seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of James Stephens, Novelist & Poet

istepja001p1James Stephens, Irish novelist and poet, is born in Dublin on February 9, 1880.

Stephens’ mother works in the home of the Collins family of Dublin and is adopted by them. He is committed to the Meath Protestant Industrial School for Boys as a small child and spends his childhood there. He attends school with his adopted brothers Thomas and Richard before graduating as a solicitor’s clerk. He is known affectionately in school as “Tiny Tim” due to his 4’10” stature. He is much enthralled by the tales of military valour of his adoptive family and would have become a soldier if not for his height.

By the early 1900s Stephens is increasingly inclined to socialism and the Irish language and by 1912 is a dedicated Irish Republican. He is a close friend of the 1916 Easter Rising leader Thomas MacDonagh, who is then editor of The Irish Review and deputy headmaster in St. Enda’s School, the radical bilingual school run by Patrick Pearse. His growing nationalism brings a schism with his adopted family, but probably wins him his job as registrar in the National Gallery of Ireland, where he works between 1915 and 1925, having previously had an ill-paid job with the Mecredy solicitors’ firm.

Stephens produces many retellings of Irish myths and fairy tales. His retellings are marked by a rare combination of humour and lyricism. He also writes several original novels, The Crock of Gold, Etched in Moonlight and Demi-Gods, based loosely on Irish fairy tales. The Crock of Gold in particular has achieved enduring popularity and has often been reprinted.

Stephens begins his career as a poet under the tutelage of “Æ” (George William Russell). His first book of poems, Insurrections, is published in 1909. His last book, Kings and the Moon (1938), is also a volume of verse.

Stephens’s influential account of the 1916 Easter Rising, Insurrection in Dublin, describes the effect of the deaths by execution of his friend Thomas MacDonagh and others as being “like watching blood oozing from under a door.” Of MacDonagh he writes:

No person living is the worse off for having known Thomas MacDonagh, and I, at least, have never heard MacDonagh speak unkindly or even harshly of anything that lived. It has been said of him that his lyrics were epical ; in a measure it is true, and it is true in the same measure that his death was epical. He was the first of the leaders who was tried and shot.

Stephens lives between Paris, London and Dublin. During the 1930s he is a friend of James Joyce, and they mistakenly believe that they share a birthday. Joyce, who is concerned about his ability to finish what later becomes Finnegans Wake, proposes that Stephens assist him, with the authorship credited to JJ & S, short “Jameses Joyce & Stephens,” but also a pun on the popular Irish whiskey made by John Jameson & Sons. The plan is never implemented, as Joyce is able to complete the work on his own.

During the last decade of Stephens’ life he finds a new audience through a series of broadcasts on the BBC. He dies at Eversleigh on Saint Stephen’s Day, December 26, 1950.

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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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Executions of Èamonn Ceannt, Michael Mallin, Seán Heuston, & Con Colbert

colbert-ceannt-mallin-heustonIrish patriots Èamonn Ceannt, Michael Mallin, Seán Heuston, and Cornelius “Con” Colbert are executed by firing squad in the Stonebreakers Yard at Kilmainham Gaol on May 8, 1916, as the executions following the 1916 Easter Rising continue.

Éamonn Ceannt, one of the seven signatories of the Proclamation of the Irish Republic, is born in Ballymoe, Glenamaddy in County Galway in 1881. Prior to the Rising, Ceannt is an employee of the Dublin Corporation. He is a co-founder of the Irish Volunteers, partaking in the successful Howth gun-running operation of 1914. His involvement in republican activities is complemented by his interest in Irish culture, specifically Irish language and history, although he is also an accomplished uilleann piper. Ceannt is appointed Director of Communications of the Provisional Government and is Commandant of the Fourth Battalion of the Irish Volunteers, who are stationed at the South Dublin Union, now the site of St. James’ Hospital. Ceannt has about 100 men with him, including his second-in-command Cathal Brugha, and W.T. Cosgrave who goes on later to become Taoiseach. Ceannt and his men at the South Dublin Union take part in some of the fiercest fighting in the rebellion and hold out against far superior numbers of British troops.

Michael Mallin, a silk weaver by trade, is born in Dublin on December 1, 1874. Mallin is the Chief of Staff of the Irish Citizen Army (ICA), second in command only to James Connolly. He trains and drills the ICA, and is the Commandant of the St. Stephen’s Green Royal College of Surgeons garrison during the Rising. Countess Markievicz is his second in command. This location sees less action than some of the other sites chosen by the rebels because the British concentrate their efforts on the most strategically important targets such as the General Post Office (GPO) and Four Courts. Mallin surrenders on April 30.

Seán Heuston, born in Dublin on February 21, 1891, is responsible for the organisation of Fianna Éireann in Limerick. Along with Con Colbert, Heuston is involved in the education of the schoolboys at Scoil Éanna, organising drill and musketry exercises. Heuston is the Officer Commanding of the Volunteers in the Mendicity Institution on the south side of Dublin. With 26 Volunteers under his command, they hold their position for two days. With his position becoming untenable against considerable numbers, and the building almost completely surrounded, Heuston sends a dispatch to Connolly informing him of their position. It is soon after sending this dispatch that Heuston decides to surrender. Heuston Railway Station in Dublin is named after him.

Con Colbert is born on October 19, 1888, at Monalena in Limerick, and is one of the younger generation of Irish republicans who take part in the Easter Rising. Prior to the Easter Rising he is an active member of the republican movement. He is one of the founding members of Fianna Éireann. A dedicated pioneer, Colbert is known not to drink or smoke. During the Rising, Colbert is the commander of a group of Volunteers stationed at Watkin’s Brewery on Ardee Street, and later at Jameson’s Distillery on Marrowbone Lane. They hold their position until receiving the order to surrender from Patrick Pearse.