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.

The GPO–Easter Monday 24th April 1916

GPO DublinIt is hard to believe but on Monday 24th April 1916 – a hundred years ago – The Rising began!!

On Easter Monday 24th April 1916 Dublin’s, General Post Office was taken over by a large group of Nationalist Rebels led by Padraig Pearse and James Connolly. The members of The Volunteers and The Irish Citizen Army, armed with guns and sundry array of weapons, marched from Liberty Hall towards Sackville Street.

The day was sunny and crowds gathered heading for the races at Fairyhouse, to Phoenix Park or to the seaside. Many of the shops were shut but the GPO remained open to sell stamps, for letter and parcel post and for members of the public to collect government allowances and pensions.

James Connolly, the Union leader and head of the Irish Citizen Army, alongside Padraig Pearse, Joseph Plunkett and William James Brennan Whitmore had led the rebel army toward the large imposing neoclassical landmark building which had been designed by Francis Johnson and built in 1818.

With its large stone portico and six towering granite columns, the GPO was the hub of both postal and telegraph communications in the city. They stopped outside on the street and Connolly gave the order to turn left and charge the GPO.

Customers and staff were all ordered out of the building as the rebels smashed the glass windows and barricaded them. The green, white and orange Irish tricolour flag and the green and gold flag of the Irish Republic were both hoisted and flown up over the building
Padraig Pearse joined by James Connolly and a few others stepped outside where he declared an Irish Republic as he read out the proclamation of The Provisional Government Of The Irish Republic To The People Of Ireland to the crowds of curious onlookers on the street.

Some listened but others chose to walk away. Copies of the printed proclamation were left for the public to read.

The rebels came under attack a short while later by a party of Irish lancers, the mounted cavalry on horseback who came down Sackville Street. Coming under heavy fire from the rebels, the riders and horses were forced to retreat.

On Easter Monday the long cherished dream of a rising against the British had finally happened with a number of key building and locations captured by the force of 1,200 men and women throughout the city.

The GPO garrison, headquarters of the rebellion, was well fortified and they set up barricades. They had a supply of food from the well- stocked kitchens of the nearby hotels and took over the adjacent Metropole Hotel. Commandant Brennan and a group of men were sent to take over the buildings opposite the GPO on Earl Street.

The rebels watched in dismay as around them local people began to loot the nearby shops and businesses immediately, smashing glass windows and doors and stripping the business of their stock.

Taken by surprise, the British Army sent more soldiers to Dublin to quash the rebellion. By Wednesday they had a heavy machine gun and two other guns trained on the GPO which came under steady and constant b ombardment from the British gunners. A British gun ship had sailed up the Liffey and destroyed Liberty Hall.

By Thursday much of Sackville Street on both sides was ablaze. The Imperial Hotel, the Metropole Hotel and the surrounding shops and cafes were on fire as the sky filled with flames and smoke. The street had become a raging inferno. James Connolly was badly wounded, shot in the leg.

The fires raged on and by Friday evening the decision to evacuate the GPO which had already started to burn was made.
The O’Rahiily and a number of the Volunteers tried to make a run for Moore Street but he was fatally injured. The rest of the garrison escaped through Henry Street and Henry Place to Moore Street where they began to boring holes between the houses there trying to get to safety.

The GPO was now totally ablaze, most of the building destroyed. As machine guns raged relentlessly against them and fires raged, and with little food in the city, Padraig Pearse knew they could not continue as innocent civilians were being shot and killed. With heavy hearts the decision was made to surrender – with Pearse and Connolly both signing the surrender order.

On midday Saturday 29th April Nurse Elizabeth O’Farrell stepped out with a white flag. Later she accompanied Padraig Pearse to meet General Lowe to officially surrender. She also helped deliver the surrender orders to all the other rebel garrisons.

On Sunday the remaining rebel garrisons had all reluctantly agreed to surrender too.

The men and women of the rebel garrisons were marched under army escort through the hostile crowds to Richmond Barracks. Some of the women were transferred to Kilmainham Jail.

Under General Maxwell’s orders, many were transported almost immediately to prisons across Britain and Wales. Determined to stamp out any further chance of rebellion, General Maxwell also ordered the trial and execution of the leaders of the rising – many of whom would be sent to Kilmainham Jail to await their fate.

Easter 1916-2016

O'Connell Street Easter Sunday 2016

O’Connell Street Easter Sunday 2016

Easter Sunday

The streets of Dublin were crowded as thousands of us gathered to watch the Easter 1916 Centenary Commemoration Parade. The day was bright and dry as the massive crowds made their way along the long parade route which led towards O’Connell Street. There were wide screens to display the formal ceremony outside the GPO, as the main street of Dublin city was reserved for family member and relatives of those who fought in 1916.

The parade of the Irish Defence Forces received huge cheers as they passed us, army bands, navy services and all types of military vehicles. President Michael D. Higgins, Taoiseach Enda Kenny, Dublin’s Mayor Criona Ni Dhalaigh and the Minister for Defence, Simon Coveney, all received a warm welcome on this very special day. Everyone watched and was moved by the reading of the Proclamation by Captain Peter Kelleher outside the GPO, the lowering of the Irish tri-colour flag and the army band playing Mise Eire.

Reading of the Proclamation Easter Sunday 2016

Reading of the Proclamation Easter Sunday 2016

The whole city stood still to remember that day a hundred years ago when a small band of rebels took the GPO and declared an Irish Republic. The Irish Air Corps with their plumes of green white and orange flew over O’Connell Street which brought huge cheers from everyone watching below. This important part of our history was honoured, the brave men and women of 1916 were recalled and their effort to fight for Irish freedom commemorated on this very special Easter Sunday 2016.

Reflecting the Rising

On Easter Monday, the city was transformed for RTE’s large scale event organised for families and all those with an interest in the Rising.
Artist and writer Don Conroy and I were delighted to take part. We gave two 1916 story and drawing workshops in DIT College, Aungier Street, (site of the former Jacob’s biscuit factory and the garrison led by Thomas MacDonagh and Captain John MacBride during the 1916 Rising).

There was fun and hundreds of events and talks on all aspects of the Rising and re-enactments by drama groups with packed events in O’Connell Street, Smithfield and St. Stephen’s Green. Alongside the family activities and entertainment in in St Stephen’s Green, there was the poignant reminder by a children’s drama group of all the children who died during the Rising.

The skies stayed bright and sunny and the marvellous events of the weekend were finished off by RTE’s Centenary concert, broadcast live that night from the Bord Gais Theatre.

It was a weekend to remember and a fitting tribute to Padraig Pearse, Tom Clarke, James Connolly Sean MacDiarmada, Thomas MacDonagh, Eamonn Ceannt and Joseph Plunkett and all those who went out a hundred years ago, on that Easter Monday 1916.

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Hong Kong and Macau Turn Green

What a great experience to be invited to take part in Macau’s Script Road Writers’ Festival! I met lots of writers not only from China and Portugal but from across the world.

I took part in a lively discussion on ‘The Peculiar Life of Writer’ at The Old Court Building with Sweden’s Bengt Ohlsson and Portugal’s Rui Zink. Also I was kept busy with events across the island, talking in Macau’s University, the International School, the Sir Robert Ho Tung Chinese School, as well as a family event at The Ritz Carlton Hotel.

Great to see Macau’s historic St Paul’s Church turn green, like many iconic buildings around the world, to celebrate St Patrick’s Day. Dublin’s Lord Mayor, Criona ni Dhalaigh, spoke at the Hong Kong and Macau Irish Festival‘s St. Patrick’s Day dinner in the Grand Lapa Hotel. The next day she led off the first St. Patrick’s Day parade to be held on the island.

Watching the local Irish dancing groups, traditional lion dancers and the Chinese dragon, as well as local hip-hop dancers and the police bag-pipers, I felt very proud to be part of such a multi-cultural celebration of Ireland’s heritage.

In Hong Kong, the Mayor of Dublin presented Father Joseph Mallin – aged 102 – with the great honour of the Freedom of Dublin City. Father Joseph, son of Michael Mallin the 1916 Rising leader, is not only the last living child of an executed leader of the Rising but has dedicated his life to working and helping those in need in Hong Kong.

A concert entitled ‘Mise Eire’ was held to celebrate and commemorate the centenary of the 1916 Rising and was attended not only by the Irish community living in Hong Kong, but also by those with an interest in Ireland. I was very honoured to read a chapter from Rebel Sisters to the large audience and to get the chance to meet Father Mallin.

Well done to Ireland’s Consul, General Peter Ryan and all those involved in organising such a special event to mark the centenary of the 1916 Rising!

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The Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland

Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland

Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland

The Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, a large medical school to train doctors and surgeons, has stood on St Stephen’s Green, Dublin for over 200 years.

On Tuesday the 25th April 1916, the nationalist rebels were forced to flee under heavy machine gun fire from St Stephen’s Green Park to the nearby large, imposing medical school.

Countess Constance Markievicz had managed to gain access to the college by threatening the college porter with her gun. He and his family were locked up in their quarters as Commandant Michael Mallin’s company took over the building. They put snipers up on the roof and raised the Irish tricolour flag.

The medical college was closed for the Easter holidays so there was very little food or supplies in the building. Commandant Mallin, a former British soldier who had served in India, organised his garrison in an orderly military fashion. The garrison however came under immense fire as the British moved three heavy machine guns and gunners on to nearby roofs to attack them.

Desperately short of food, Nellie Gifford and the other women in the garrison kept up a constant search to find new food supplies, raiding nearby buildings.

Margaret Skinnider was shot during an attempt to disable a nearby British machine gun post and was brought back to the college for medical treatment for her wounds.

As the situation worsened, Chris Caffrey and Nellie Gifford were dispatched to the Jacob’s Biscuits factory to request much needed food and ammunition supplies for their garrison.

A cache of sixty rifles belonging to the college’s Officer Training Corps was found in the college, but the exhausted and hungry men and women in the garrison were under constant heavy attack from the surrounding British forces.

On Sunday morning, 30th April, Nurse Elizabeth O’Farrell – carrying a white flag – came to the college with orders from Britain’s General Lowe and the surrender order signed by Padraig Pearse and James Connolly. She told them that the GPO had fallen and that they must agree to surrender.

With heavy hearts and great reluctance, Michael Mallin and Countess Constance Markievicz agreed to surrender. They took down the Irish flag from the college roof and hid it inside Margaret Skinnider’s coat before she was transported by ambulance to a nearby hospital.
As they left the college building, Major De Courcy Wheeler could not believe such a small group had manged to withstand such heavy attack from his forces.

A hostile crowd jeered and taunted them as they were marched through the streets to Richmond Barracks, led by Michael Mallin.