Books and Bealtaine Festival

Marita with Sarah Webb and Cormac KinsellaI am having one of these madly busy weeks. Just got back from talking down in Scoil Mhuire in Abbeyside, Waterford and headed to The Ark in Temple Bar to take part in the Bealtaine Festival at an event with Sarah Webb and Cormac Kinsella. Lots of lovely book talk!

On Tuesday night it was off to Hodges Figgis for the launch of Sam Blake aka Vanessa O’Loughlin’s new crime thriller book Little Bones. It is set in Ireland and I’m sure will be a big success. Vanessa has done so much to inspire and help other people get into print, so now it is her turn to write a best seller. Met lots of lovely ladies who just happen to be crime writers too, so be prepared – there will be lots of fictional murders heading your way!!!

Finally I am delighted to hear the very good news that my friend the illustrator PJ Lynch is the new Children’s Laureate 2016.

Arbour Hill

Arbour HillArbour Hill Cemetery was part of the Arbour Hill Military Prison. Following the execution of the fourteen leaders of the 1916 Rising by firing squad over a number of days from the 3rd of May to the 12th of May 2016 in Kilmainham Gaol, their bodies were immediately moved by truck to Arbour Hill for burial.

General Maxwell had ordered the digging of a large pit, a mass grave in Arbour Hill to hold the bodies of all those he intended executing. Although all the families of the executed leaders each requested the remains of their loved ones for burial, General Maxwell refused. He feared that their funerals would attract and arouse sympathy and support and that the rebellion leaders’ graves would become places of pilgrimage. So instead, in the early hours of the morning, with few witnesses, their bodies were buried together in a quicklime pit. A sympathetic sergeant major however put a numbered brick at the head of each of their bodies and kept a list of their names.

Years later, the Irish Republic converted the military cemetery to a place of remembrance for those that had died for Ireland. A low mound surround on a granite terrace forms the official grave of the 1916 leaders, bearing each of their names written in concrete. Behind the graves is a wall with a cross and The Proclamation of The Irish Republic – written in both Irish and English.

Arbour Hill is free to visit and is situated only a short walk away behind The National Museum at Collins Barracks -along the quays. The museum, which is situated in a magnificent large old British Military Barracks, is well worth a visit and has a large selection of 1916 items on display.

Kilmainham Gaol

Following the surrender and the ending of the Easter Rising, many of the rebels were sent to Dublin’s Kilmainham Gaol. Kilmainham Gaol first opened in 1796 and the notorious Dublin prison housed criminals (male, female and even children) in its dank, cold cells and behind its high prison walls.

In the past, murderers and thieves had faced long incarceration and hanging there. Some were just petty thieves, others were convicts awaiting transportation to Australia. Many Irish revolutionaries and nationalists like Robert Emmet, John Dillon, Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa and Charles Stewart Parnell were also imprisoned there.

Nellie Gifford was among the women from the various rebel garrisons transferred from Richmond Barracks to Kilmainham following the surrender. Countess Constance Markievicz was also imprisoned there.

Following their trial and sentencing by General Maxwell, many of the leaders of the Rising were transferred to Kilmainham to await their execution.

The executions began early in the morning just before dawn on Wednesday 3rd May with Patrick Pearse, Thomas Clarke, Thomas MacDonagh all shot by an army firing squad in the Stonebreakers’ Yard. Their bodies were removed afterwards to be buried in the prison cemetery of Arbour Hill military prison.

On Wednesday evening, a determined Grace Gifford arrived to the prison and was granted permission to marry her fiancé Joseph Plunkett who was due to be executed. They were married around midnight in the candle lit prison chapel but were not let talk to each other and afterwards, Joe – still in chains – was returned immediately to his prison cell. The prison chaplain organised for his bride, Grace, to stay close by and a few hours later a driver from the prison was dispatched to collect Grace to bring her back to the prison. In a crowded cell watched by soldiers she and her husband Joe said their final goodbyes.

Only a short while later on 4th May, Willie Pearse, Edward Daly, Michael O’Hanrahan and Joseph Plunkett were all led out to the Stonebreakers’ Yard where they were shot by firing squad.

Nellie Gifford, hearing of the deaths of her brothers-in-law Thomas MacDonagh and Joe Plunkett, was so overcome with tears and upset that the matron of the prison let Doctor Kathleen Lynn go to her cell to comfort her.

Major John MacBride, Maud Gonne’s former husband, who had volunteered to help command Jacob’s Biscuit Factory was executed on Friday 5th May.

On Monday 8th of May, Michael Mallin, Eamonn Ceannt, Sean Heuston and Con Colbert all bravely faced the prison’s firing squad in the early hours of the morning.

The badly wounded James Connolly was court martialled from his hospital bed in Dublin Castle on the 9th May. His wife Lily and daughter Nora were let visit him at midnight in Dublin Castle on the 11th May. An hour or more later, dressed in his pyjama,s he was transferred on a stretcher by ambulance to Kilmainham Gaol where he was blindfolded and lifted onto a chair in the Stonebreakers’ Yard as he was unable to stand. In the early hours of that May morning, James Connolly faced the same firing squad of twelve soldiers and a sergeant, that had already executed his friend Sean MacDiarmada.

Following their executions, the bodies of each of the dead rebels were transferred immediately in the early hours of the morning for burial to the cemetery in Arbour Hill Military Prison. The British did not want to give the Nationalists and those who supported the Rising the opportunity to organise large funerals for their dead leaders.

Kilmainham Gaol closed in 1924 and fell into disrepair over the following years. Nellie Gifford was among those who campaigned for the restoration of Kilmainham as a historic site of interest.

Kilmainham Gaol was restored over many years and now is open for visitors. It is one of Ireland’s most popular visitor attractions and is well worth a visit. It has a very special atmosphere and is steeped in Irish history. It is advisable to take a guided tour as you get a far better picture of the past and prison life in Kilmainham.

There is also an excellent museum there with a large 1916 display. As Kilmainham gets very busy, I would suggest you book online – if possible – or to try to go there early in the morning.

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Grace Gifford and Joseph Plunkett’s Wedding

Joseph Plunkett and Grace Gifford

Joseph Plunkett and Grace Gifford

Artist Grace Gifford married writer and 1916 Rising leader Joseph Plunkett at around midnight on Wednesday 3rd of May 1916. The story of their candle-lit marriage in the Chapel of Kilmainham Gaol, a only a few hours before Joe would face a firing squad in the prison’s Stone Breakers’ Yard, not only deeply moved me, but inspired me to write Rebel Sisters and to begin to research 1916 and find out more about this bright, intelligent couple who would pay such a high price for their part in the fight for Irish freedom.

Grace had heard earlier that morning of the execution in Kilmainham Jail of her sister Muriel’s husband, Thomas MacDonagh, alongside Padraig Pearse and Tom Clarke. Determined to go ahead with her own planned marriage to Joe, she went and got the necessary permissions and a wedding ring and went to the prison. She was left waiting there for hours.

The prison governor, Major Lennon, agreed to the marriage and at nearly midnight Grace she was brought to the prison’s chapel. Joe was led in to join her in handcuffs. She was shocked by Joe’s appearance. Father Eugene McCarthy gestured to the soldiers to un-cuff him for the ceremony. They were barely let speak as the priest married them. At the end of the short marriage ceremony, they were given no time together as Joe was re-cuffed and marched back to his prison cell. Grace left Kilmainham and Father McCarthy organised for her to stay with a friend of his who lived close to the prison.

At two am Grace received a message from Major Lennon saying that she was permitted to visit her husband one last time before his execution. He had sent a driver from Kilmainham to collect Grace and drive her back to the prison.

The small cell was crowded with soldiers and their bayonets. Joe was brave and seemed unafraid to die. The new bride and groom, Grace and Joe, were given only ten minutes to talk and say what was in their hearts before saying goodbye to each other.

A short while later Joseph Plunkett was led out to the Stonebreakers’ Yard to be shot. He faced the firing squad and his death bravely, saying that he was happy to die for the glory of God and the honour of Ireland. His body was put in an army ambulance and transported alongside the bodies of Willie Pearse, Ned Daly and Michael O’Hanrahan to Arbour Hill for burial in the lime pit there.

The story of Grace Gifford’s and Joseph Plunkett’s romantic and doomed wedding, in the prison chapel, before he was shot soon spread. The story was taken up by newspapers in Ireland and England and across the world and was one of the elements that helped to change public opinion about the rebellion and the execution by the British of its leaders.

In 1985, Irish musician Jim McCann, a former member of The Dubliners, recorded Grace – a song written by Sean and Frank O’Meara about the wedding of Joseph Plunkett and Grace Gifford in Kilmainham chapel. This much loved ballad, Grace, became a huge hit and is still one of Ireland’s most popular love songs.