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1916 Easter Rising in Ireland with Joseph Plunkett and Grace Gifford

Updated on March 9, 2020
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L.M.Reid is an Irish writer who has published many history articles online and in magazines.

Joseph Plunkett Married Grace Gifford Hours Before His Death

After a week long battle in Dublin Ireland the Irish soldiers had surrendered. One of the leaders was Joseph Plunkett. He was tried by Court Martial and executed by firing squad. His body was dumped in a mass grave at Arbour Hill Prison yard along with thirteen other Irish soldiers who fought in the 1916 Easter Rising.

Joseph married his fiance Grace Gifford just a few hours before his death in Kilmainham jail. They had been engaged since the previous December and were due to be married on Easter Sunday. This had to be cancelled because of the Rising.

This is their story.

Joseph Plunket and Grace Gifford in 1916
Joseph Plunket and Grace Gifford in 1916 | Source

The Easter Rising in Dublin

Britain had ruled Ireland for over seven hundred years and the Easter Rising was one of many attempts to become independent. The General Post Office on Sackville Street, now O’Connell Street became the Headquarters of the Rising. There were other outposts around Dublin that had been captured by the Irish soldiers at the same time as the GPO that day.

Plunkett in GPO with Connolly and Pearse

He was the tactical officer and received the information from the other garrisons. He had to take frequent rests because he was still weak after an operation on his throat a few days earlier because of Glandular Tuberculosis. He was still bandaged as he entered the GPO on Easter Monday.

Poet and Writer

He was born in Dublin in November 1887. He went to University College Dublin and obtained a degree in Philosophy. He had always suffered bad health so he travelled to Italy, Egypt and Algeria. In 1911, he returned to Dublin and founded the newspaper the Irish Review. He was a poet, journalist and the editor of the magazine. He was a member of the Supreme Council of the Irish Republican Brotherhood and a founder member of the Irish Volunteers in 1913.

His two younger brothers, George and John and his father George were to fight in the Easter Rising. Their home was a large estate in Kimmage and this was used as a training camp for some of those men who were to take part in the Rising.

Joseph Plunkett and The 1916 Rising
Joseph Plunkett and The 1916 Rising | Source

Joseph Plunkett and Grace Gifford

Joseph Plunkett formed a great friendship with Thomas MacDonagh. They both edited the magazine, The Irish Review, and in 1914 they founded the Theatre of Ireland in Dublin. The theatre produced plays by Irish playwrights. Thomas MacDonagh was also a playwright and had two of his plays produced there.

Joseph Plunkett was introduced to Grace Gifford by Thomas MacDonagh in 1915 because she was his wife Muriel’s sister. Grace and Muriel were fully aware that the Rising was being planned but not when it would start. Neither Joseph nor Thomas had told them.

Their sister Nellie Gifford was in the GPO with other women from the Cumann na mBan and the Irish soldiers including Joseph and Thomas. Grace and Muriel were in a hotel having lunch when it did start. On Friday before the men evacuated from the burning building Joseph Plunkett asked Winifred Carney to deliver some things to his fiancée, Grace Gifford.

Last Letter to Grace

He took an antique ring from his finger and a letter. He was not expecting to see Grace again. His two brothers, George and John were fighting in the GPO with him. After the failed attempt of Michael O’Rahilly and his men to cross Moore Street the men came up with another plan. They were able to construct a barricade by pushing a truck across the road to give them some limited protection from the machine guns. Joseph Plunkett was able to summoned up enough strength to help with this and to get across the road without injury.

Chapel in Kilmainham Jail
Chapel in Kilmainham Jail | Source

The Fighting at Moore Street

On Saturday afternoon on 29 April the Irish soldiers had surrendered. The fighting at Moore Street in the Easter Rising was over. The men marched to a holding spot in Parnell Street. They were joined by others who had surrendered from garrisons all over Dublin. They spent the night in freezing conditions under guard by the British soldiers on the cold ground across the road from the Rotunda Hospital

Richmond Barracks

The next day they were marched to Richmond Barracks. Joseph Plunkett was tried by Court Martial there on 2 May and transferred to Kilmainham Jail where he was told he had received the death sentence. Winifred Carney and many of the women who were involved in the Easter Rising were also prisoners in Kilmainham Jail. They were locked up, four to a cell on the corridor above where the leaders of the Easter Rising were held.

Winifred Carney got her hands on a letter from Joseph Plunkett that he had managed to get to her. She was able to smuggle it out to his fiancée, Grace Gifford. Winifred Carney spent eight months in prison. After her release she delivered the letter and ring to Grace personally that Joseph had given to her while they were still in the GPO on the Friday.

The Prison Wedding

Grace arrived at Kilmainham Jail at 6 pm and had to wait until 11.30 pm to finally get the wedding ceremony under way. It was only a short walk from the cell of Joseph Plunkett down a dark corridor and in to the chapel. The wedding ceremony was performed by Father Eugene McCarthy, who was the prison chaplain.

Once the wedding of Joseph Plunkett and Grace Gifford was finished Joseph was hand cuffed again and escorted down the corridor back to his cell. Grace was escorted to her lodging for the night by the priest. But only a few hours later at 2 am a policeman came to the door and told her Grace she could visit Joseph. The couple were allowed exactly ten minutes in his cell. There were British soldiers in the cell and on the landing outside. A total of fifteen in all.

Grave stone of Joseph Plunkett in Arbour Hill
Grave stone of Joseph Plunkett in Arbour Hill | Source


He was led from his cell into the prison yard and at 3.30 on 4th May. As he was led to the yard for execution, he said to Father Sebastian, a Capuchin priest who accompanied him, ‘Father I am happy I am dying for the glory of God and honour of Ireland. Joseph Plunkett was then shot dead by firing squad in Kilmainham Jail Yard

Arbour Hill Mass Grave

His body was dumped in the pit in Arbour Hill and covered in quick lime. His two brothers, George and John, had also received the death sentence, but these had been commuted to ten years imprisonment. His father was arrested too. During this awful time his mother was frantic, looking for information about her family. Until eventually she too was arrested. She spent five weeks in prison herself. She and her husband were released after a few weeks and deported to England.

Gravestones of the executed leaders in Arbour Hill
Gravestones of the executed leaders in Arbour Hill | Source
President John F Kennedy visits Arbour Hill
President John F Kennedy visits Arbour Hill | Source


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The Easter Rising Ended on 30 April

Most of the men and women who fought in the Easter Rising were transported to England and Wales and imprisoned there. Sixteen men were executed. Fourteen of these men were buried in a mass grave at Arbour Hill in Stoneybatter Dublin 7.

The Irish soldiers who fought during the 1916 Easter Rising managed to hold out for a week but failed to free Ireland. But more Irish men and women fought on with the battle for Irish Freedom.

The Irish War of Independence

The Irish War of Independence began in 1919 and ended in 1921 when Ireland became a Free State. Joseph Plunkett was one of the men executed for his part in the 1916 Easter Rising. He and the other thirteen men who lay buried at Arbour Hill Memorial Park are now an important part of Irish history.

The other thirteen men are:

Tom Clarke, James Connolly, Con Colbert, Sean Heuston, Sean MacDermott, Thomas MacDonagh, Michael O'Hanrahan, John McBride, Eamonn Ceannt, Michael Mallin, William Pearse, Patrick Pearse and Edward Daly.


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    • profile image

      Jill Plunkett 

      2 years ago

      Did either of Josephs brothers marry and have families? We as the Plunkett family in Liverpool are trying to establish a family line down to Arthur John Plunkett born 1911

    • viking305 profile imageAUTHOR

      L M Reid 

      5 years ago from Ireland

      Hello Sharon, Grace Gifford was a very strong woman I am sure you are proud to have her as part of your family.

      I think I came across a website about Grace that was written by one of her relatives, but can not remember what it was. Maybe if you Google it you might come across it.

    • profile image

      Sharon Kelly 

      5 years ago

      OMG Have only just found out that Grace is my Great Great Aunt trying to find out any information I can so if any body could help me please. Thank you Sharon

    • viking305 profile imageAUTHOR

      L M Reid 

      6 years ago from Ireland

      Thanks James Murray for your input. You are correct about the War of Independence data. I will change the article about that. The other part about there being 16 men who were executed is already in the article and I state that 14 of them are buried at Arbour Hill.

      Thanks for reading and taking the time to leave a valuable comment

    • profile image

      James Murray 

      6 years ago

      Your article states that the Irish War of Independence ended January 1923. The fighting actually ended June - July 1921, and the war formally ended 6 December 1921 when the treaty that gave Ireland, (the modern day republic), the status of dominion within the Commonwealth, was signed. The Civil War, which immediately followed the War of Independence, contiued to May 1923.

      Your article also states that a total of 14 men were executed. The true total is 16, including, as well as the men listed above, Thomas Kent, executed in Cork, and Roger Casement, executed in London.

    • viking305 profile imageAUTHOR

      L M Reid 

      7 years ago from Ireland

      Joseph Plunkett and Grace Gifford were due to be married the day the 1916 Easter Rising began. They did get married in prison a few hours before he was executed.

      All very brave and dedicated men and women who fought during that week and the following years in order to gain independence for Ireland.

      Thanks Nick and Mary for taking the time to leave a comment

    • Nick Hanlon profile image

      Nick Hanlon 

      7 years ago from Chiang Mai

      I'm related to Michael Collins and befriended a witness to the 1916 uprising.He described how the Apostles tried 3 times to assassinate his father.Love this stuff.Keep it coming.Keep the memory of these brave soldiers alive and well,Ireland.

    • profile image

      Mary O'Donnell 

      8 years ago

      Excellent footage despite the awful background song at the start. The Enya track works well. Thank you. This footage is v. helpful to anyone, researchers or general interest.

    • viking305 profile imageAUTHOR

      L M Reid 

      8 years ago from Ireland

      Irish history is very complicated and there were so many Irish men and women who fought and were killed in our fight for independence.

      Joseph Plunkett was just one but he went to his execution with his head held high like all our Irish solders.

      Thanks for reading and taking the time to leave a comment.

    • profile image

      Dominic Gallagher 

      8 years ago

      Fantastic Historical work, brilliant videos and information on a largely unknown unsung hero!

    • Adela Rasta profile image

      Adela Rasta 

      9 years ago from Dublin, Ireland

      Greetings from a fellow Dub! It was very interesting to read about this great character from our history. It was well-presented (great photos) and well-written. Keep at it!

    • profile image

      No one  

      9 years ago


    • billyaustindillon profile image


      9 years ago

      The old photos and particularly the bleakness of the prisons add so completely to the story of Joseph Plunkett and the executed leaders.

    • viking305 profile imageAUTHOR

      L M Reid 

      9 years ago from Ireland

      Thanks for reading LeanMan and for your comment I appreciate it

    • LeanMan profile image


      9 years ago from At the Gemba

      Your grasp of History is wonderful.


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