1900-1919 | Executions

Irish rebel poet Joseph Plunkett shot on his wedding day

Joseph Plunkett.
Wikimedia – public domain

4 May 1916

Joseph Plunkett, a poet and playwright, who left a hospital bed to participate in the 1916 Easter Uprising in Dublin, was executed by a British firing squad at Kilmainham jail at dawn on Thursday 4 May. Less than two hours earlier, he married Grace Gifford, a cartoonist and illustrator, at a little before 4 am in the prison chapel.1 Shortly after the chaplain blessed the marriage, they were forcibly separated, and ‘with the dawn of a perfect spring morning breaking in a cloudless sky, the bridegroom stood facing a firing party in the barracks courtyard. A curt order, the crash of a volley, and the curtain was rung down on the tragedy of two lives.’2

The previous day, Gifford, 28 years and described in the British press as ‘handsome… wayward and headstrong,’  had to buy the wedding ring herself from a jewellery shop at number 22A Grafton Street, arriving at 5 pm, shortly before closing time.3  When Edward Stoker, the shopkeeper, noticed her apparent distress, she almost broke down but then, regaining her composure, confessed that her fiance was Joseph Plunkett and that they were going to be married on the morning of his execution. ‘For the moment I was thunderstruck,’ Stoker recalled, ‘and I didn’t know what to say or do. Somehow or other I managed to express my sympathy with her terrible position and she thanked me very quietly.’ He then added that she had ‘selected the most expensive of the rings, paid for it in notes and left the shop.’4

Gifford was not only burdened with the execution of her husband. She was also the sister-in-law of Thomas McDonagh, a poet, playwright and revolutionary leader, executed by the British in the same jail the previous day.5 The press was unsympathetic. It was outraged that the wedding had even been permitted. ‘I hope,’ declared the journalist and author Ella Hepworth Dixon in an opinion piece in the Sketch, ‘the government are not going to allow any more marriages of the condemned rebels, such as that of Joseph Plunkett,’  and she warned ‘Ireland lives on romance and tradition; martyrs are manufactured before you can say Jack Robinson.’6

Kilmainham Jail – View from the courtyard
Photo by Gary Barber, CC License – Geograph


  1. Diarmaid Ferriter, A Nation and Not a Rabble: The Irish Revolution 1913-23, London, 2015, pp. 163-164 and ‘Married at Dawn – A Bride of Death,’ The Hull Daily Mail, 8 May 1916, p. 3. There is some disagreement in various accounts as to the timing since an announcement of the marriage in The Irish Times conflicts with some reports giving the date as 3 May, the day before the execution.
  2. ‘Rebel’s Marriage Before Death,’ The Shepton Mallet Journal, 12 May 1916, p. 5.
  3. ‘Married at Dawn – A Bride of Death,’ The Hull Daily Mail, 8 May 1916, p. 3.
  4. ‘Married in Dead of Night,’ The Daily Mirror, 8 May 1916, p. 2 and ‘Wed and Shot the Same Day,’ The Wicklow Newsletter, 6 May 1916, p. 4.
  5. ‘Marriage then Death,’ The Daily Record and Mail, 8 May 1916, p. 4 and ‘Married a few hours before being shot,’ The Birmingham Daily Post, 8 May 1916, p. 8.
  6. Ella Hepworth Dixon, ‘No Legend, No Rebellion,’ The Sketch, 17 May 1916, p. IV.

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