Friday, April 14, 2006


The seven signatories - Joseph Plunkett

Joseph Plunkett - hero"If the German offensive timed for May comes off, the English will be so much occupied that it is possible we could hold out one way or another for anything up to three months. At the end of that time the English would have to make peace."

Joseph Plunkett

Continuing United Irelander's focus on the seven signatories of the Proclamation of the Republic as we count down to this Sunday's military parade, today I will take a look at the scholar and poet, Joseph Mary Plunkett.

Joseph Plunkett was born in Dublin and was the son of a Papal Count, George Noble Plunkett. He suffered from very poor health and at a young age was stricken with tuberculosis. As a result he spent much of his youth in the warm climate of Italy and Egypt.

Throughout his life, Plunkett took an active interest in Irish heritage and the Irish language. He joined the Gaelic League, and took on as a tutor Thomas MacDonagh, with whom he formed a lifelong friendship. The two were both poets with an interest in theatre, and both were early members of the Irish Volunteers, joining their provisional committee. Plunkett's interest in Irish nationalism spread throughout his family and his father allowed his property in Kimmage, south Dublin, to be used as a training camp for young men who wished to escape conscription in England during World War I. Men there were instead trained to fight for Ireland.

Plunkett joined the Irish Republican Brotherhood in 1915 and soon after was sent to Germany to meet with Roger Casement who was negotiating with the German government on behalf of Ireland. Most of Casement's energies in Germany were spent recruiting Irish Prisoners of War to form a brigade to fight for Ireland instead of Britain. Plunkett was seeking a shipment of arms and he successfully got a promise of a German arms shipment to coincide with the rising.

Plunkett was one of the original members of the IRB Military Committee that was responsible for planning the rising, and it was largely his plan that was followed. Shortly before the Rising was set to begin, Plunkett was hospitalised following a turn for the worse in his health.

In terms of Plunket's personal life, he was engaged to be married to Grace Gifford with the wedding set for 24th April, 1916. Grace knew nothing about the plans for the Rising and as a member of the IRB's Supreme Council, Plunkett was sworn to secrecy.

The day before Easter, Grace visited Plunkett in hospital where he had an operation for glandular tuberculosis. That same evening, Plunkett made out a will leaving everything to Grace, and left the hospital to take place in the Rising. Plunkett, still bandaged, stayed in the GPO with several of the other leaders, though his health prevented him from playing a big part. His aide de camp was Michael Collins.

Following the surrender Plunkett was held in Kilmainham Gaol, and faced a court martial. He was found guilty and sentenced to death with no recommendation for mercy. Plunkett married his fiancée, Grace Gifford, hours before his execution.

At about 5pm on Wednesday 3 May 1916, Grace drove up to a jeweller's shop in Grafton Street. The jeweller had put his stock away for the night, and was about to shut the shop. She asked for any kind of wedding ring. The jeweller went over his stock, and gave her a ring.

At 1.30am on 4 May 1916, Grace Gifford was led into the small chapel of Kilmainham Gaol and stood waiting until the handcuffed Joseph Plunkett was brought in, and led up the aisle to stand beside her at the chapel's altar. As there was no electricity available, the marriage ceremony was conducted by Reverend Eugene MacCarthy, using candles for light. Twenty British soldiers, with fixed bayonets, lined the walls of the chapel. Immediately after the conclusion of the ceremony Joseph Plunkett was taken away.

Before Plunkett's execution by firing squad, Grace was allowed to see him for a further ten minutes. During this time, 15 soldiers stood guard in the cell, and the duration of the meeting was timed by a soldier with a watch.

One hour after this last meeting , Joseph Plunkett, together with Edward Daly, Michael O'Hanrahan and Willie Pearse (Padraig Pearse's brother) were executed by firing squad in Kilmainham Gaol.

Plunkett's execution caused particular anger amongst the Irish people seeing as he was a sick man, not to mention the romantic aspect involved in how he married his fiancée in prison.

Following the executions, Grace stayed at the Plunkett home in Larkfield, where she suffered a miscarriage. She continued working for Irish republican causes after her husband's death. In 1917, Joseph Plunkett's father was elected to Parliament representing Roscommon but refused to take his seat and instead joined the First Dáil.

My Lady Has the Grace of Death

My lady has the grace of Death
Whose charity is quick to save,
Her heart is broad as heaven’s breath,
Deep as the grave.

She found me fainting by the way
And fed me from her babeless breast
Then played with me as children play,
Rocked me to rest.

When soon I rose and cried to heaven
Moaning for sins I could not weep,
She told me of her sorrows seven
Kissed me to sleep.

And when the morn rose bright and ruddy
And sweet birds sang on the branch above
She took my sword from her side all bloody
And died for love.

Joseph Plunkett

I find Joseph Plunkett's execution particularly poignant and I feel he conducted his final hours with great class and dignity.

This Sunday remember to pay tribute to this brave man.


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