George Oliver Plunkett

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George Oliver Plunkett (Irish: Seoirse Oilibhéar Pluincéid) (1894–1944), known to his contemporaries as Seoirse Plunkett,[1] was a militant Irish republican. He was a brother of Joseph Plunkett, a signatory of the Proclamation of the Irish Republic and, like Joseph, was sentenced to death after the Easter Rising of 1916. In his case, the sentence was commuted. He was released in 1917 and took part in the Irish War of Independence and the Irish Civil War. He was IRA Chief of Staff during World War II.

Early life[edit]

Seoirse was born in 1894, probably in Dublin where his parents lived at the time, the son of the future Sinn Féin politician George Noble Plunkett, a papal count and curator of the National Museum. He was named after his father and his collateral ancestor Oliver Plunkett, the Archbishop of Armagh who was martyred in 1681. George was one of seven children; his siblings were Philomena (1886), Joseph (1887), Moya (Maria, 1889), Geraldine (1891), Fiona (1896) and John (Jack, 1897).[2] Like Joseph he was sent to be educated at the exclusive Stonyhurst College, and is recorded there in the 1911 England Census.[3] As a result he spoke with an upper-class English accent.

Easter Rising[edit]

George Plunkett used a tram to get his men into Dublin for the Easter Rising.[4]

George joined the Irish Volunteers in 1914 and in the Easter Rising of 1916 was a Captain and in command of the "Kimmage Garrison". These men on the run (including Michael Collins) were staying at his father's Larkfield estate in Kimmage, south of Dublin making bombs for the Rising. Famously on Easter Monday he waved down a tram with his revolver at Harold's Cross, boarded it with his men (armed with shotguns, pikes and homemade bombs), took out his wallet and said, "Fifty-two tuppenny tickets to the city centre please".[4] Arriving at Liberty Hall in style they were organised into four companies under George's command and were almost as large as some of the IRA battalions.[5][6] With a hundred other Volunteers they marched with James Connolly and Patrick Pearse to seize the General Post Office (GPO). When Connolly gave the order to attack George shouted "Take the GPO" and charged in.[7] The GPO was the headquarters of the IRA during the week-long Rising and George fought in the offices of the Irish Times on Abbey Street. He ordered his men to move the large rolls of printing paper to barricade O'Connell Street, which aided the spread of fire that burnt down the GPO.[8] At one point he risked being shot when he went to comfort a wounded British soldier, the enemy holding fire once they saw he was on a mission of mercy.

He surrendered with his brother and the rest of the headquarters on Saturday 29 April 1916. He was court-martialled with his brother Jack Plunkett on 4 May 1916 and both were sentenced to death by shooting, which was commuted to ten years penal servitude by Lt-Gen Sir John Maxwell, who had ordered their brother Joseph's execution,[7] George witnessing Joseph's will a few hours before his death.[9] His father and mother were also arrested and imprisoned. His sister Geraldine wrote;

George Plunkett fought at the GPO during the Easter Rising.

"When the newspapers came out on Saturday the 6th (May 1916) we saw that George and Jack had also been sentenced to death and the sentence commuted to ten years. Jack told me afterwards that he had been told first of the death sentence and that the officer had then paused for a whole minute before telling him it had been commuted. Jack and George were brought to Mountjoy Jail for a few days, and then brought in a cattle boat to Holyhead. They spent six months in Portland Prison before being moved to Parkhurst, on the Isle of Wight. I got some South African medal ribbon because it was green, white and orange and made it into a bow which I wore everywhere. A big policeman in Dame Street stopped me and said the tricolour would get me into trouble. I said, 'I have one brother shot and two brothers sentenced to death and my father and mother in jail. He said 'You're Plunkett, you can wear it'."[10]

Tan War[edit]

George was released due in the 1917 amnesty and returned to Ireland and became a commandant in the IRA. On 20 October 1917, he addressed a huge Sinn Féin meeting in Dungarvan Square with his father and a Volunteer cavalry section as a guard of honour. As a member of IRA GHQ George travelled the county putting IRA volunteer companies on a proper war footing. The Irish War of Independence - the "Tan War" - broke out when Éamon de Valera re-declared Irish Independence in 1919. On the night of 18–19 March 1921 George commanded the IRA volunteers of the West Waterford Déise Brigade (Pax Whelan, Officer Commanding and George Lennon O/C Flying Column) and caught a British military convoy in the Burgery ambush two miles northeast of Dungarvan. The convoy included Black and Tans and Royal Irish Constabulary and after a firefight they were forced to retreat. An old flute-player arrived on the scene, refused to leave and followed the IRA to Kilgobinet, George said "Well, one thing he can say is that he saw the English running from the Irish".[11] After the ambush George led a group of IRA volunteers to search for any armaments left behind by the Crown forces and were engaged by the British. Pat Keating of Comeragh was fatally wounded and George went out under fire to help him, as he had done in the Easter Rising, and the IRA retreated to safety in the Comeragh Mountains.

Irish Civil War and After[edit]

George Plunkett was part of the Anti-Treaty IRA that seized the Four Courts in the Irish Civil War and were bombarded on the orders of Michael Collins.

George sided with the anti-treaty or "Irregular" IRA against the Irish Free State in the Irish Civil War and both he and Jack Plunkett fought at the Four Courts when the war began, where they worked in the Records Office making mines and bombs. When the Executive Council of the IRA realised thatthe British had given their enemies artillery to bombard the Four Courts Rory O'Connor and Ernie O'Malley were concerned about the effect it would have on the men, but George cheered them up by saying "You get used to's not bad".[1] After three days of shelling George voted against surrender and O'Malley called him 'a rock of gentle determination'.[12] The Four Courts were surrendered and the Record Office which he had used as an arms dump blew up with two tons of gelitine and 700 years of legal documents.

The brothers were captured and imprisoned again in Kilmainham Gaol where they went on hunger strike until George looked "like a death's head".[13] He was transferred to Mountjoy Prison and later in 1922 Judge Crowley ordered his release as his arrest was illegal under habeas corpus. In 1929 the rift between the IRA and Sinn Féin was bridged for a period with the formation of Comhairle na Poblachta (Council for the Republic). In one body "were included Maud Gonne MacBride; solid IRA men like George Plunkett and Seán MacBride; Mary MacSwiney, JJ O'Kelly and the de jure Republicans; the Republican Left like Frank Ryan and Mick Fitzpatrick; firm Sinn Féin people like Joe Clarke...", but this was only papering over the cracks and they soon split again. Tom Barry advocated using Nazi Germany as a source of arms and funds in the late 1930s, but this was rejected by Plunkett and the Army Council as the Germans insisted that the IRA only attack military targets. On 12 January 1939 he was one of the seven signatories of the IRA's declaration of war on the United Kingdom to liberate Northern Ireland. This led to the S-Plan bombing campaign of England in 1939-40 and his being interned in the Curragh. George Plunkett was briefly IRA Chief of Staff during World War II,[14] but died after an accident with a horse and cart in 1944.


  1. ^ a b p94, Ernie O'Malley, The Singing Flame, Anvil Books Limited, 1978
  2. ^ D. R. O'Connor Lysaght, 'Plunkett, Count George Noble', in Dictionary of Irish Biography, Cambridge University Press, 2009.
  3. ^ George Plunkett, 1911 Census, England.
  4. ^ a b p41, Michael McNally: Easter Rising 1916, Birth of the Irish Republic (Campaign 180), Osprey Publishing Ltd, 2007
  5. ^ pp25-26, Michael McNally: Easter Rising 1916, Birth of the Irish Republic (Campaign 180), Osprey Publishing Ltd, 2007
  6. ^ Fermanagh men who fought in Easter Week, 1916, Fermanagh Herald, 17 April 1965.
  7. ^ a b p206, Brian Barton: From Behind a Closed Door: Secret Court Martial Records of the Easter Rising, Blackstaff Press Ltd, 2005
  8. ^ p33, Joseph E. A. Connell: Dublin in Rebellion: A Directory 1913-1923, The Lilliput Press Ltd, 2009
  9. ^ p283, Joseph E. A. Connell: Dublin in Rebellion: A Directory 1913-1923, The Lilliput Press Ltd, 2009
  10. ^ Geraldine Plunkett Dillon, All in the Blood, A&A Farmar Book Publishers, 2006
  11. ^ O'Faoláin, Domnall (12 September 2003). "The Struggle For Freedom In West Waterford". Waterford County Museum. Retrieved 29 August 2010. 
  12. ^ p119, Ernie O'Malley, The Singing Flame, Anvil Books Limited, 1978
  13. ^ pp149-153, Niamh O'Sullivan and Seán O'Keeffe, Every Dark Hour: A History of Kilmainham Jail, Liberties Press, 2007
  14. ^ p350, J.E.A. Connell jnr, Dublin in Rebellion, A Directory 1913-23, The Lilliput Press, 2009