Grace Gifford and Joseph Mary Plunkett received their places in Irish history after being married in Kilmainham Jail in Dublin just hours before his execution by firing squad for his part in the 1916 Easter Rising against British rule.
Grace was a strong independent woman whose artistic talents manifested themselves in satirical cartoons and caricatures of political and topical natures. She came from a unionist, upper-class family and was raised in the Church of Ireland tradition.
Joseph Plunkett, a nationalist scholar and poet, fell deeply in love with Grace, sharing many common ambitions as well as creative and artistic talents. Mesmerized by the vision of the leader of the Rising, Patrick Pearse, Joseph was torn by Grace's family conflicts. Her parents resented her relationship with Joseph and tried to end it. He loved Grace without doubt. It was this more than anything else that estranged Grace from her family and some friends as she in turn developed her own political convictions and fought against the activities of the man she loved.
A true story, embodying all the human emotions of young love shattered by circumstance and events outside of their control, GRACE paints a broad canvas of many moods. It takes the audience and the performers on a roller coaster of thoughts, impressions, feelings and emotions.
Grace’s parents, Frederick, a prosperous solicitor, and Isabella Gifford were completely against this relationship, particularly since another of their daughters, Muriel, had met and married Thomas McDonough who, like Joseph, very much involved in the developing nationalist movement. There was much friction between Grace, her parents and other members of the family and this never abated.
As the preparations for the unwanted Rising gathered momentum and the dominant influence of its leader, Patrick Pearse, and his growing number of followers distorted their lives, Grace and Joseph’s relationship became volatile and difficult. She wanted Joseph to have nothing to do with the unfolding events as she saw the obvious dangers and threat to her hopes and dreams for a long life together. But he was growing daily more loyal to Pearse. Against her expressed wishes, he chose to blindly follow Pearse with terrible consequences.
As with many young couples facing into war-like situations, Grace and Joseph decided to quickly marry and set their wedding day for Easter Sunday 1916. Their parents knew nothing of this. However, events overtook them and the Rising was activated that actual weekend. After 6 days of fighting, the leaders were arrested and put into Kilmainham Jail on the western outskirts of Dublin City. Soon afterwards, they were sentenced to death by firing squad and executions began immediately.
Joseph Mary Plunkett was to be executed on the morning of May 4 1916. He and Grace sought permission and were married in a simple, emotional ceremony in the chapel of Kilmainham Jail just a few hours before his death.
Grace Gifford lived in widowhood all her life, earning a constant but meagre income through her artistic endeavours. She lived mostly in Dublin city-centre locations and died in 1955, aged 67.
GRACE has been recorded by about 50 artists and is now something of an established Irish ‘standard’. It has sold over 2.5 million copies since its first commercial recording in 1986. Roughly 50 cover versions have been recorded by many leading Irish artists including Jim McCann and The Dubliners, Paddy Reilly, Frank Patterson, The Original Three Irish Tenors, Dominic Kirwan and the Wolfe Tones. It has been particularly popular in live performances here in Ireland and throughout the USA, Canada and Australia.
Sean and Frank O’Meara