Grace Gifford

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Grace Evelyn Gifford Plunkett
Born Grace Evelyn Gifford
(1888-03-04)4 March 1888
Rathmines, Dublin, Ireland
Died 13 December 1955(1955-12-13) (aged 67)
Portobello, Dublin, Ireland
Nationality Irish
Known for Cartoonist

Grace Evelyn Gifford Plunkett (4 March 1888 – 13 December 1955) was an Irish artist and cartoonist who was active in the Republican movement. She is mainly remembered for marrying Joseph Plunkett in Kilmainham Gaol only a few hours before he was executed for his part in the 1916 Easter Rising.


Her parents were Frederick Gifford, a solicitor and a Roman Catholic, and Isabella Julia Burton Gifford, a Protestant. They were married in St. George's, a Church of Ireland church on the north side of the city. Grace was the second youngest in a family of 12 children and grew up in the fashionable suburb of Rathmines in Dublin. The children were raised as Protestants – the girls attended Alexandra College in Earlsfort Terrace, and the boys attended the High School in Harcourt St.[1][2]


At the age of 16 she went to the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art, where she studied under the Irish artist William Orpen. Orpen regarded Grace as one of his most talented pupils. He often sketched Grace and eventually painted her as one of his subjects for a series on 'Young Ireland'. At around this time, Grace's talent for caricature was discovered and developed. In 1907 she attended a full-time course in Fine Art at the Slade School of Art, London.[3]


Cartoon by Grace Gifford Plunkett from Dublin Opinion

She returned to Dublin in 1908 and, with great difficulty, tried to earn a living as a caricaturist, publishing her cartoons in The Shanachie, Irish Life, Meadowstreet and The Irish Review, which was edited from 1913 by Joseph Plunkett. She considered emigrating but gave up the idea. Despite earning so little money, she enjoyed a lively social life; she was well dressed and mixed with the likes of Mrs Dryhurst, a journalist who worked in London, and George William Russell (Æ).[3] During the same year, Mrs Dryhurst brought Grace to the opening of the new bilingual St. Enda's School in Ranelagh, Dublin. It was here that she met Joseph Plunkett for the first time and came into direct contact with the future leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising, including Thomas MacDonagh, whom Grace's sister, Muriel, married.[3]

Engagement and marriage[edit]

Her growing interest in the Roman Catholic religion led to the deepening of her acquaintance with Joseph Plunkett. She began to question him about his faith. He proposed to her in 1915; Grace accepted and decided to take instruction in the Catholic religion. She was formally received into the Catholic Church in April 1916. Having no knowledge of the plans for the Easter Rising, she planned to marry Joseph on Easter Sunday of that year in University Chapel on St Stephen's Green, in a double wedding with his sister and her fiancé.[4] Her parents were not in favour of her marrying Plunkett, due to the precarious state of his health – he was extremely ill at this time.[5]

After the Rising, the leaders were condemned to death by firing squad. When Grace knew that Joseph was due to be shot on 4 May, she bought a wedding ring in a jeweller's shop in Dublin city centre. She and Joseph were married on the night of 3 May in the chapel of Kilmainham Gaol, only a few hours before he was executed.[6]

Sinn Féin[edit]

Grace Plunkett decided to devote herself through her art to the promotion of Sinn Féin policies and resumed her commercial work to earn a living. She was elected to the Sinn Féin executive in 1917.

Her sister Muriel, widow of executed 1916 leader Thomas MacDonagh, died of heart failure while swimming in 1917. Grace and another sister, Nellie Gifford, shared the care of Muriel's two children, Donagh MacDonagh and Barbara, until 1919. She remained in close contact with both until she died.

Grace Gifford's Cell

Civil War and aftermath[edit]

During the Civil War, Grace Plunkett joined the Anti-Treaty IRA, which was engaged in combat against the National Army. Grace was arrested with many others in February 1923 and interned at Kilmainham Gaol for three months. She painted pictures on the walls of her cell, including one of the Blessed Virgin and the Christ Child. She was released in May 1923.

Madonna and Child

When the Civil War ended, she had no home of her own and very little money. Like many Anti-Treaty Republicans, Grace was the target of social ostracism and had difficulty finding work. Her talent as an artist was her only real asset; her cartoons were published in various newspapers and magazines, including Dublin Opinion, the Irish Tatler, Sketch, and on one occasion in 1934, Punch. She illustrated W. B. Yeats' The Words upon the Window Pane in 1930. She moved from one rented apartment to another and ate in the city-centre restaurants. She befriended many people and had many admirers, but had no wish to remarry. Her material circumstances improved in 1932 when she received a Civil List pension from Éamon de Valera's Fianna Fáil government.[3] This freed her from financial worries and enabled her to make the occasional trip to Paris where she delighted in visits to the galleries and exhibitions. She lived for many years in a flat in Nassau St. with a balcony overlooking the sports ground of Trinity College.

Grace's in-laws refused to honour her husband's will, in which he left everything to his widow. Legally, the will was unvalid because there was only one witness (the law requires two) and also the marriage took place after the will was made, automatically revoking it.[3] For years Grace received nothing, so she began legal proceedings against her mother- and father-in-law, Count George Noble Plunkett and his wife in 1934. The Count and Countess Plunkett settled out of court. Grace was paid £700, plus costs. [7]

At around this time she joined the Old Dublin Society, where she met the noted Irish harpsichord maker Cathal Gannon. When Cathal married, Grace gave him and his wife Margaret a present of two single beds and a picture. From the late 1940s onwards, Grace's health declined. In 1950 she was brought to St Vincent's Hospital, then in the city centre. She convalesced in a nursing home, which she did not like, mainly because it restricted her freedom.[8]

Grace Gifford Plunkett died suddenly, and alone, on 13 December 1955 in an apartment in South Richmond Street. Her body was removed to St Kevin's Church, Harrington Street and among the attendees at her funeral was President Seán T. O'Kelly. She was buried with full military honours close to the republican plot in Glasnevin Cemetery.[3]

Cultural depictions[edit]

She is the subject of "Grace", a song written in 1985 by Frank and Seán O'Meara, which became very popular in Ireland and elsewhere and has been recorded by many musicians.[9]

She is one of the people seen buying a bond in John MacDonagh's newsreel of Michael Collins signing the first issue of Republican Bonds outside St Enda's, Rathfarnham in 1919. The film is archived and available for viewing at the Irish Film Institute.[citation needed]


  • 1919: To Hold as Twere: a collection of Grace's cartoons of political figures.
  • 1929: Twelve Nights at the Abbey Theatre: a collection of cartoons depicting actors of the Abbey Theatre, Dublin.
  • 1930: Doctors Recommend It: An Abbey Tonic in Twelve Doses: another collection of cartoons.


  1. ^ Letters (3 April 2000), "Grace Gifford", The Irish Times: 15 
  2. ^ Census returns for 1901 Census for 8 Temple Villas, home of the Giffords. The writer Maire O'Neill admitted she was incorrect in assuming that the boys were brought up Catholic in the Irish Times, 15 April 2000, p. 15
  3. ^ a b c d e f O'Neill, Maire Grace Gifford Plunkett and Irish Freedom – Tragic Bride of 1916 (Irish Academic Press, Dublin & Portland, OR, 2000 ISBN 0-7165-2666-2)
  4. ^ De Valera, Síle (29 February 2000). "Launch of 'Grace Gifford Plunkett and Irish Freedom'". Retrieved 20 April 2010. 
  5. ^ Czira (née Gifford) (15 April 1966), "Grace Gifford", The Irish Times: 11 
  6. ^ Boylan, Henry (1998). A Dictionary of Irish Biography, 3rd Edition. Dublin: Gill and MacMillan. p. 367. ISBN 0-7171-2945-4. 
  7. ^ Plunkett Dillon, Geraldine (edited by Honor O Brolchain): All in the Blood (A. & A. Farmar)
  8. ^ Gannon, Cathal (2006). The Life and Times of a Dublin Craftsman. Dublin: Lilliput Press. ISBN 1-84351-086-3. 
  9. ^ Grace
  • Theo Snoddy, Dictionary of Irish Artists: 20th Century, Merlin Publishing, 2002

External links[edit]

  • article which includes some of her drawings