"As the dawn is breaking, my heart is breaking too, on this May morn as I walk out, my thoughts will be of you". Joseph Mary Plunkett was called from his cell in Kilmainham Gaol on the morning of May 4th 1916. His time on this earth drawing to a close, but he went to his death with the knowledge that he was loved by many. And most importantly, by his wife Grace. Although they had only a few moments together as a married couple, the story of their love has traversed the world. Plunkett was executed within hours of his wedding by British forces for his role in the 'Easter Rising.' An event which lit the torch of revolution within the hearts of an entire nation. The creation of an Irish Republic can be traced back to that moment, and directly to those men who sacrificed their lives for the country. The tragic story of Jospeh Plunkett and Grace Gifford's short married life is immortalised in the song 'Grace'. Penned in 1985 by Frank and Seán O'Meara, 'Grace' is described by many, as one of the worlds greatest love songs. The song has captured the imagination and hearts of the Irish diaspora throughout the world. A symbol of a past which contained so much heroism and no little heart break. But who was Grace Gifford? What became of her after she stepped out of Kilmainham Gaol that morning, on what road did her life lead her?
Grace Gifford was born in Dublin on the 4th of March 1888. Despite having eleven siblings, she lived comfortably with her parents and family in the affluent area of Rathmines. Grace's father was a Catholic, but her Mother was a Protestant. Despite their differing beliefs, her parents compromised to accommodate both religions in their household. This practice would have been regarded as strange and almost unthinkable at the time. However, it allowed Grace to develop an understanding of both sides of an eternal religious divide from an early age. All of Grace's brothers were raised as Catholics, while the girls(Grace included) were raised as Protestants. From an early age, it became apparent that Grace was an extremely talented artist. A talent which led her to attend the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art at the age of 16. Described by her teachers as one of the finest caricature artists ever to have attended the school, her study and talent took her to London for a period. It was her career as an artist which took her into the company of Joseph Plunkett. As the editor of 'The Irish Review' Plunkett printed many of Grace's cartoons in the magazine. He was a huge fan and advocate of her work. Their relationship developed over a number of years. During this period Grace also grew more interested in the Catholic faith and decided to convert to Catholicism.
Plunkett who himself came from a strong Catholic background proposed to Grace in 1915 and they were to be married the following year. This allowed time for Grace to be formally accepted into the Catholic church. The couple originally planned to marry on Easter Sunday, but Plunkett's role in organising 'the Rising' took precedence over the wedding. Grace understood the difficulty facing her would be husband, and the importance of the cause he was leading. "Now, I know its hard for you, my love, to ever understand. The love I bear for these brave men. My love for this dear land." Despite his failing health, Plunkett and his comrades fought bravely against unimaginable odds. There was no possibility of victory by strength of arms, but he knew their efforts would not go unnoticed. The subsequent execution of Plunkett and the other leaders is a moment in Irish history which changed everything. No longer could a nation accept the hardship and cultural oppression being forced upon them. Embers of the bravery shown during the Easter Rising endured, and that fire slowly spread to all corners of the island.
Following the death of her beloved husband, Grace dedicated her life to the development of the Republican cause in Ireland. In 1917, she was elected to the Sinn Féin executive and continued to campaign tirelessly for Irish freedom. There can be no doubt that she wanted to carry on the message of her husband. To act as his voice in a time where strong voices were needed. Following the signing of 'the treaty' which brought an end to the 'War of Independence' in 1921 civil war broke out across the country. Families were split between the prospect of partitioning the country or continuing to take the fight forward in an attempt to secure all 32 counties. Grace believed that the partitioning of the country would only result in the return of British rule in the future. Her opinions saw her interned in Kilmainham Gaol by pro-treaty forces for a period of three months. Having been married in the gaol to being a prisoner herself, Grace never stepped back from her beliefs. She stood up for her husbands cause throughout her life.
Following the end of the civil war, Grace remained a strong voice for the reunification of the country. As a result of her outspoken views she found it difficult to find work. Despite her undoubted talent as an artist, it was her political views which resulted in financial hardship. Eamon De Valera granted her a state pension for her role in the Republican movement, and this allowed her to live with a certain form of independence. Her love for Joseph Plunkett endured throughout her life. Although they only shared a few moments as a married couple, it was those moments she treasured most of all. Grace died suddenly in 1955. She was alone in her Dublin apartment on South Richmond Street when she died. Her funeral was attended by then president Sean T. O' Kelly and she was granted full military honours. Her life can only be described as a story of heartbreak and heroism. She may have died alone, but her story will never be forgotten. 'Grace' will be sung forever. "There won't be time to share our love, for we must say goodbye."
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