another story from Dublin. also with unhappy ending. our guide used this as the “personal interest” thread for those visitors not otherwise held rapt by the history of Kilmainham Gaol.
two of the leaders of the Easter Rising were Joseph Plunkett and his best friend Thomas MacDonagh. in 1908 both were involved in St. Edna’s School in Dublin, which was established by Patrick Pearse, a major figure in the events of 1916. it was through St. Edna’s that Joseph Plunkett met Grace Gifford and (by extension) her sister Muriel, whom MacDonagh later married. the two women were raised Protestant, and later converted to Catholicism (their father and mother were Catholic and Protestant, respectively, and according to custom, the sons were raised Catholic, daughters, Protestant).
Joseph and Grace got engaged in 1915, Grace began taking classes to convert, and did so in April 1916. they planned to wed on Easter Sunday (in a double ceremony with his sister and her fiance). obviously, things did not go to plan. upon learning that Joseph’s execution was slated for the morning of the 4th of May, Grace purchased a wedding ring form a Dublin jeweler’s and the pair wed during the night of the 3rd of May at the chapel in the jail (from whence the tour starts). they had ten minutes together, observed by British soldiers in one of the decrepit cells of the west wing, before she was forced to leave him. he was executed as condemned in the yard of the jail in the morning.
prior to meeting Joseph, Grace worked as a cartoonist and resumed her work to support herself following his execution. she supported Sinn Fein, and was elected to the party’s executive board in 1917. of course, involvement in politics during this period could be problematic, and Grace was arrested by Pro-Treaty forces and incarcerated in Kilmainham for several months during the Civil War. (she painted murals in her cell, one of which remains.)
as mentioned, her sister married Joseph Plunkett’s best friend and, consequently, was widowed at the same time as Grace. Muriel & Thomas had two children and, when Muriel died suddenly of heart failure while swimming in 1917. Grace sought custody of the children, and actually shared it with her sister Nellie until 1919, but was ultimately denied the opportunity to raise the children. after her release from prison, she remained understandably bitter towards the government of the Irish Free State, and moved from one apartment to another around Dublin living on the little money that she could earn as a cartoonist. in 1932, Eamon de Valera granted her a Civil List pension, which improved her material conditions somewhat. in 1934 she began legal proceedings against Joseph Plunkett’s father, who, because of the invalidation of Joseph’s will, was beneficiary of anything to which dependents or survivors were entitled. (the case was settled out of court and Grace received 700 pounds). Grace died in 1955 in a rented flat in Dublin, her life not having improved significantly in spite of the pension.