored cars going along with bayonets sticking out, and very often they fire shots, apparently to see the women and people scream and fly in all directions.’

Senator Walsh of Massachusetts asked whether the purpose of the British government was to stamp out all efforts by the Irish to establish a republic. Denis replied that ‘undoubtedly was the purpose.[10] He concluded by saying that ‘British civil authority had lapsed generally’ in Ireland, adding that neither murder nor any other major felony had been committed in Thurles during the previous twelve years. That said, it was not many years later that Sean O’Faolain recalled wartime Thurles as a town of hovels and squalor: ‘You could step from dung-heap to dung-heap to the square’. The American Commission deduced that, for no discoverable reason other than Republicanism, Imperial British forces were killing citizens and officials of the Irish Republic. Particular alarm was expressed that these assassinations frequently took place in front of the victims’ families.


Bloody Sunday, 1920


Michael Collins: Denis attended his funeral in 1922.

On November 21, three days after Denis took to the witness box, Michael Collins’s IRA death squad killed fourteen British agents in Dublin on what became known as Bloody Sunday. Later that day thirteen spectators and one player at a Gaelic football match at Croke Park in Dublin were shot by the British. There is a degree of black irony here for one member of the Collins death squad that fateful morning was Michael O’Hanlon, grandfather of Ardal O’Hanlon who played Father Dougal to Dermot Morgan’s Father Ted in the TV series.


Fund Raising in the USA


The American Commission lasted close on six weeks. At its finish, Denis remained in the USA, embarking on a coast-to-coast lecture tour in which he highlighted the state of affairs in Ireland. He maintained contact with Harry Boland during this time and played an important role as one of De Valera’s North American fund-raisers. He was given a gold pocket watch by the people of Boston which, although it no longer works, continues to be owned by the eldest son in the family.


Return to Ireland


Maire Duggan’s first memory of her father dates to the spring of 1921 when he returned from America on board a US mail ship, The Old North State. The family – consisting of his wife Margaret, Margaret’s father, Maire and one of her young brothers – had just moved into a new house. They named their house ‘Knocknagow’, after the 1873 novel of that name by Charles Joseph Kickham. Her grandfather slept in the house at night but returned to his own home in the morning. There were still odd raids and searching of homes by the military at night.

When the republican movement split in 1921-22 over the Anglo-Irish Treaty, it seems probable that Denis Morgan sided with Éamon de Valera and the anti-Treaty Irregulars. However, according to The Irish Times, he was one of five men from the Thurles Urban Council who attended Michael Collins funeral in August 1922.

Denis Morgan and his dog.

The Free State


Returning to Dublin in 1922, Denis must have marvelled at the changes in time as the Union Jack was lowered over Dublin Castle at the back of the original Morgan household in Castle Street, and the flag of the Irish Free State was raised. He must have felt strongly connected to the new powers.

Indeed, the second Governor General of the Irish Free State was James McNeill, whose wife Josephine (née Ahearn) was a great friend of the Morgans and hailed from Thurles. Josephine had been a teacher at the Ursuline Convent in Thurles before the war. She went on to become President of the Irish Country Women’s Association and served as Ambassador to the Netherlands in Sean McBride’s coalition government of 1948. James MacNeill was a brother of Eoin McNeill and a great uncle of the former Tánaiste, Michael McDowell.


Department Of Education


Despite a request from Dr Harty, Archbishop of Cashel, Denis never returned to his teaching post at Thurles. He maintained he had been treated badly by the Christian Brothers. In 1927 he entered the Irish Civil Service, serving in the Department of Education until his death in 1945. He worked in An Gum, translating books into Irish, and later in Secondary Education. He settled in Blackrock with his sister Peig, During this time, he also gave driving lessons to Frank Kelly, the actor who played ‘Father Jack’ in the Father Ted series. Four of Denis’s children subsequently entered the Civil Service and Denis used to joke that his family had nearly enough personnel to run a department of their own.

Denis and Margaret were survived by six children. These were Donnchadh, Brian, Maire Duggan (lived in Ardfinnan, buried in Thurles and author of the memoirs on which much of this story is based), Peig (still living, Blackrock), Nuala (still living, Mount Merrion) and Ide.

In 1939, the Civil Service Commissioners announced that Ide Muirgheall Morgan had obtained one of the highest places in the written examination of October 1938 and would now advance to the oral.[11]

Brian’s son Donagh Morgan, who grew up in Thurles, served as Secretary to three taoiseachs namely Garret FitzGerald, Charles J. Haughey and Albert Reynolds. He was Haughey’s secretary at the time his cousin Dermot was doing the ‘Scrap Saturday’ sketch.

Margaret and Denis with Maire (who wrote the memoir of Thurles) and Ide.

Donnchadh Morgan (1920-1974)


An extremely gifted artist and sculptor, Donnchadh Morgan followed his father into the civil service but, as his son Dermot later said, ‘he just wasn’t cut out for suburban life.’ A fluent Irish speaker with a highly analytical mind, Donnchadh also had a passion for amateur dramatics generally and Sophia Loren in particular.

At the time of Donnchadh’s birth in February 1920, his father was in Wormwood Scrubs. He subsequently married Hilda (Holly) Stokes, a celebrated beauty from Dun Laoghaire. Don Morgan recalls his grandmother as a ‘a vicious mimic who taught my brother [Rob] and I how to swear’. It was her ‘mischievous streak which really fed into my father’s humour, as well as his own talent for mimicry.’

Donnchadh is famous for punching a milkman’s horse when it startled him by sticking its head over his shoulder while he was fixing bicycle clips to his trouser legs one morning. Sadly, he died young of an aneurism, leaving his widow with two teenage sons, Dermot (b. 1956) and Paul (b. 1958), and two teenage daughters, Denise and Ruth. Sadly Ruth did not survive childhood but her memory remains dear to her family.

Don Morgan and Turtle Bunbury in Cathach Rare Book Shop on Dublin’s Duke Street, trying to piece it all together for a version of this story that appeared in the Irish Examiner in 2009. Photo: Maura Hickey.

Dermot Morgan’s wife Susanne Garmatz came from Hamburg and is of Pomeranian descent. They met at the Dublin Horse Show, which Susanne was visiting as a supporting member of the German team participating in the Aga Khan Cup. They fell in love within 24 hours, married in a year and had two sons, Donnchadh and Robert. Donnchadh is a German and media teacher, writes for The Irish Times property supplement on Thursdays and is a frequent commentator on radio. Robert has worked both at home and abroad in the hospitality industry; they both have their grandfather’s red hair. Both together and separately, the brothers are a dangerous comedy duo with razor sharp wits. Dermot had a third son, Ben by his partner Fiona, who attends St Andrew’s College in Dublin as a Transition Year student.

After graduating from UCD, where he had taken a prominent role in stage productions and student life in general, Dermot became a very popular teacher in St Michael’s College in Ballsbridge. However, the need to commentate, both poignantly and satirically, on political issues and be a TV, stage and radio personality burned within him and he started to contribute, unbidden and unpaid, to the ‘Live Mike’ show on RTE. From there his career path is well known. Like his father, Dermot also died young but lives to this day on our screens, on the radio and in our memories. He is publicly commemorated by a monumental chair in Merrion Square where he can keep a watchful eye on our politicians – something which he shared with his grandfather, Denis Morgan.

The zest for arts continues to the present day with Donnchadh and Holly’s grandchildren. Simon Deeney is an established sculptor, while the others have focused on acting (Eoin Deeney and Briony Morgan), art (Leah Barry) and writing (Don Morgan).


A feature article on Dermot Morgan’s ancestors appeared in the Irish Examiner on 28 September 2009.



With thanks to Liz Barry, Don Morgan, Susanne Morgan, Donagh Morgan, Liam O’Donoghue, Michelle Cooney, Josephine Farrell, Fiona Fitzsimon, Siobhan Cronin, Maura Hickey and Ally Bunbury.




  • Duggan (née Morgan), Maire, Reflections on the Past (Date unknown)
  • Fox & Chavasse, Moireen and Moirin, Terence MacSwiney (Clonmore and Reynolds, 1961)
  • McCardle, Dorthy, Earthbound: Nine Stories of Ireland (1924)
  • McCardle, Dorothy, The Irish Republic (Corgi edition, 1968)
  • McConville, Seán, Irish political prisoners, 1848-1922: theatres of war, (London: Routledge, 2003)
  • The American Commission on Conditions in Ireland – Interim Report (Boston College Library, 1920)




[1] Both the Book of Ballymote and MacLysaght maintain that the Morgans descend from the sept of Cenel Maine, who were themselves descended from Maine, son of Niall of the Nine Hostages. Other sources suggest that the Morgans were a family of Cymric-English origin. Tethbae is variously spelled Tethba, Teffia, Taffa, Teffa and Taefba.

[2] A Topographical Appendix to ‘The History of Ireland: From the Earliest Period to the English Invasion’ by Geoffrey Keating, in the 1866 publication by J. B. Kirker (“With an appendix, collected from the Remarks of the learned Dr Anthony Raymond of Trim, not in the former edition (Westminster 1726)”). Note also remarks by Warren here.

[3] Denis Morgan is not to be confused with the celebrated 1940s Hollywood star of the same name.

[4] Maire Morgan, Reflections on the Past.

[5] ‘Years later I visited the convent and one elderly nun spoke to me about the incident and said: ‘We all prayed most earnestly for the family’. (Maire Morgan, Reflections on the Past).

As the Oswego Palladium Times in Washington later reported, ‘trouble broke out in Thurles on the night of January 20th when the town was shot up by the Royal Irish Constabulary in revenge for the shooting of one of their number’. Next morning, Morgan said he found that houses of all members of the town council who favored Irish independence had been riddled with bullets. Stores and a newspaper office were wrecked with hand grenades, he declared, and the main street and square of Thurles were littered with glass and debris. The people, he told the American Commission, were ‘wild with terror’. The American Commission later concluded: ‘Mr. Morgan’s house in Thurles, together with the houses of four other men, was signaled out for attack during the raid on the town presumably because these five were Republican members of the Council.
The full version of Councilor Morgan’s testimony on the RIC raid on Thurles was as follows:
On the twentieth of January, about 11:10, my wife was in bed and my boy of five years was in the cot. I had put out the light and had got ready to go to bed when I heard shooting going on in the town. When I heard the shooting first I thought it was only isolated shots, and then I heard heavy volleys. So I said to my wife, “We must get out of this room immediately. If there are any stray shots, we shall be in danger.” We hastily got out of bed and got down to: a lower basement where it was fairly good protection from the side and also from the front, because we were in the back. I went back and got the youngster out of his cot. I had to go on all fours lest a bullet should come in. I dragged him down and had to go back for some clothes to cover us. All that time the firing was going on heavily. And it got nearer and nearer. Just as I got inside the basement with the clothes I heard bullets hitting the house. There was a door there facing the street. The bullets came in through the hall and swished by the door where we were standing. We heard the glass going and the plaster falling off the ceiling. I placed my wife and the little boy flat on the floor.
We tried to protect ourselves as well as we could. It was a miserable cold night. My wife, in her condition, being within two weeks of her confinement, was in a terror-stricken state. We lay there. The firing continued. The heavy volleys we heard outside seemed to pierce every window in the house. Then the firing moved back to town again. It lasted altogether about an hour, and it stopped. We remained in the same position, anxious to know if it would break out any more. In half an hour’s time it started again, but on the second occasion it did not last so long. Only about ten minutes. We could not stir from the position we were in because we did not know at what moment it would break out again. So that we had to lie on the stone floor all night
.’ (American Commission, p. 54-55).

Denis Morgan recalled the Holy Cross murder to the American Commission as follows. ‘At a wake in Ireland the neighbors assemble and sit up all night with the corpse. At the wake was a poor old simpleton, Mr. Rooney. He happened to go out of the corpse house.” He was killed outside the door. The American coroner’s jury verdict on Rooney was, “wilful murder committed by the armed forces of the Crown.” On 5 March 1920, Constable John Heany, 22, was shot dead in The Ragg, possibly in reprisal for the death of Mr Rooney.

[8] In Tipperary, the arrests were carried out by the South Irish Military Command with the RIC playing a subsidiary role. ‘Huge motor lorries, accompanied in some cases by armored cars, scoured the country and by the afternoon nearly fifty arrests had been effected’. (The Irish Times, Sat Feb 7 1920).

[9] MacArdle, Dorothy, The Irish Republic: a documented chronicle of the Anglo-Irish conflict, p. 343.

[10] The Oswego Palladium Times for Nov 18 carried the following on its front page:
Investigation Into Conditions in Ireland Started.
Chairman of the Town Council of Thurles Tells of the Shooting Up of That Place by Royal Irish Constabulary – Was Hunger striker in London – Tells of Conditions in Ireland.
WASHINGTON, Nov. 18— Dennis Morgan, chairman of the town council of Thurles, Ireland, was the first witness before the American commission investigating affairs in Ireland today. Morgan is a school teacher.
Trouble broke out in Thurles, a peaceful agricultural center, on the night of January 20th, when the town was shot up by the Royal Irish Constabulary in revenge for the shooting of one of their number. Next morning, Morgan said, he found that houses of all members of the town council who favored Irish independence had been riddled with bullets. Stores and a newspaper office were wrecked with hand grenades, he declared, and the main street and square of Thurles were littered with glass and debris. The people, he said, were wild with terror.
Morgan says he was arrested on January 20th and taken to Wormwood Scrubs prison, London. No charge wag preferred against him- While in prison his child sickened and died. He was not allowed to attend the funeral. A trial was demanded and refused, he said, and a hunger strike was started among the 200 prisoners. He said he got back to Ireland in June.
The deportations, he declared, were general over Ireland, and followed sweeping victories in local district and county elections for Irish Republican candidates. More than 500 were deported in a few days, he said.
He said Thurles was shot up twice while he was in prison.
Morgan told or the shooting down of people who made complaints of the treatment received at the hands of the Constabulary. He told of the murder of the town fool at Holy Cross, the burning of Templemore and other places.
Senator Walsh, of Massachusetts asked Morgan whether the purpose of the British government was to stamp out all efforts by the Irish to establish a republic. Morgan, replied that undoubtedly was he purpose.
See also the Prescott Evening Courier – Nov 18, 1920.

[11] Irish Times, 11 Jan 1939.