1916 Easter Rising in Ireland with Joseph Plunkett and Grace Gifford
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.
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 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.
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
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.
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.
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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.