On Fathers Day we remember our own, and other special fathers. There are also special fathers in Irish history. In fact, if you examine the background of many of Ireland's patriots, you will find the strong influence of a nationalist father. But there is one, in particular, who did more than simply inspire his son to greatness; he insured that his son's memory and his dream would not die. And did so at the risk of his own life.
The son was Joseph Mary Plunkett; a sickly man, a poet and an author - but a fierce patriot. Living in early 20th century Dublin, he was a close friend of Sean McDermott, and through him, the other nationalists who would lead the strike for Ireland's freedom in the Easter Rising of 1916.
Though ill, Joseph had a conqueror’s will and rock-hard determination. His family name had been prominent in Irish history for 600 years as those who remained loyal to the faith and Ireland. St. Oliver Plunkett, who was martyred in England in 1681 was of their family. Joseph had an able mind, with qualities of command and decision that belied his frail physique. He'd joined Sinn Fein, the nationalist political party, and was a charter member of the Irish Volunteer Movement, where he held a command and a place on the Executive Committee.
Like his friend, Padraic Pearse, he wrote inspired nationalist poetry damning the conquerors of his land and praising its heritage. When the decision was made to fight for that heritage, he was among the signers of the Proclamation of the Irish Republic. It was Joseph Mary Plunkett who planned the strategy used in the Easter Rising, and though he had to get out of a sick bed to be there, he was one of the most enthusiastic of the leaders who marched to the GPO on that historic Easter Monday.
(Below: Inside the GPO during the Easter Rising in, "Birth of the Irish Republic," by Walter Paget:1863–1935.)
After the rising, he was interred with the other leaders in Kilmainham Jail. As he lay waiting his execution, his father, mother, and two brothers were arrested as well. The night before his death, his fiancé, Grace Gifford, joined him in the prison chapel where they were married. On May 4th, Joseph Mary Plunkett was murdered by a British firing squad; but his dream did not die with him and his friends. The people, inspired by their sacrifice, united against the Crown, but there were no leaders.
On Feb 3 1917, the death of a member of Parliament caused a by-election to be held in Roscommon, and Sinn Fein decided to challenge the Crown candidate for that office. They ran on the platform that, if successful, they would not sit in the British Parliament, but instead work to attain an elected majority and form an independent Irish Parliament whose first action would be to reject England's right to legislate for Ireland. It was a bold strategy, but who would be the first to stand for election. He would be a target of the British; he would have to openly travel seeking support and he would be subject to arrest and imprisonment - if not outright assassination. He would have to be a man of exceptional courage. The man chosen to test the theory was the father of a martyred leader; his name was Count George Noble Plunkett (pictured above).
Count Plunkett defeated the Crown candidate 3,000 to 1,700 and pledged the fulfillment of his son's dream. The Crown reacted by arresting Sinn Fein supporters all over Ireland on charges ranging from flying the tricolor to using expressions likely to cause disaffection and singing disloyal songs. But it was too late, the groundswell was moving.
On April 19 1917, Count Plunkett called a convention of nationalist organizations to plan the election of more Sinn Fein candidates and achieve their goals. Those present asserted that Ireland was a separate nation and denied the right of any foreign government to legislate for her. Count Plunkett's success was remarkable. In the south Longford election, Sinn Fein candidate Joseph McGuinness was elected, and on and on it went - one after another - until Sinn Fein was the strongest party in Ireland. On Jan 7 1919, the legally-elected representatives of the Irish people - elected in British-controlled elections - refused to take their seats in the British Parliament. Instead, they met at the Mansion House in Dublin and constituted their own parliament: Dail Eireann, the Assembly of Ireland. The British declared it illegal, but the people of Ireland rallied to their support and gave Dail Eireann striking success. They paralyzed British authority by ignoring all their institutions in Ireland, in favor of those established by the Dail.
Efforts to suppress the Dail let to the war of independence, and the present Republic of Ireland. So it was that after the Rising of 1916, when all seemed darkest, the struggle had been renewed. And one of the key figures in that renewal was Count George Noble Plunkett - a father who refused to let his son's dream die.