On this day in 1928, a great Irish warrior passed away. John Devoy lived a long life that was devoted to Irish freedom. For him, despite the many years he was in exile, Ireland was always home and its freedom was the only cause worth fighting for.
On May 4th, 1916, the executions of the leaders of the Easter Rising continued. Joseph Mary Plunkett, William (Willie) Pearse, Edward (Ned) Daly, and Michael O’Hanrahan were shot in the yard at Kilmainham Gaol in the early hours of the morning.
On May 3rd, 1916, Grace Gifford walked into a jewelry store in Dublin. Her eyes were red and she had obviously been crying. She bought her own ring and left with it in hand. Grace was on her way to Kilmainham Gaol to marry Joseph Plunkett, the love of her life. She knew that her family didn’t approve and that she’d be a widow just a few hours after the wedding but she chose to marry him anyway. The executions of the leaders of the Easter Rising had begun that same day. Patrick Pearse, Tom Clarke, and Thomas MacDonagh were executed for their roles in the Easter Rising and her beloved would soon join them.
Now I know there’s been a lot of hullabaloo about people re-writing the Irish Proclamation—rightfully, in my opinion—so I’m aware that I could be messing around in holy ground with this one. Still, I was immensely impressed with this new take on Joseph Mary Plunkett’s “I See His Blood Upon the Rose“. Since it is still National Poetry Month here in the United States and I posted the original over on the Facebook page during Easter Week, I thought I’d share this new one here.
Perhaps the biggest tragedy and the best known story in modern Irish history is that of Joseph Plunkett and Grace Gifford’s doomed love affair and hasty prison wedding. The tragic romance sits right next to Romeo and Juliet in the great sagas of impossible love, and their story may be one of the largest reasons that popular opinion swung in favor of the rebels after the 1916 Easter Rising. The day the British executed Joseph Mary Plunkett, they guaranteed that the story of the rebellion would no longer be remembered without the emotional inclusion of Ireland’s favorite tragic widow – Grace Gifford Plunkett. But before there was a widow, there was a headstrong, artistic woman – one who was born on this day in 1888.
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.
It has been said that tourists – and mostly American tourists – are the only reason that Kilmainham Gaol is still open because most Irish couldn’t be bothered with it these days. My new friend who is now happily married here in the U.S. agrees with the travel books that say things like that because he and his generation seem to be sick to death of the glorious dead mentality and couldn’t care less about the history and the Troubles that have haunted the country since even before the Rising of 1916. In fact, he was shocked that we were still asked questions about our religion and last names on our travels to Ireland at the end of last year, both in the Republic and the North because he thought those kinds of things were finished.
However, when I did tour Kilmainham Gaol, I was in a group mostly made up of Irish people and all seemed just as profoundly affected by it as I was. Perhaps it was because of the off season which meant my group was thankfully smaller when we went through the infamous prison, or perhaps it was an anomaly altogether but I was glad for it. It made for a decidedly more intimate and more personal experience.