Joseph Mary Plunkett

On this day in Irish history a mighty warrior poet was born. Joseph Mary Plunkett was born in one of the wealthiest parts of Dublin with the proverbial silver spoon in his mouth. He should have had a wonderful childhood, surrounded by wealth and adventure—and in some ways he did—but a terrible case of Tuberculosis threw a wrench into many roads he may have otherwise wandered. The disease was something that affected him for his whole life, leaving him weak and infirm in many ways but it also gave him focus and determination. Joseph became a journalist and a prolific poet. Later in life his study of  languages, the written word, and a love for theater brought him into a close friendship with Thomas MacDonagh, another poet and politically charged man. Thomas was married to a woman named Muriel, who had a charming sister named Grace. She would become the love of Plunkett’s life. Aside from their mutual infatuation with the Gifford girls, the men were also active in the Gaelic League, the Irish Volunteers, and the secretive Irish Republican Brotherhood. In addition, they co-founded the Irish Theatre, bringing their love of drama to the stage.

Obviously, Plunkett was not the sort to let his family’s wealth give him a life of laziness or complacency.  His romantic interpretations of Irish Nationalism infected his whole family and led to his father opening up one of their properties to the Irish volunteers who used it for combat training. Meanwhile, back in the headquarters of the IRB, Joseph got involved in the planning of the Easter Rising. Even though Padraig Pearse is widely accepted as the figurehead of that revolt, it is believed that a lot of the strategy the IRB eventually employed was Plunkett’s.

He almost missed his fight altogether. His health took another serious dive right before the Rising and just a mere 48 hours before the rebellion began, he was having surgery on the glands in his neck. Though his health was dire, he left the hospital and found a sickbed in the GPO headquarters, right in the middle of all the action. From there, he continued to command and inspire those around him, despite his bandages and weakness. He arrived in time to hear Padraig Pearse recite their greatest masterpiece—the Irish Proclamation—which signaled the beginning of the Rising and he was still there when the heartbreaking decision to surrender was made.

The leaders had no illusions about what would happen to them when the Rising was over. In spite of the knowledge that he would soon be executed by the British, he and Grace chose to marry. This would have made his good friend Thomas Macdonagh his brother in law, if Thomas had not been executed the day before the wedding. Grace bought her own ring in Dublin City Centre and brought it to Kilmainham Gaol where they were married in the prison chapel just hours before his death. Armed guards were the only witnesses to the ceremony. The decision to allow the marriage was one of the greatest mistakes that the Crown made at the time, since the tragic love story galvanized the people. As the British secretly tried and executed the leaders of the Rising, the emotional love story and the ideas of the martyred leaders began to catch fire and spread among the people. Grace Plunkett fueled those flames by never remarrying and becoming a revolutionary in her own right, as did many of the other women who were widowed during May of 1916.

Joseph Plunkett is buried in a mass grave at Arbour Hill in Dublin with his friend Thomas MacDonagh and the other leaders of the rebellion. There is now a stone wall inscribed with the words of their beloved Proclamation that stands behind the large plot where these poets, dreamers, politicians and warriors rest. It is a sacred space and well tended.

Their passion for their country is one of the reasons that an independent Ireland was eventually born. Even if you disagree with their methods, there is no changing their mark on the world or their rightful place in history and to ignore it or to attempt to soften or dismiss it is a disservice to them all. Joseph Mary Plunkett lived in a weakened body but was one of the strongest soldiers and most passionate humans in recent history. His achievements, devotion, and life should be celebrated and remembered. He had a purpose he was willing to die for and a love that was greater than life. We should all be so lucky.

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.

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