Grace Gifford


Life
1888-1955; 2nd youngest of twelve children and six girls to a Catholic father and Protestant mother in a Unionist family; raised Protestant [Palatine Pact], the boys being raised Catholics; strongly influenced by the patriotism of a Catholic nurse-maid; ed. Alexandra College, and Slade School of Art under Orpen [var. Dublin Metropolitan Art School]; met W. B. Yeats, Maud Gonne and Con Markievicz; published two books of Abbey caricatures; designed religious banner in Franciscan Church, Galway; met Joseph Mary Plunkett at St. Enda’s, both being members of the Arts Club; contrib. cartoons to The Irish Review, which he edited;
 
announced engagement, 11 Feb. 1916, with a view to wedding on Easter Sunday, together with Plunkett’s sister Geraldine and Thomas Dillon [var. wedding planned for 24 [or 23rd] April but delayed by a mistaken message]; ignorant of Rising plans; visited Joseph in hospital where he received surgery for tubercular gland in his neck; after the Rising and his arrest they were married in Kilmainham Prison Chapel, 4 May; he made her his heir in his will to the disgruntlement of his family, especially his sis. Geraldine;
 
Grace converted to Catholicism and was refused admission to her family home following these events; stayed with the Plunketts at Larkfield; suffered a miscarriage, presumably the child of Joseph [but see “Notes”, infra]; became a member of the Provisional Republican Government, 1917; presents strong opposition to London Treaty in March 1922 issue of The Republic; arrested 1926; contrib. 3 poems to Catholic Bulletin, Dec 1921 to Dec. 1928; worked as an artist; she was among the first to receive a pension as a widow of an independence martyr under de Valera’s government; died of heart failure; accorded military honours at Glasnevin Cemetary; one sis., Muriel, was married to Thomas MacDonagh [q.v.]; another was the republican writer Sydney [ Mrs. Czira; pseud “John Brennan”, q.v.]; another was Nellie, a domestic science teacher and nationalist activitist who was in the College of Surgeons in the Rising, and later married an Irish printer, John Donnelly, in America where she joined Sidney and a fourth sister, Ada.

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Criticism
Marie O’Neill, Grace Gifford Plunkett and Irish Freedom: Tragic Bride of 1916 (Dublin: IAP 2000), xx, 117pp.; Anne Clare, Unlikely Rebels: The Gifford Girls and the Fight for Irish Freedom (Cork: Mercier 2011), 319pp., ill. [8pp. of pls.].

There is a Grace Gifford page on the Ireland’s Own website [online; 14.02.2008].

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Commentary
Widow of the Rising’ [review-feature] of Marie O’Neill, Grace Gifford Plunkett and Irish Freedom (IAP), in Books Ireland (April 2000): reports Geraldine Dillon’s testimony that Grace was pregnant by a man other than Joseph Plunkett [as infra]. Further records that she revisited Kilmainham as a prisoner in the Civil War, having been disowned by her family, and quotes a Clare ballad: ‘I loved Joe Plunkett and he loved me / He gave his life to set Ireland free’.

Joseph Mary Plunkett, “My Lady Has the Grace of Death”

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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Notes
Sisters in arms: Grace Gifford and her [four?] sisters were active in nationalist politics. Nellie Gifford Donnelly fought in 1916 Rising; Muriel Gifford m. Thomas MacDonagh; Sydney Gifford (pseud. “John Brennan”); all were grandchildren of Arthur Vandeleur, the co-operative leader of Ralahine.

Pregant question (I): Geraldine Dillon’s diary material in the NLI contains the allegation that Grace Gifford suffered a miscarriage shortly before her wedding to Joseph Plunkett, and that Plunkett was not in any case the father. See however ‘Widow of the Rising’ [feature], in Books Ireland (April 2000), in which the her allegation that Grace was pregnant by another man other us called ‘malicious gossip’, though the story of the miscarriage is thought to be obviously true (pp.89-90).

Pregant question (II): See Lucille Redmond’s review of All in the Blood, being the memoir of Geraldine Plunkett [sis. of Joseph Mary], edited by Honor Ó Brolcháin [gd-dg. of Geraldine], in Books Ireland (March 2007). Redmond, whose great-aunt was Grace Gifford, reflects that these memoirs are the ‘only source of the rumour that Grace was pregnant and subsequently miscarried - a highly unlikely story, given Grace’s personality. She wouldn’t hav been likely to hide such a thing. Refers also to the rebuttal Seoirse Plunkett’s rebuttal of the claim in the newspapers when his sister first made it.

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