the 13th December, 1955 in Dublin city, in Ireland, the Irish artist, nationalist and republican Grace Gifford died after a lifetime watching the failed struggle for an Irish Republic to be born
ON A DAY THIS WEEK, IN DECEMBER, 1955
On a day this week, the 13th December, 1955, on South Richmond Street, Portobello on the southside of Dublin city, in Ireland, the Irish artist, nationalist and republican Grace Gifford (Grace Evelyn Gifford Plunkett) died after a lifetime watching the failed struggle for an Irish Republic to be born.
In relation to this failure, Liam Mellows (1895-1922), IRA Director of Supplies during the Irish War of Independence (1919-1921) and who then fought against and was executed by the Irish Free State on the 8th December 1922, wrote from jail:
“Ireland does not want a change of master. It would be folly to destroy English tyranny in order to erect a domestic tyranny that would need another revolution to free the people. The Irish Republic stands, therefore, for the ownership of Ireland by the people of Ireland. It means that the means and process of production must not be used for the profit or aggrandisement of any group or class.
In our efforts to win back public support for the Republic we are forced to recognise, whether we like it or not, that the commercial interests and the gombeen man are on the side of the Treaty. We are back to Tone – which is just as well – relying on that great body, ‘the men of no property’. The ‘stake in the country people’ were never with the Republic. They are not with it now and they will always be against it – until it wins! We should recognise that definitely now and base our appeals upon the understanding of those who have always borne Ireland’s fight….”
In the song “Grace” written by Sean And Frank O’Meara in 1985…
As we gather in the chapel here in old Kilmainham Jail
I think about these past few weeks, oh will they say we’ve failed?
From our school days they have told us we must yearn for liberty
Yet all I want in this dark place is to have you here with me…
..her just-married husband, the Irish revolutionary Joseph Plunkett (21 November 1887 – 4 May 1916), balances the price paid for waging war against the British Empire in the name of Irish republicanism during the Easter Rising of 1916 against the human need for warmth, safety and love…
Grace, just hold me in your arms and let this moment linger
For they take me out at dawn and I will die
With all my love, I place this wedding ring upon your finger
We won’t have time to share our love, for we must say good-bye…
Born on 4 March 1888, in the affluent (at the time) suburb of Rathmines to a predominantly Unionist family of 6 girls (Sidney, Nellie, Grace, Kate, Muriel, and Ada) and 6 boys, by the time she is 16 Grace Gifford is studying art under the tutelage of William Orpen (1878-1931) the, (at the time) successful artist who had recently returned from the Somme as official artist of the British Army in France (“It was like an enchanted land: but in the place of fairies there were thousands of little white crosses, marked ‘Unknown British Soldier’, for the most part...”)
The six Gifford sisters (the boys, though baptised into the Roman Catholic church remained conservative, unionist and loyal to the British Crown) though brought up in the protestant religion all went on to challenge the sterotypes of the period, both in terms of their class as well as their allegiance to the British Crown. Also studying at the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art at the same time as Grace Gifford is Willie Pearse, Padraic Pearse’s younger brother, who was training to be a sculptor, both soon to be involved in the fight to implement the Irish Proclamation of 1916:
“We declare the right of the people of Ireland to the ownership of Ireland, and to the unfettered control of Irish destinies, to be sovereign and indefeasible. The long usurpation of that right by a foreign people and government has not extinguished the right, nor can it ever be extinguished except by the destruction of the Irish people. In every generation the Irish people have asserted their right to national freedom and sovereignty; six times during the past three hundred years they have asserted it in arms. Standing on that fundamental right and again asserting it in arms in the face of the world, we hereby proclaim the Irish Republic as a Sovereign Independent State. And we pledge our lives and the lives of our comrades-in-arms to the cause of its freedom, of its welfare, and of its exaltation among the nations.”
Returning to Dublin in 1908 after studying at the Slade School of Art in London, Grace began her immersion into the life of a capital just ready to experience the profound changes that the 20th century would produce, in more way than one.
The Central Statistics Office (An Phríomh-Oifig Staidrimh) tells us:
“During this time, Grace became even more aware of the deplorable living conditions forced upon many citizens of Dublin. In the early 1900s, Dublin slums were considered the worst in Europe. Grace and her sisters began working with several groups founded to help improve the lives of the Irish poor, including the Daughters of Erin founded by Maud Gonne. The Gifford sisters also assisted with supplying school meals for inner-city children, a project instigated by James Connolly, then a Labour leader, and strongly supported by Maud Gonne. The sisters also became strong supporters of the Irish Women’s Franchise League, a militant organization working to obtain voting rights for women. In 1911, Grace was part of a group of women protesting outside City Hall against a planned “Loyal Address” from Dublin Corporation to King George V and Queen Mary.”
Muriel Gifford, Grace’s sister, a member of Maud Gonne’s republican women’s group, Inghinidhe na hÉireann, later to become Cumann na mBan, will marry the poet and revolutionary Thomas MacDonagh (Tomás Mac Donnchadha, 1878 – 3 May 1916, one of the founders of the Irish Volunteers (Óglaigh na hÉireann) set up in 1913 with the aim of forcing the British out of Ireland), in 1912. Nellie Gifford, her sister who was to fight in the GPO, “through meeting Countess Markievicz, she met Jim Larkin and later James Connolly. Guilty only by association, she lost her job as a result of her friendship with republicans, and it was this which cemented her resolve to get more involved, not only in helping the cause but in taking up arms herself on Easter Monday. She was one of the 90 female republican soldiers involved in the Rising.” Anne Clare is to tell us in her biography of the Gifford sisters.
At the time both Grace and her younger sister, Sidney, contributed to various republican newspapers and publications; Sidney through the written word and Grace through illustrations and cartoons.
Around about the same time Mrs. (Nannie) Dryhurst, (1856-1930) left anarchist, journalist and both friend and translator of Peter Kropotkin, introduced Grace and her sisters to many in the developing social and political movement. She also introduced Grace to her future husband Joseph Plunkett.
Grace, I know it’s hard for you to ever understand
The love I bear for these brave men, my love for this dear land
But when Padraic called me to his side, down at the GPO
I had to leave my own sick bed, to him I had to go…
“The introduction took place in the winter of 1914-15 on the steps of St. Enda’s School, established by scholars Padraic Pearse and Thomas MacDonagh to educate young Irish men of the importance of their own culture along with more traditional studies. Joe Plunkett, fluent in several languages, took Irish language lessons from Thomas and maintained close friendships with Thomas and Padraic.” (Valery Malin)
Now as the dawn is breaking, my heart is breaking too
On this May morn as I walk out, my thoughts will be of you
And I’ll write some words upon the wall so everyone will know
I loved so much that I could see his blood upon the rose.
Oh, Grace just hold me in your arms and let this moment linger
They’ll take me out at dawn and I will die
With all my love I’ll place this wedding ring upon your finger
There won’t be time to share our love for we must say goodbye
For we must say goodbye…
Joseph Mary Plunkett (Irish: Seosamh Máire Pluincéid, 21 November 1887 – 4 May 1916) was an Irish nationalist, poet, journalist, and a leader of the 1916 Easter Rising. He was born at 26 Upper Fitzwilliam Street in Dublin and, like many at the time, had contracted tuberculosis at a young age.
Plunkett came from a wealthy background, attending Stonyhurst College, a Jesuit school in England for well-to-do Catholics.
“Although weak and frail in boarding school, he could be roused to righteous anger. He wrote to his parents: “I had a fight with a big boy about twice my weight. His name was Quin. He had been kicking the football at me (which hurts) up in the field where there was no one to see fair play. He thought he could do what he liked, so he came over and called me a liar. Then I went for him. He hit me on the chest, so I gave him three for myself.” The Irish Times tells us…
Plunkett was plagued by ill health for most of his short adult life. “The National Library has an extraordinary photograph of Plunkett in Germany in 1915. He had made an arduous and dangerous journey from Ireland to raise an Irish brigade among German prisoners of war and to organise shipments of arms for the Irish Volunteers. He failed at the former but was successful at the latter. His German passport shows an almost skeletal figure with a notable lump on the side of his neck, a result of glandular tuberculosis. A few weeks before the Rising he had to have an operation on his glands. He didn’t live long enough to learn whether the operation had been a success.” (The Irish Times)
Plunkett proposed to Grace Gifford in 1915.
Grace Gifford (June 1st, 1949):
“I became a Catholic in April. I was an enthusiastic Catholic; and the reason I got knowing Joe was that he was the same; and from that on, there was no talk about anything else; so that everything faded away. He was very keen on getting married. I remember he wanted to get married during Lent. As I was on the point of becoming a Catholic, I thought it was a fearful thing to do. I said: “Why not at Easter?” He said: “We may be running a revolution then”. He said “may”. I did not know it was fixed. That was a direct reference which he made to the Rising.”
“Joe’s devout Catholicism and Grace’s strong desire to learn more about the Catholic faith formed the basis for their friendship, which developed into love.” (Valery Malin) They announced the engagement, on the 11 February 1916, with a view to a wedding on Easter Sunday, together with Plunkett’s sister Geraldine and Thomas Dillon. Grace, having accepted and in keeping with the Catholic church’s rules of the time, took formal instruction in Catholic doctrine. She was received into the Catholic Church in April 1916, “an event that prompted Plunkett to write a poem to her: “Your burning heart now spreads its wings / In the wild beauty of your love.”
To Grace – Joseph Mary Plunkett
The powerful words that from my heart
Alive and throbbing leap and sing
Shall bind the dragon’s jaws apart
Or bring you back a vanished spring;
They shall unseal and seal again
The fount of wisdom’s awful flow,
So this one guerdon they shall gain
That your wild beauty still they show.
The joy of Spring leaps from your eyes,
The strength of dragons in your hair,
In your young soul we still surprise
The secret wisdom flowing there;
But never word shall speak or sing
Inadequate music where above
Your burning heart now spreads its wing
In the wild beauty of your Love.
Grace Gifford (June 1st, 1949):
“I got engaged to Joe on the 2nd December, 1915. I know that date, because it is in a book I have. I don’t think we had any immediate plans for our marriage. I don’t remember anything much about it. At one time, he was living in Marlborough Road, but all the time I knew him, he was living in Larkfield House. I think he was there in Easter Week. He was all the time in bad health. I don’t know what was wrong with him, to tell you the truth…”
“The love affairs between the Gifford sisters, Grace and Muriel, and two of the seven signatories, Plunkett and Thomas Mac Donagh, are one of the great subplots of the Rising. Mac Donagh was a married man with two children when the Rising took place. His wife, Muriel, would drown in an accident a year after the Rising…” (The Irish Times)
But the planned rebellion was not far away. In the lead-up to the Rising Plunkett was preoccupied with the military planning for the rebellion, being one of the seven men who would eventually sign the Proclamation declaring a new Provisional Government of the Irish Republic. He knew as he signed it that it would lead to him being executed if the rebellion failed and few expected it to succeed.
Shortly before the Rising he had been in hospital for another surgery, checking himself out the night before it was scheduled to begin and heading to the Metropole Hotel. Grace met him there and it was to be one of their last meetings. The following day when the rebellion was postponed he remade his will, leaving everything to her. He sent Michael Collins (1890 – 22 August 1922) to deliver a package to Grace, which contained a small gun and some money. Later she stated that she didn’t know which of the two scared her more – the weapon or the funds.
Grace Gifford (June 1st, 1949):
“On Holy Saturday morning, Mick Collins came up to my house, Palmerston Park, where I was living. He had with him £20 and a revolver, and I don’t know which frightened me more. He said that Joe sent the revolver to me to defend myself, and the money, in case I had to bribe the military; so Joe was evidently quite aware of what might happen – that he might be captured. Collins also said: “He wants you to come down and see him this evening”. “Evening”, to me, meant after six o’clock. To Collins, it would have meant between four and six o’clock. At six o’clock on Holy Saturday, I went to the Metropole Hotel, and here was Joe himself walking down the stairs. He had skipped the Nursing Home – simply turned his back on it – and went over to the Metropole. I don’t know what time he left the Nursing Home. When I arrived at the Metropole, he was walking down the stairs. His hair was shaved to the bone. He had his uniform on him, and a wide-awake hat. He had a new uniform, I think. As regards the state of his health, all I can say is that he was wretched looking. He was on the point of going away, having given me up as a bad job. Five minutes later, and he would have been gone. He was expecting me in the afternoon. He said: “I thought you would be here. I waited in all the afternoon for you”. We got into a cab then, I did not know the north side of the city. All that part of the world was “no man’s land” to me. He got out of the cab under a wide bridge in Gardiner Street. He said good-bye, and went into some premises – somebody said it was the Typographical Society. You could see Beresford Place, coming down from the north side. It was not Liberty Hall. I don’t know what took him there. I left him going in, and I went off in the cab to the house of my sister, Muriel, – Tom MacDonagh’s wife – where I had tea with them. I did not see Joe again until the day before his execution.”
The Easter Rising began on Easter Monday, 24 April 1916, and was to last for six days, a handful of badly armed Irish nationalist, socialist and republican rebels and revolutionaries holding the British Empire at bay.
Grace Gifford (June 1st, 1949):
“In the week before the Rising, Joe was gay and bright. He never showed a sign of anxiety. Somebody said he was like Wellington, because he was so fearless – not worried by anxiety.”
“Grace and Muriel had watched the start of the Rising from a hotel balcony… Nellie Gifford, Grace’s sister and a strong Labour supporter, was among the women who stayed with the troops to provide meals and medical attention…” Val Malin tells us.
After a week of sustained shelling on the Dublin GPO, the headquarters garrison of the rebels, and having tunnelled through the walls of the neighbouring buildings to reorganise nearby on 16 Moore Street, the order to surrender was issued on Saturday the 29th of April:
“In order to prevent the further slaughter of Dublin citizens, and in the hope of saving the lives of our followers now surrounded and hopelessly outnumbered, the members of the Provisional Government present at headquarters have agreed to an unconditional surrender, and the commandants of the various districts in the City and County will order their commands to lay down arms.”
“On the last day of the Rising – or the “6th day of the Irish Republic”, as Plunkett described it – he left a letter for Grace in the ruins of a house on Moore Street. “This is just a little note to say I love you and to tell you that I did everything I could to arrange for us to meet and get married, but that it was impossible.” The Joseph Mary Plunkett papers record, adding, “he wrote the letter “somewhere in Moore Street” about “midday”, which says a lot about the chaotic circumstances. “We will meet soon”, Plunkett adds, probably more in hope than in expectation.”
Poem by Joseph Mary Plunkett
I see His Blood Upon the Rose
I see his blood upon the rose
And in the stars the glory of his eyes,
His body gleams amid eternal snows,
His tears fall from the skies.
I see his face in every flower;
The thunder and the singing of the birds
Are but his voice—and carven by his power
Rocks are his written words.
All pathways by his feet are worn,
His strong heart stirs the ever-beating sea,
His crown of thorns is twined with every thorn,
His cross is every tree.
“…This poem illustrates how Plunkett was deeply influenced as a poet by his study of the mystics, including Saint John of the Cross, Saint Theresa of Avila and Saint Francis de Sales.” Patrick Comerford writes.
I saw the Sun at Midnight – by Joseph Mary Plunkett
I saw the Sun at midnight, rising red,
Deep-hued yet glowing, heavy with the stain
Of blood-compassion, and I saw It gain
Swiftly in size and growing till It spread
Over the stars; the heavens bowed their head
As from Its heart slow dripped a crimson rain,
Then a great tremor shook It, as of pain—
The night fell, moaning, as It hung there dead.
O Sun, O Christ, O bleeding Heart of flame!
Thou givest Thine agony as our life’s worth,
And makest it infinite, lest we have dearth
Of rights wherewith to call upon Thy Name;
Thou pawnest Heaven as a pledge for Earth
And for our glory sufferest all shame.
Grace Gifford (June 1st, 1949):
” I went out one day, and the papers had the news that MacDonagh and Pearse, and somebody else, had been executed. The next morning, although we had been up all night, I woke up as if I were being pulled out of bed by an unseen force, and dead beat after being awakened. I dressed, and went to the priest; and I told him Joe was going to be executed. I had no notion what I was doing, except I was being pulled on. I got a paper from the priest. I went down to a man, named Stoker, to get the wedding ring. He lived opposite the Gaiety. I went to Kilmainham then, to see Joe. His thoughts were so powerful that I was simply pulled out of the bed. I was let in to see him; and the prison chaplain must have been there; and he married us. I don’t remember how it came about that they got the chaplain. Next morning, Joe was executed. When I saw him, on the day before his execution, I found him in exactly the same state of mind. He was so unselfish, he never thought of himself. He was not frightened – not at all, not the slightest. I am sure he must have been worn out after the week’s experiences, but he did not show any signs of it – not in the least. He was quite calm. I was never left alone with him, even after the marriage ceremony. I was brought in and was put in front of the altar; and he was brought down the steps; and the cuffs were taken off him; and the chaplain went on with the ceremony; then the cuffs were put on him again. I was not alone with him – not for a minute. I had no private conversation with him at all. I just came away then.”
The story of Grace Gifford and Joseph Mary Plunkett’s wedding on the eve of his execution has become part of the mythology of the Irish Rising of 1916. Grace having gone up to Kilmainham Jail on the outskirts of Dublin arrived apparently by mid-evening but was kept waiting until 1.30 in the morning before she was allowed in to see Plunkett in the prison chapel. As there was no electricity the wedding service was conducted by candlelight. There were no family nor friends in attendance with the exception of British soldiers. It was also recorded that outside “twenty other soldiers lined the corridor with bayonets fixed.” After the ceremony they were allowed 10 minutes together before Plunkett was taken back to his cell. A few hours later, Grace was allowed in to see him for the last time before he was executed.
Grace Gifford (June 1st, 1949): “I saw my husband in his cell for ten minutes. During the interview the cell was packed with officers and a sergeant, who kept a watch in his hand and closed the interview by saying, ‘Your ten minutes is now up.’”
The english newspaper, the Daily Mirror, ran the story on May 8, 1916: The headline reading: Countess who wrecked two young lives: How she lured the rebels to their folly.
“The sordid Dublin rebellion has produced one romance, a pathetic story of young lives ruined by another.
A few hours before he faced the firing party which carried out the death sentence Joseph Plunkett, who is said to be a son of Count Plunkett, the holder of a Papal title, was married in his cell to Miss Grace Gifford, a daughter of a Dublin solicitor and a lady of considerable artistic attainments. Her sister Muriel was the wife of Thomas MacDonagh, another leader who has been shot. Thus the two sisters were widowed within 24 hours of each other.
And behind all this tragedy looms the figure of Countess Markievicz, the daughter of Sir Henry Gore-Booth, Bart. “It was she”, says Mrs Gifford, “who dragged the two men into it.”
And with these (and the other 14) executions the 1916 revolt against the British ended and the seeds for the Irish War of Independence were sown.
Grace Gifford (June 1st, 1949)::
“I have never lived a normal person’s life. I have always been in the thick of things.”
Grace was made heir to Plunkett’s estate to the disgruntlement of his family, especially his sister, Geraldine. Her sister Muriel’s husband, Thomas MacDonagh had been shot by the British on May 7th:
Thomas MacDonagh (court martial speech)
“The fierce pulsation of resurgent pride that disclaims servitude may one day cease to throb in the heart of Ireland – but the heart of Ireland will that day be dead. While Ireland lives, the brain and the brawn of her manhood will strive to destroy the last vestige of British rule in her territory”
Lament for Thomas MacDonagh
By Francis Ledwidge
He shall not hear the bittern cry
In the wild sky, where he is lain,
Nor voices of the sweeter birds,
Above the wailing of the rain.
Nor shall he know when loud March blows
Thro’ slanting snows her fanfare shrill,
Blowing to flame the golden cup
Of many an upset daffodil.
But when the Dark Cow leaves the moor,
And pastures poor with greedy weeds,
Perhaps he’ll hear her low at morn,
Lifting her horn in pleasant meads.
Grace Gifford (June 1st, 1949):
“As I have already stated, I was not interested in Joe’s military aspirations. I was desparately interested in the Catholic Church. I did not know a single person, to whom I could talk about the Church, until I discovered him; and then I talked to him. MacDonagh was rather irreligious, and Joe was the opposite; and I sat listening to their arguments. We practically talked about nothing else.”
After the Rising and the executions, Grace Gifford became active in Sinn Féin, and was elected onto its executive in 1917. The Irish Women Workers’ Union, founded in 1911 and with over 5,000 members in 1918, used one of Gifford’s cartoons in its May Day celebrations of 1918 and in 1919 she published a book of her political cartoons entitled To Hold as Twere. On 14 April 1922, 200 Anti-Treaty IRA militants, including Liam Mellows, occupied the Four Courts and several other buildings in central Dublin, resulting in the start of the Irish Civil War, a war which was to continue until May 1923 with the defeat of the Republican side and the fracturing of Irish political life into pro and anti treaty for decades to come. Grace Gifford and many others of a radical disposition, supported the anti-treaty and republican side in the conflict.
In an article entitled “The White Flag of 1916“, published in Poblacht na h-Éireann (Vol.1 No.12, March 15, 1922), Grace wrote:
“I am far from thinking that all those who are in support of the Treaty are necessarily dishonest. Far from it. Some of them are merely those who, after the long, exhausting period in the wilderness of error, have temporarily lost the strength of soul that took them through it – the strength that proved their nobility again and again. Now, in the natural reaction after the rigours of that ‘forty days’, they are brought by a temper up to a huge mountain and offered a kingdom at a price.
Christ choose hunger rather than make a disgraceful contract with the devil. That the Treatists in their innermost hearts think the Treaty disgusting (and the Oath that binds them, or ought to bind them if oaths are to be taken seriously, to the Free State only, and not to a future Republic) is proved by their repeated assertions that they mean to break that Oath, and work on for the Republic.
That is the point – the price to be paid. Ireland must pause and think before she pays it. The woman, who in desperate circumstances, accepts comfortable conditions at the price of her honour, has many good material arguments to back up her decision. Having more money, she can then assist others in their distress, give employment, perhaps, and get, for the first time, ‘the right to live her own life’.
Who, with any practical sense, would reject the substance for the shadow? A few hasty words read by a Priest, a blessing that cannot be grasped in the hand, and is less tangible than air – are these absurdities to stand in the way of her chance of ‘living her own life’?
So say the Treatists regarding Oaths. This being so, and the Government of Ireland being for the present in their hands, one is forced to ask: What is to be the national standard? Is honour to have a place in national life?
Ireland today stands in the position of the woman about to barter her honour. Do intangible things matter? Or must we as a country aim only for things that can be grasped in the hand? Our national soul must answer ‘Yes’ or ‘No’. If the value of intangible things is denied, why stop anywhere?
Let us break our vows of marriage and our pledged words in other directions, when nothing tangible, no arm of the law can keep us to them. Let us shut the churches and drive God from the place of honour he holds in the land.
Joseph Plunkett marching with the white flag, surrendered but only his body. He gave his life rather than take a shameful Oath of Allegiance to the Empire. That he could have saved his life at this cost is certain.
England always knew it would pay better to have Ireland contented on her terms; and no doubt the men who laid down their lives in Easter Week could have got ‘terms of agreement’ had they mentioned them. General Smuts in South Africa, got them readily in like circumstances.
But Joseph Plunkett knew what those terms would be, and forebore to negotiate. As he loved Ireland enough to lay down his life for her, it will be admitted that he loved her enough to wish to see her at peace. But he made no offers, like [General] Smuts, to take the easy road, knowing the penalties.”
At the height of the assassinations, executions and other atrocities of the civil war Grace Gifford was arrested in 1923, and spent three months in Kilmainham Jail because of suspected subversive activities against the Free State government.
To pass the time while she was a prisoner, she painted the mural of Mary on the wall of her cell. It still remains there and is known as the Kilmainham Madonna.
Between the ending of the civil war and her death in 1955, Grace survived in a country that had won its ‘independence’ but little else.
Deremot Bolger, the Dublin writer and poet, in an article on the six sisters in January 1916 says: “…no marriage that is only allowed to last three hours can expect a happy ending, but her husband could not have predicted how impoverished and marginalised her final decades would be.
Having taken the anti-Treaty side, Grace received only a measly state pension. She lived in a small flat near O’Connell Street, eating in cinema restaurants.”
Nevertheless by the 30’s Grace was a seen as an important member of the Dublin cultural community. “Her book of theatre sketches, Twelve Nights at the Abbey Theatre and a second book of her cartoons received positive public response and enthusiastic acknowledgment of her talents among her peers.” Twelve Nights at the Abbey Theatre, a collection of cartoons depicting actors of the Abbey Theatre was published in 1929, and in 1930 she published: Doctors Recommend It: An Abbey Tonic in Twelve Doses: another collection of cartoons from a number of named plays.
Bolger: “Initially disowned by her own mother, Grace met an even more formidable foe in her mother-in-law, Countess Plunkett. This vindictive, rack-renting owner of numerous Dublin properties spent years fighting to deny Grace the inheritance bequeathed to her in Joseph Mary Plunkett’s will.” Grace eventually accepted a settlement of £700.
Wikipedia summarises her life in these difficult years for the majority of citizens in the new ‘free state’:
“When the Civil War ended, she had no home of her own and little money. Like many Anti-Treaty Republicans, Grace was the target of social ostracism and had difficulty finding work. Her talent as an artist was her only real asset; her cartoons were published in various newspapers and magazines, including Dublin Opinion, the Irish Tatler, Sketch, and on one occasion in 1934, Punch. She illustrated W. B. Yeats’ The Words upon the Window Pane in 1930. She moved from one rented apartment to another and ate in the city-centre restaurants. She befriended many people and had many admirers, but had no wish to remarry. Her material circumstances improved in 1932 when she received a Civil List pension from Éamon de Valera’s Fianna Fáil government. This freed her from financial worries and enabled her to make the occasional trip to Paris where she delighted in visits to the galleries and exhibitions. She lived for many years in a flat in Nassau St. with a balcony overlooking the sports ground of Trinity College…”
Grace died on Tuesday December 13, 1955, after experiencing heart trouble for several years.
” Grace – a talented artist – is now immortalised in Jim McCann’s popular song, Grace. While deeply moving about the circumstances of her marriage, the song conveys little of the struggles of her later, impoverished life.” (Dermot Bolger)
In this week, on this day, December 13, 1955, alone in her flat on South Richmond Street, on the southside of Dublin city, her heart finally gave out.
She was buried with full military honours, her coffin draped with the Tricolour, the flag which was first seen flying over the General Post Office in the beginning moments of the Easter Rising.
She is buried in the Republican Plot, in Glasnevin Cemetry just outside Dublin…
Donagh MacDonagh, Thomas mcDonagh’s son and a well-known writer before his early death in 1968, wrote of his aunt:
“Thirty-five years ago, I remember as a very small child hearing a balladmaker in the Co. Clare singing a song of his own composition: ‘I loved Joe Plunkett and he loved me, He gave his life to set Ireland free.’ That was a very few years after the Easter Rising of 1916, and my aunt, Grace Plunkett, had already entered the most secure of all National Parthenons – the world of the ballad. She was, in her youth, the balladmakers’ dream of beauty, blonde and slim, but she had what few of the balladmakers’ heroines have, wit and talent; a wit that was often biting and a talent that went hand-in-hand with it, a brilliant talent for the caricature.
What Ireland will remember longest is the scene at Kilmainham prison where she married, by the light of two guttering candles, the young man who was to be executed in a few hours … Now she is dead, but as long as Ireland has a history she will be remembered.”
Of her 67 years alive, Grace Gifford had been married to Joseph Mary Plunkett for 3 hours, compliments of the British Empire and the centuries old Irish unwillingness to tolerate our colonial status…
“Gifford would have been written out of history as a lot of women have been only for the song written in 1985… and the biography written ‘Grace Gifford Plunkett and Irish Freedom‘ by Marie O’Neill”, Margaret Mc Curtain says…
“In a large family of twelve children, the Gifford girls offer a gender study of much interest. They chose vigorous, exciting careers that womens’ education and political activities of a nationalist and republican flavour offered. The profile of Grace Gifford Plunkett that emerges…is that of a strong independent woman whose artistic talent manifested itself in satirical cartoons of a political and topical nature.” (Speech by Síle de Valera, T.D.)
Some of her images can be viewed on:
What, finally, is to to be learnt from the life and work of this artist and social non-conformist, and from the love-story, true, untrue, half true that has entered folk memory?
Not much is written about the poverty which was the price paid by many of the widows and children of the leaders of the Irish rebellion…
Dermot Bolger: “They were six young women who turned their back on safe respectable lives to embrace revolutionary ideals – no matter what personal cost.”
Nor is a lot written about the many women who contributed to the foundation of the Irish State and who struggled for that State to be one worth living in as well as dying for…and who remain excluded along with the aspirations of all those who dreamt that an Irish republic would see realised the guarantees of its Proclamation: “… religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities of all its citizens, and declares its resolve to pursue the happiness and prosperity of the whole nation and of all its parts, cherishing all the children of the nation equally, and oblivious of the differences carefully fostered by an alien government, which have divided a minority in the past.”
Liam Mellows (from his Notes from Mountjoy Jail,): “The Irish republic represents Independence and the struggle has a threefold significance. It is political; it is intellectual; it is economic. It is political in the sense that it means complete separation from England and the British Empire. It is intellectual in as much as it represents the cultural expression of the Gaelic civilisation and the removal of the impress of English speech and English thought upon the Irish character. It is economic because the wresting of Ireland from the grip of English capitalism can leave no thinking Irishman with the desire to build up and perpetuate this country an economic system that had its roots in foreign domination. Ireland does not want a change of master. It would be folly to destroy English tyranny in order to erect a domestic tyranny that would need another revolution to free the people. The Irish Republic stands therefore for the ownership of Ireland by the people of Ireland. It means that the means and process of production must not be used for the profit or aggrandisment of any group or class.”
Anne Cunningham: “Those of us who remember our Leaving Cert Irish history from decades ago remember names like Plunkett and Connolly, Pearse and Collins and Dev, with only an odd cursory glance flung in the direction of the Suffragette movement or Cumann na mBan. Women were simply written out of Irish history….The outcome of the Abbey Theatre’s recent blunder has, ironically, served women well. A light has been focused on just how poorly Irish women have been, and continue to be, regarded, not just in the arts but in the very fight for the establishment of an independent Ireland.”
REFERENCES & SOURCES (Thanks to)
Christine Savage: Women in the Revolutionary Period:
Unlikely Rebels: The Gifford Girls, Clare Anne
Letter from Joseph Mary Plunkett to Grace Gifford
Statement of Witness Mrs Grace Plunkett (Account of Plunkett’s Activities 1915-1916)
History of the Song ‘Grace’ – http://www.patricksofpratt.com/History_of_Grace.html
The Joseph Mary Plunkett papers:
The National Library of Ireland has released collections of documents relating to each of the seven signatories of the 1916 Proclamation: Éamonn Ceannt, Thomas Clarke, James Connolly, Seán Mac Diarmada, Thomas MacDonagh, Patrick Pearse and Joseph Mary Plunkett.
Francis Ledwidge : http://www.bartleby.com/250/122.html
Last Address by Thomas mcDonagh:
Grace – Jim McCann – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SMf6IyJI0e4
Caoimhe Mooney – sings Grace
Grace – The Wedding of Joseph Mary Plunkett & Grace Gifford