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Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Birth of Grace Gifford Plunkett, Artist & Irish Republican

grace-gifford-plunkettGrace Evelyn Gifford Plunkett, artist and cartoonist who is active in the Republican movement, is born in Rathmines, Dublin on March 4, 1888. She marries her fiancé, Joseph Plunkett, in Kilmainham Gaol only a few hours before he is executed for his part in the 1916 Easter Rising.

Gifford is the second youngest of 12 children born to Frederick Gifford, a solicitor and a Roman Catholic, and Isabella Julia Burton Gifford, a Protestant. The boys are baptised as Catholics and the girls as Protestant, but effectively the children are all raised as Protestants with the girls attending Alexandra College in Earlsfort Terrace.

At the age of 16, Gifford goes to the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art, where she studies under the Irish artist William Orpen. Orpen regards her as one of his most talented pupils. Around this time, her talent for caricature is discovered and developed. In 1907 she attends the course in Fine Art at the Slade School of Fine Art, London.

Gifford returns to Dublin in 1908 and, with great difficulty, tries to earn a living as a caricaturist, publishing her cartoons in The Shanachie, Irish Life, Meadowstreet and The Irish Review, which is edited from 1913 by Joseph Plunkett. She considers emigrating but gives up the idea. Nora Dryhurst, a journalist from London, brings her to the opening of the new bilingual school Scoil Éanna in Ranelagh, Dublin. It is here that she meets Plunkett for the first time. He is a friend of her brother-in-law, another of the future leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising, Thomas MacDonagh, who is married to her sister Muriel.

Gifford’s growing interest in the Roman Catholic religion leads to the deepening of Gifford and Plunkett’s relationship as she begins to discuss Catholic mystical ideas with him. Plunkett proposes to her in 1915 and she accepts and takes formal instruction in Catholic doctrine. She is received into the Catholic Church in April 1916. The couple plans to marry on Easter Sunday that year, in a double wedding with his sister and her fiancé.

After the Rising, Gifford’s brother-in-law Thomas MacDonagh is shot with Patrick Pearse and Thomas Clarke by firing squad on May 3. That day, she hears that Plunkett is to be shot at dawn. She purchases a ring in a jeweler’s shop in Dublin and, with the help of a priest, persuades the military authorities to allow them to marry. She and Joseph are married on the night of May 3 in the chapel of Kilmainham Gaol, a few hours before he is executed.

Grace Plunkett decides to devote herself through her art to the promotion of Sinn Féin policies and resumes her commercial work to earn a living. She is elected to the Sinn Féin executive in 1917.

During the Irish Civil War, Plunkett is arrested with many others in February 1923 and interned at Kilmainham Gaol for three months. She paints pictures on the walls of her cell, including one of the Blessed Virgin and the Christ Child. She is released in May 1923.

When the Civil War ends, Plunkett has no home of her own and little money. Like many Anti-Treaty Republicans, she is the target of social ostracism and has difficulty finding work. Her talent as an artist is her only real asset and her cartoons are published in various newspapers and magazines. She moves from one apartment to another and eats in the city-centre restaurants but has no wish to remarry. Her material circumstances improve in 1932 when she receives a Civil List pension from Éamon de Valera‘s Fianna Fáil government. She lives for many years in a flat in Nassau Street with a balcony overlooking the sports ground of Trinity College.

Plunkett’s in-laws refuse to honour her husband’s will, in which he leaves everything to his widow. Legally, the will is invalid because there is only one witness, rather than the required two, and the marriage takes place after the will is made, automatically revoking it. For years she receives nothing, so she begins legal proceedings against her in-laws in 1934. The Count and Countess Plunkett settle out of court and she is paid £700, plus costs.

At around this time Plunkett joins the Old Dublin Society, where she meets the noted Irish harpsichord maker Cathal Gannon. When Cathal marries, she gives him and his wife Margaret a present of two single beds and a picture. From the late 1940s onwards, her health declines. In 1950 she is brought to St. Vincent’s Hospital. She convalesces in a nursing home, which she does not like, mainly because it restricts her freedom.

Grace Gifford Plunkett dies suddenly on December 13, 1955 in her apartment in South Richmond Street, Portobello. Her body is removed to St. Kevin’s Church, Harrington Street and among the attendees at her funeral is President Seán T. O’Kelly. She is buried with full military honours close to the republican plot in Glasnevin Cemetery.


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Birth of Éamonn Ceannt, Irish Republican

eamonn-ceanntÉamonn Ceannt, Irish republican mostly known for his role in the Easter Rising of 1916, is born into a very religious Catholic family in the little village of Ballymoe, overlooking the River Suck in County Galway on September 21, 1881.

Ceannt, born Edward Thomas Kent, is the sixth of seven children of James Kent and Joanne Galway. His father is a Royal Irish Constabulary officer stationed in Ballymoe. In 1883 he is promoted and transferred to Ardee, County Louth. When his father retires from the force in 1892, the family moves to Dublin. Here he attends the North Richmond Street Christian Brothers School. Two other leaders from the 1916 rising, Seán Heuston and Con Colbert, are educated at the school. Upon finishing school, he goes on to secure a job with the clerical staff of the City Treasurer and Estates and Finances office. He works as an accountant with the Dublin Corporation from 1901-1916.

In 1907 Ceannt joins the Dublin central branch of Sinn Féin and over the following years becomes increasingly determined to see an Independent Ireland. In 1912 he is sworn to the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) by Seán MacDiarmada. This movement is pledged to achieve Irish independence and to do so by using physical force if necessary.

In May 1915, the IRB Military Council, consisting of Joseph Plunkett and Seán MacDiarmada as well as Ceannt, begin plans for a rebellion. Ceannt is one of the seven men to sign the Proclamation of the Irish Republic and is appointed Director of Communications. He is made commandant of the 4th Battalion of the Volunteers and during the Rising is stationed at the South Dublin Union, with more than 100 men under his command, notably his second-in-command Cathal Brugha, and W. T. Cosgrave. The South Dublin Union controls a large area south of Kilmainham around Dolphin’s Barn.

As 3rd Royal Irish come to Mount Brown, a section of Ceannt’s battalion under section commander John Joyce opens fire, killing a number of soldiers. The British cannot break through to Dublin Castle and so bring up more troops from Kilmainham Barracks. A ceasefire allows casualty retrieval. The Volunteers drive back repeated assaults from determined regimental attacks. Ceannt uses a contingent at the Marrowbone Lane Distillery to enfilade the passing soldiers. On Tuesday, April 25, the British could close off the battle but fail to press home the advantage when the 4th Royal Dublin Fusiliers arrive. Ceannt continues to hold out with 20 times fewer men. On Thursday, April 27, a British battalion comes south as far as the Rialto Bridge when Ceannt’s outposts open fire.

The British are forced to tunnel into the buildings and, as Ceannt’s numbers reduce, it is increasingly involved in close quarter fighting. His unit sees intense fighting at times during the week, but surrenders when ordered to do so by his superior officer Patrick Pearse.

After the unconditional surrender of the 1916 fighters, Ceannt, along with the other survivors, are brought to Richmond Barracks to be detained. On Monday, May 1, plain clothes detectives known as the “G-men” identify the leaders of the Rising, Ceannt being one of them. He is tried under court martial as demanded by General John Maxwell. Maxwell is determined to afflict the death penalty upon Ceannt and the other leaders of the Rising. However, he faces legal issues which only allow the death penalty to be used if one is found aiding the enemy, being Germany at this time. Not until Maxwell obtains a letter from Patrick Pearse addressed to his mother regarding the communication with the Germans is he legally obliged to deploy the death penalty. From this point Ceannt and his comrades begin facing the prospect of a firing squad. On Tuesday, May 2, he is sent to Kilmainham Gaol to face trial and execution.

Éamonn Ceannt is held in Kilmainham Gaol until his execution by firing squad on May 8, 1916, aged 34. He is buried at Arbour Hill Prison in Dublin.


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Birth of Michael Joseph O’Rahilly, Republican & Nationalist

Michael Joseph O’Rahilly, Irish republican and nationalist known as The O’Rahilly, is born in Ballylongford, County Kerry, on April 22, 1875.

O’Rahilly is educated in Clongowes Wood College. As an adult, he becomes a republican and a language enthusiast. He joins the Gaelic League and becomes a member of An Coiste Gnotha, its governing body. He is well travelled, spending at least a decade in the United States and in Europe before settling in Dublin.

O’Rahilly is a founding member of the Irish Volunteers in 1913, which is organized to work for Irish independence and resist the proposed Home Rule. He serves as the IV Director of Arms. He personally directs the first major arming of the Irish Volunteers, the landing of 900 Mausers at the Howth gun-running on July 26, 1914.

O’Rahilly is not party to the plans for the Easter Rising, nor is he a member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB), but he is one of the main people who train the Irish Volunteers for the coming fight. The planners of the Rising go to great lengths to prevent those leaders of the Volunteers who are opposed to unprovoked, unilateral action from learning that a rising is imminent, including its Chief-of-Staff Eoin MacNeill, Bulmer Hobson, and O’Rahilly. When Hobson discovers that an insurrection is planned, he is kidnapped by the Military Council leadership.

Learning this, O’Rahilly goes to Patrick Pearse‘s school, Scoil Éanna, on Good Friday. He barges into Pearse’s study, brandishing his revolver as he announces “Whoever kidnaps me will have to be a quicker shot!” Pearse calms O’Rahilly, assuring him that Hobson is unharmed, and will be released after the rising begins.

O’Rahilly takes instructions from MacNeill and spends the night driving throughout the country, informing Volunteer leaders in Cork, Kerry, Tipperary, and Limerick that they are not to mobilise their forces for planned manoeuvres on Sunday.

Arriving home, O’Rahilly learns that the Rising is about to begin in Dublin on the next day, Easter Monday, April 24, 1916. Despite his efforts to prevent such action which he feels can only lead to defeat, he sets out to Liberty Hall to join Pearse, James Connolly, Thomas MacDonagh, Tom Clarke, Joseph Plunkett, Countess Markievicz, Seán Mac Diarmada, Eamonn Ceannt and their Irish Volunteers and Irish Citizen Army troops. Arriving in his De Dion-Bouton motorcar, he gives one of the most quoted lines of the rising, “Well, I’ve helped to wind up the clock — I might as well hear it strike!”

O’Rahilly fights with the General Post Office (GPO) garrison during Easter Week. On Friday, April 28, with the GPO on fire, O’Rahilly volunteers to lead a party of men along a route to Williams and Woods, a factory on Great Britain Street, now Parnell Street. A British machine-gun at the intersection of Great Britain and Moore streets cuts him and several of the others down. Wounded and bleeding badly, O’Rahilly slumps into a doorway on Moore Street, but, hearing the English marking his position, makes a dash across the road to find shelter in Sackville Lane, now O’Rahilly Parade. He is wounded diagonally from shoulder to hip by sustained fire from the machine-gunner.

The specific timing of O’Rahilly’s death is very difficult to pin down but understanding can be gained from his final thoughts. Despite his obvious pain, he takes the time to write a message to his wife on the back of a letter he received from his son in the GPO. It is this last message to Nancy that artist Shane Cullen etches into his limestone and bronze sculpture. The text reads:

Written after I was shot. Darling Nancy I was shot leading a rush up Moore Street and took refuge in a doorway. While I was there I heard the men pointing out where I was and made a bolt for the laneway I am in now. I got more [than] one bullet I think. Tons and tons of love dearie to you and the boys and to Nell and Anna. It was a good fight anyhow. Please deliver this to Nannie O’ Rahilly, 40 Herbert Park, Dublin. Goodbye Darling.


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Death of Grace Evelyn Gifford Plunkett

grace-gifford-plunkettGrace Evelyn Gifford Plunkett, Irish artist and cartoonist who is active in the Republican movement, dies suddenly in her apartment in South Richmond Street, Portobello, Dublin, on December 13, 1955 .

Gifford is the second youngest of twelve children born to Frederick Gifford, a solicitor and Roman Catholic, and Isabella Julia Burton Gifford, a Protestant. She grows up in the fashionable suburb of Rathmines in Dublin. The boys are baptised as Catholics and the girls as Protestant, but effectively the children are all raised as Protestants. The girls attend Alexandra College in Earlsfort Terrace, and the boys attend the The High School in Harcourt St.

At the age of 16, Gifford enters the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art, where she studies under the Irish artist William Orpen. Orpen regards Gifford as one of his most talented pupils. He often sketches her and eventually paints her as one of his subjects for a series on “Young Ireland.” Around this time, Gifford’s talent for caricature is discovered and developed. In 1907 she attends a course in Fine Art at the Slade School of Fine Art, London.

Gifford returns to Dublin in 1908 and, with great difficulty, attempts to earn a living as a caricaturist, publishing her cartoons in The Shanachie, Irish Life, Meadowstreet, and The Irish Review, which is edited from 1913 by Joseph Plunkett. She considers emigrating but gives up the idea. Later that year, she meets Plunkett for the first time at the opening of St. Edna’s School, a new bilingual school in Ranelagh, Dublin. Plunkett is a friend of her brother-in-law, another of the future leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising, Thomas MacDonagh, who is married to Gifford’s sister Muriel.

Her growing interest in the Roman Catholic religion leads to the deepening of Gifford and Plunkett’s relationship. Plunkett proposes to her in 1915. She accepts and takes formal instruction in Catholic doctrine. She is received into the Catholic Church in April 1916. The couple plan to marry on Easter Sunday that year, in a double wedding with his sister and her fiancé.

After the Rising, her brother-in-law Thomas MacDonagh is executed by firing squad along with Patrick Pearse and Thomas Clarke on May 3. That same day, Gifford learns that Plunkett is to be shot at dawn. She purchases a ring in a jeweller’s shop in Dublin city centre and, with the help of a priest, persuades the military authorities to allow them to marry. She and Plunkett are married on the night of May 3, 1916 in the chapel of Kilmainham Gaol, a few short hours before he is executed.

Grace Plunkett decides to devote herself through her art to the promotion of Sinn Féin policies and resumes her commercial work to earn a living. She is elected to the Sinn Féin executive in 1917.

During the Irish Civil War, Plunkett is arrested with many others in February 1923 and interned at Kilmainham Gaol for three months. She is released in May 1923.

When the Civil War ends, Plunkett has no home of her own and little money. Like many Anti-Treaty Republicans, she is the target of social ostracism and has difficulty finding work. She moves from one rented apartment to another and eats in the city-centre restaurants. She befriends many people and has many admirers, but has no wish to remarry. Her material circumstances improve in 1932 when she receives a Civil List pension from Éamon de Valera‘s Fianna Fáil government. She lives for many years in a flat in Nassau St. with a balcony overlooking the sports ground of Trinity College.

Plunkett’s in-laws refuse to honour her husband’s will, which leaves everything to his widow. Legally, the will is invalid because there is only one of the required two witnesses and also the marriage takes place after the will is made, automatically revoking it. She begins legal proceedings against her in-laws in 1934. The Count and Countess Plunkett settle out of court and Plunkett is paid £700, plus costs.

From the late 1940s onwards, Plunkett’s health declines. In 1950 she is brought to St. Vincent’s Hospital, then in the city centre. She convalesces in a nursing home, which she does not like because it restricts her freedom.

After her sudden death on December 13, 1955, Grace Gifford Plunkett’s body is removed to St. Kevin’s Church, Harrington Street, and among the attendees at her funeral is President Seán T. O’Kelly. She is buried with full military honours near the republican plot in Glasnevin Cemetery.

Grace Gifford Plunkett is the subject of “Grace,” a song written in 1985 by Frank and Seán O’Meara, which becomes popular in Ireland and elsewhere and has been recorded by many musicians.


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Reopening of General Post Office, Dublin

general-post-officeThe restored General Post Office, Dublin, which had been destroyed during the 1916 Easter Rising, is opened by President W. T. Cosgrave on July 11, 1929.

The General Post Office (GPO), is the headquarters of the Irish postal service. The offices are first located at College Green, but in August 1814, construction of a purpose-built headquarters begins. The building on Sackville Street is completed in January 1818 at a cost of £50,000.

According to An Post “The statues on the roof are of Hibernia, a classical representation in female form of the island of Ireland, with Fidelity to one side and Mercury, the messenger of the gods, to the other.”

Five members of the Provisional GovernmentPatrick Pearse, James Connolly, Tom Clarke, Seán MacDiarmada, and Joseph Plunkett — are located at the GPO during the Easter Rising in a 350-strong garrison which also includes Cumann na mBan and Irish Citizen Army members. James Connolly is in charge of the defence of the GPO and directs operations. The GPO garrison barricades surrounding streets and occupies adjoining buildings.

On Monday afternoon the garrison repulses a cavalry attack while, with the breakdown of law and order, many of the stores in Sackville Street are looted. From Wednesday, the GPO and other buildings in Sackville Street come under artillery fire, mostly from the Helga gunboat at anchor in the River Liffey. Connolly believes the British will not use artillery in city areas. By Friday night the GPO is on fire, at which point it is evacuated.

At a Dublin Corporation meeting in 1884 a motion is called to change the name of Sackville Street to O’Connell Street. After forty years of argument, it is changed to O’Connell Street in May 1924.


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Birth of Thomas James Clarke, Irish Revolutionary Leader

thomas-james-clarkeThomas James “Tom” Clarke, Irish republican revolutionary leader and arguably the person most responsible for the 1916 Easter Rising, is born to Irish parents on March 11, 1858 at Hurst Castle, Milford-on-Sea, Hampshire, England opposite the Isle of Wight. Clarke’s father, a sergeant in the British Army, is transferred to Dungannon, County Tyrone, in 1865 and it is there that Tom grows up.

In 1878, following the visit to Dungannon of John Daly, Clarke joins the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) and soon becomes head of the local IRB circle. In August, in retaliation to the killing of a man by a member of the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC), Clarke and other IRB members attack some RIC men in Irish Street but are driven back. Fearing arrest, Clarke flees to the United States.

In 1883, Clarke is sent to London to blow up London Bridge as part of the Fenian dynamite campaign advocated by Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa. He is arrested along with three others and tried and sentenced to penal servitude for life on May 28, 1883 at London’s Old Bailey. He subsequently serves 15 years in Pentonville and other British prisons. In 1896, a series of public meetings in Ireland call for the release of Clarke and the other four remaining Fenian prisoners.

Following his release in 1898, Clarke moves to Brooklyn, New York where he marries Kathleen Daly, 21 years his junior and niece of John Daly. Clarke works for the Clan na Gael under John Devoy. In 1906, the couple moves to a 30-acre farm in Manorville, New York and purchases another 30 acres in 1907 shortly before returning to Ireland.

In Ireland, Clarke opens a tobacconist shop in Dublin and immerses himself in the IRB which is undergoing a substantial rejuvenation under the guidance of younger men such as Bulmer Hobson and Denis McCullough.

Clarke takes a keen interest when the Irish Volunteers are formed in 1913 but takes no part in the organisation feeling that his criminal record would lend discredit to the Volunteers. With several IRB members taking important roles in the Volunteers, it becomes clear that the IRB will have substantial to total control of the Volunteers. This proves largely to be the case until John Redmond, leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party, demands the Provisional Committee accept 25 additional members of the Party’s choosing, giving IPP loyalists a majority stake. Though most of the hard-liners stand against this, Redmond’s decree is accepted, partially due to the support given by Bulmer Hobson. Clarke never forgives him for what he considers a treasonous act.

Following Clarke’s falling out with Hobson, Sean MacDermott and Clarke become almost inseparable. In 1915, Clarke and MacDermott establish the Military Committee of the IRB to plan what later becomes the Easter Rising. The members are Patrick PearseÉamonn Ceannt, and Joseph Plunkett, with Clarke and MacDermott adding themselves shortly thereafter. When Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa dies in 1915, Clarke uses his funeral to mobilise the Volunteers and heighten expectation of imminent action. When an agreement was reached with James Connolly and the Irish Citizen Army in January 1916, Connolly is added to the committee. Thomas MacDonagh is added at the last minute in April. These seven men are the signatories of the Proclamation of the Republic, with Clarke as the first signatory.

Clarke is stationed at headquarters in the General Post Office during the events of Easter Week of 1916, where rebel forces are largely composed of Irish Citizen Army members under the command of Connolly. Though he holds no formal military rank, Clarke is recognised by the garrison as one of the commanders and is active throughout the week in the direction of the fight. Following their surrender on April 29, Clarke is held in Kilmainham Gaol until his execution by firing squad on May 3 at the age of 59. He is the second person to be executed following Patrick Pearse.

Before his execution, Clarke asks his wife to give this message to the Irish People:

“I and my fellow signatories believe we have struck the first successful blow for Irish freedom. The next blow, which we have no doubt Ireland will strike, will win through. In this belief, we die happy.”


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Birth of Revolutionary Leader Thomas MacDonagh

thomas-macdonaghThomas MacDonagh, political activist, poet, playwright, educationalist, revolutionary leader, and one of the seven leaders of the Easter Rising of 1916, is born in Cloughjordan, County Tipperary, on February 1, 1878.

MacDonagh grows up in a household filled with music, poetry, and learning and is instilled with a love of both English and Irish culture from a young age. He attends Rockwell College and spends several years in preparation for a missionary career but soon realizes that it isn’t the life for him and leaves the college. He teaches briefly at St. Kieran’s College in Kilkenny and, from 1903, is employed as a professor of French, English, and Latin at St. Colman’s College, Fermoy, County Cork, where he forms a branch of the Gaelic League. He moves to Dublin and establishes strong friendships with such men as Eoin MacNeill and Patrick Pearse.

In Dublin, MacDonagh joins the staff St. Enda’s School upon its establishment in 1908, as a French and English teacher and Assistant Headmaster. In January 1912 he marries Muriel Gifford and takes the position of lecturer in English at the National University, while continuing to support St Enda’s. MacDonagh remains devoted to the Irish language and, in 1910, he becomes tutor to a younger member of the Gaelic League, Joseph Plunkett.

In 1913, MacDonagh and Plunkett attend the inaugural meeting of the Irish Volunteers and join its Provisional Committee. MacDonagh is later appointed Commandant of Dublin’s 2nd battalion and eventually made commandant of the entire Dublin Brigade. MacDonagh develops strong republican beliefs and joins the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) in the summer of 1915. Around this time, Tom Clarke asks MacDonagh to plan the grandiose funeral of Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa, which is a resounding propaganda success largely due to the graveside oration delivered by Pearse.

MacDonagh joins the secret Military Council that is planning the rising in April 1916, just weeks before the rising takes place. Although joining the Council during the late stages of the planning process, MacDonagh is, nevertheless, a signatory of the Proclamation of the Republic.

During the rising, MacDonagh’s battalion is stationed at the massive Jacob’s Biscuit Factory complex. On the way to this destination the battalion encounters veteran Fenian John MacBride, who joins the battalion as second-in-command.

Although MacDonagh’s battalion is one of the strongest, they see little fighting as the British Army avoids the factory and establishes positions in central Dublin. MacDonagh receives the order to surrender on April 30, although his entire battalion is fully prepared to continue the engagement. Following the surrender, MacDonagh is court martialled and executed by firing squad at Kilmainham Gaol in Dublin on May 3, 1916,  at the age of thirty-eight.