PROFILES IN PATRIOTISM

A tree was planted in Ireland in 1916.  This series presents profiles of the 16 executed heroes of Easter Week as the roots of Ireland’s Liberty Tree.

 

Patriots Plunkett

JOSEPH MARY PLUNKETT (Nov. 21, 1887 – May 4, 1916)

Joseph Mary Plunkett was born in Dublin to George Noble, Count Plunkett, and educated at Belvedere College, Dublin, Stonyhurst, England, and UCD.  His family name had been prominent in Irish history for 600 years.  St. Oliver Plunkett was of their family and they had always remained loyal to Ireland and the faith, as evidenced by his middle name in honor of the Mother of Jesus.

Sickly with tuberculosis, Joseph was always a man of frail health.  After his graduation he spent some years recuperating in the dryer climates of Italy, Egypt, and Algeria.  He returned to Dublin in 1911, where he renewed his friendship with Tomás MacDonagh, another UCD graduate.  Always creative, he and MacDonagh launched the Irish Review and helped to found the Irish Theater.  The nationalism that he inherited from his family soon emerged in inspired patriotic poetry in which he damned the conquerors of his land and praised the glories of her heritage.  His poetry is found in “The Circle and the Sword” and the “Occulta”, published posthumously.

His patriotism was not only oral and written – he was one of the founders of the Irish Volunteers and a member of its first Executive in 1913.  He joined the IRB, and was sent on several secret and dangerous missions.  He went to America as a liaison to the AOH and Clan na Gael – organizations that were raising funds for an insurrection.  He went to Germany in 1915 to assist Roger Casement in his attempt to secure that country’s aid for Irish independence.  It was he who approved the purchase of German arms for the IRB.  On his return to Ireland he was made a member of the IRB Military Council and became Director of Military Operations.  When a rising was decided upon for Easter Sunday, 1916, it was Plunkett who drew up the strategy and plans for the occupation of Dublin.  A tireless worker despite his ill health, his efforts were an inspiration to all.

Then, early in 1916 as plans were reaching fruition, Joseph fell seriously ill.  The many exertions on his frail frame in the cause of Ireland’s freedom had taken their toll.  He was taken to hospital to undergo throat surgery.  He was recuperating from that surgery on Good Friday 1916 when he learned of Casement’s capture and the loss of the arms shipment.  He knew the blow must be struck at once or the opportunity would be gone forever; he also knew that he had to be a part of it.  He left the nursing home in which he was convalescing and joined his comrades-in-arms.  Tom Clarke was delighted to have Plunkett back, especially at so critical a time and Joseph proudly affixed his signature to the Proclamation of the Irish Republic as the last to sign.  The die was cast!  On Easter Monday, Plunkett and the other leaders assembled their men and marched to the General Post Office in Dublin and into the pages of Irish history.  For one short but glorious week, the patriotic band of little more than 1,500 men and women with small arms held off more than 16,000 seasoned troops of the most powerful army in Europe equipped with artillery and machine guns and 1,000 police.

After the Rising, Plunkett and the other leaders were taken to Richmond barracks where they were Court Martialed, sentenced to death, and remitted to Kilmainham Jail to await execution. Broken in health, but not in spirit, on the wall of his cell Plunkett scratched his most memorable poem; it stands today as mute testimony to the virtue and caliber of these men.

 

I see His blood upon the rose

And in the stars the glory of His eyes,

His body gleams amid eternal snows,

His tears fall from the skies.

 

On the night of May 3, as Joseph awaited his fate on the coming morning, the prison Chaplain arrived with his sweetheart, Grace Gifford whose sister had already been married to Tom MacDonagh.  In fulfillment of their wishes, they were married in the prison chapel with two guards as witnesses. Then, with a group of guards in their cell, they were allowed 10 minutes together before Grace was cruelly ushered out.  Six hours later 29-year-old Joseph Mary Plunkett added his name to the glorious list of Martyrs who have fallen in the cause of Roisin Dubh.

 

Patriots Ceannt Patriots Plunkett

ÉAMONN CEANNT Sept. 21, 1881 – 8/May 8, 1916)

Éamonn Ceannt (Edward Kent) was born in 1881 in the town barracks of Ballymoe, County Galway, where his father, James, was stationed as an officer in the Royal Irish Constabulary.  The Kent family moved to Dublin when his father retired and it was there, in the O’Connell School of the Irish Christian Brothers, that young Edward took his first steps on the road to becoming a nationalist.  There he developed an interest in Irish culture, especially in Irish language and history.  He was also a musician and a talented uileann piper.  After graduation, he attended University College Dublin.  Two major events that evoked nationalism at the end of the 19th century were the centennial commemoration of the 1798 Uprising and the Boer War in South Africa.  Young Edward took part in the commemoration and supported the Boers against the British.

Now a fluent Irish speaker, he joined the Gaelic League in 1900 where he met Pádraic Pearse and Eoin MacNeill and adopted the Irish form of his name – Éamonn Ceannt.  He also founded the Dublin Pipers’ Club in 1900 and became club Secretary.  An entry in the club minutes book, dated 14 October 1913 is a request from Pádraic Pearse through Éamonn for pipers to play at a feis in aid of St. Endas – Pearse’s bilingual school.  Ceannt served as Secretary until he retired after his marriage to club Treasurer, Áine O’Brennan in June 1905, in a ceremony conducted in the Irish language. Their son Ronán was born a year later.  To support his new family Éamonn worked as an accountant in the Dublin Corporation Treasurer’s Office with a salary of £300 a year.

He joined Sinn Fein in 1907, was sworn into the Irish Republican Brotherhood in 1912 and joined the Irish Volunteers upon their formation in November 1913.  He was later elected to the Volunteer’s provisional committee, becoming involved in fund raising for arms.  After being recognized as one of the more dedicated of its members, he was given command of the Fourth Battalion of Irish Volunteers.  He was soon made an original member of the Military Committee and thus became one of the seven signatories of the Proclamation of the Irish Republic.  In that position, he was important in the planning of the Easter Rising.  When the rising started, as Commandant of the Fourth Battalion, he was assigned to take the Marrowbone Lane Distillery and the South Dublin Union which is now the site of St James’s Hospital.  With more than 100 men under his command, Cathal Brugha (Charles Burgess) as his second-in-command and William T. Cosgrave, future Chairman of the Irish Provisional Government, among his forces, they commandeered both facilities.

Ceannt’s battalion saw intense fighting during the week.  At one point, Cathal Brugha, was seriously wounded. He became separated from his unit, but still managed to hold off a large body of British troops despite multiple bullet and shrapnel wounds.  Ceannt came to his rescue and found him propped up against a wall in a pool of his own blood, pistol in hand and defiantly singing ‘God Save Ireland’ to taunt the attacking British troops.  He was moved to Union Hospital and survived the rising. The Fourth Battalion held out for the entire week and surrendered only when ordered to do so by Pádraic Pearse.

Ceannt was taken to Kilmainham Jail where he was Court-Martialed and sentenced to death.  His young life was taken by a British firing squad on 8 May 1916.  After Éamonn’s execution, his wife, Áine, founded the Irish White Cross to help the families impoverished by British actions or by the loss of their breadwinners in the War of Independence.