Plunkett is the son of a World War I veteran who was a member of James Larkin‘s Irish Transport and General Workers Union, which had a life-long impact on the young writer. He is educated at Synge Street CBS. He works as a clerk in the Dublin Gas Company and later joins the trade union movement, serving under Larkin between 1946 and 1947.
Plunkett grows up among the Dublin working class and they, along with the petite bourgeoisie and lower intelligentsia, make up the bulk of the dramatis personae of his oeuvre. His best-known works are the novel Strumpet City, set in Dublin in the years leading up to the lockout of 1913 and during the course of the strike, and the short stories in the collection The Trusting and the Maimed. His other works include a radio play on Larkin, who figures prominently in his work.
During the 1960s, Plunkett works as a producer at Telefís Éireann. He wins two Jacob’s Awards, in 1965 and 1969, for his TV productions. In 1971 he writes and presents “Inis Fail – Isle of Destiny,” his very personal appreciation of Ireland. It is the final episode of the BBC series Bird’s Eye View, shot entirely from a helicopter, and the first co-production between the BBC and RTÉ. He is a member of Aosdána.
Plunkett dies in a Dublin nursing home at the age of 83 on May 28, 2003. A second year class, “2 Plunkett” at Synge Street CBS, is named in his honour.