Joseph Plunkett and Grace Gifford were to have a joint wedding with his sister Geraldine Plunkett and her fiancé Tom Dillon, at the Rathmines church, Easter Sunday, April 24 1916. The confusion about the on/off Rising, the rumours about the possibility of Roger Casement being taken prisoner in Kerry, kept the couples guessing as to what would happen. But Joseph, one of the principle organisers of the Rising, probably knew more that what he said to his sister, that Grace ‘did not know the smallest thing about the political situation, and had no idea whatever of such things’.*
He felt it would not be fair to go ahead with their wedding at this time. He postponed it; while Geraldine and Tom went ahead. Geraldine and her tyrannical mother did not get on. Known as ‘Ma’ by her family, she ran the Plunketts’ vast property empire with a stern hand. In justifying her decision to carry on with her wedding in those difficult last days before the Rising, Geraldine explains that the ‘real reasons for marrying Tommy just then were that the Rising would put an end to my world, nothing would be the same again, and I was not going back to that hellhole of family life’.**
In fact it turned out that Geraldine and Tom had a ring-side view of the opening hours of the Rising. After their rather miserable wedding, during which Ma told Mrs Dillion that the reason for the hasty marriage was that Geraldine was pregnant (which was completely untrue ), the young couple put their bicycles on the roof of a cab and checked into the Imperial Hotel, which was over Clery’s opposite the General Post Office.
The next day, alerted by a commotion in the street below, at about 10 minutes after midday, they saw ‘a company of about 100 uniformed Volunteers wheeled round from Abbey Street, marched up O’Connell Street and halted in front of the GPO, they wheeled left and entered the main door.’ In the excitement she saw her brother Joseph, ‘in his new uniform, and looking all right’. She was relieved to see Mick (Collins, his aide-de-camp ) with him; and recognised Pearse, Connolly, MacDiarmada and Willie Pearse among the men.
It all seemed unreal at first. ‘There was a fairly large crowd in the street, a holiday crowd, walking about with their family and friends, and a constant stream of racegoers on their way to Fairyhouse in their cars.’ But soon the atmosphere changed. The staff, mostly girls, ran out of the GPO. Volunteers stopped milk carts and brought milk and food into the building. The windows were smashed from the inside. As the glass fell into the street, a crowd gathered and began to heckle the men. They threw back the shards of glass that they picked up from the street. Some women were angry; others were entertained. The Volunteers began to make a barricade in Prince’s Street from motorcars commandeered from people going to the races. This led to more protests from the people asking why the police had not interfered. Geraldine saw her brother throw a bomb under a tram hauled over to the barricade. He shot at it with his Mauser. The bomb exploded and smashed the chassis. It was the last time she saw Joseph. Gradually the street cleared of people.
A company of cavalry suddenly charged down the street to be met by a hail of bullets. Dead men and horses lay on the road, as the rest retreated. Pearse and others came out of the GPO and read the Proclamation of the Republic.’ Then he moved into the middle of the street, a few yards down from Prince’s Street, and read it again. There was silence. He gave copies to some newsboys to distribute.’ Geraldine’s husband Tom went down and got a copy.
‘A long twenty minutes’
Most of us know the rest of the story. Geraldine and Tom left their hotel that night, and managed to cycle to the Plunkett home at Larkfield, Rathmines, without being challenged by soldiers. The house soon filled with anxious family, refugees and friends. At first there was relief that her brothers Joseph, George and Jack had survived the intensive fighting, shelling, and burning of buildings; only to be frightened again by rumours that all the leaders will be shot.
In the round up of suspects that followed Geraldine’s parents were imprisoned, her father in Richmond Barracks, while her mother was sent to Mountjoy. Ma sent her family a series of letters requesting immediately, books, knitting needles, eggs and flowers.
Her father was not treated so lightly. Eventually Geraldine got to see him. He looked broken, unshaven and unwashed. ‘I had not known before this that Pa was in Richmond Barracks the day of Joe’s drumhead court martial, and had seen, from the guardroom window on the first storey, Joe standing in the pouring rain in the barrack square; Joe saw him and they stayed looking at one another for a long 20 minutes till Joe was moved on. Pa knew by then that Joe would soon be shot, and he was weeping as he told me this. Even after executions it was not thought right to weep openly, but Pa did, and it was one of the reasons I loved him.’
‘On there night of May 3 Pa and Ma were brought to Kilmainham jail and put into a cell there. At four in the morning Pa heard shots of the firing party and knew it was Joe’s execution, but Ma slept. They never saw Joe….’
We know that hours before he was shot Grace managed to get permission to marry Joseph (See last week’s Diary ). The brief ceremony was carried out in his cell, the only witnesses were British soldiers. It would have been even more bizarre if Geraldine’s mum and dad had been present. Yet Geraldine suggests that ‘They were probably brought to Kilmainham to see Joe and his marriage to Grace, (but someone ) must have stopped it’.
Ma and Pa were later returned to their separate prisons.
Next week: Efforts made to get Tom Dillon out of prison, and appointed Professor of Chemistry, UCG (NUIG ).
NOTES: *Taken from All In The Blood, - A memoir of the Plunkett family, the 1916 Rising, and the War of Independence, by Geraldine Plunkett Dillon, edited by Honor O Brolchain, published 2006.
**George Noble Plunkett came from a distinguished and wealthy Norman family, which included Saint Oliver Plunkett. He was created a Papal Count by Pope Leo XIII for donating money to the Little Company of Mary, a nursing order. He married Josephine Cranny and had seven children, all of whom, with the exception of their youngest child Moya, were involved in the Rising. Their son Joseph was executed. Two other brothers George and John (Jack ), who had also fought in the GPO, were sentenced to death, but the sentence was later commuted. Their father, a gentle man, was the curator of the National Museum. He adored his children and became more influenced by their radicalisation. Shortly before the Rising Joseph swore him into the Irish Republican Brotherhood. It was while he was in prison in Richmond Barracks that he saw his son Joseph for the last time in the yard below. Two years later he was elected to the Dáil for Sinn Féin in Roscommon North.