Executed Rising leader’s widow refused pension, files show

Grace Plunkett, subject of a famous ballad, failed in claim for monies for own activities

Officer in charge of military archives Commandant Padraic Kennedy studies files in the reading room at Cathal Brugha Barracks in Dublin. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

Officer in charge of military archives Commandant Padraic Kennedy studies files in the reading room at Cathal Brugha Barracks in Dublin. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

Sat, Jan 18, 2014, 17:48

The widow who married one of the leaders of the 1916 Rising on the night before he was executed was refused a pension in her own right.

Grace Gifford married Joseph Mary Plunkett in Kilmainham Jail in what became one of the most poignant stories arising out of the Rising.

Mrs Plunkett claimed a pension as a dependent on one of the leaders of the 1916 Rising, but also in her own right. Her files have now been released under the Military Pensions Archive.

Video: 'Grace'

She was from an unusual middle-class Protestant background and had studied art at the famous Slade School of Fine Art in London before returning to Dublin in 1908

She told the pensions board that she was the “official cartoonist for the Republican Government” and that her work as a political cartoonist stopped her earning a living as an artist.

She was arrested in February 1923 because of her involvement with the anti-treaty side and held in Kilmainham jail until August of that year. However, in 1942 the pensions board advisory committee were unimpressed with her testimony.

They found she was never a member of Cumann na mBan and had appeared to have done “none of the service which could be regarded as qualifying service under the act”.

The board noted that the “mere sight of a gun would cause her to faint”.

However, Mrs Plunkett had been successful in claiming a pension as one of the dependents of the executed leaders of the Easter Rising.

In 1924, in a letter to the pensions board as the widow of an executed Easter Rising leader, she said her involvement with Plunkett had stopped her emigrating to the United States.

She also spoke of being ostracised from her family and her father had “turned me out” because of her involvement in the Rising and had also disenfranchised her from his will.

She wrote that she was struggling to make a living and was prepared to emigrate to London in a few weeks unless she received a pension.

She was eventually awarded a pension of £90 a year which she protested was half that given to the widows of the other leaders of the Rising. It prompted a response from the board that the £90 was the maximum allowable to the widow of an officer.

She expressed dissatisfaction that her pension was less than that received by the children of Arthur Griffith. She added that her husband would havebeen president or minister had he not been executed and the pension she was receiving was “an insult to the seven signatories” which included her husband.

Eventually her pension was upped to £180 a year and in 1937 to £500, a considerable sum at the time.

When she applied for a pension in her own right in 1942, she claimed to have done so on the basis that she had nine dependents though she never remarried or had children.

The board found that she was already in receipt of a considerable state pension. “She realises that she has no claim and states that the only reason she put in a claim under the Act was that she had been induced by a Mrs McNamara to do so,” it concluded.

“She knows that as a recipient of such a large pension she would not be entitled to a second pension from public funds.”

Grace Plunkett died in 1955. She was the subject of the ballad Grace which became a huge hit for Jim McCann in 1986. It spent 33 weeks on the Irish charts.