Eoghan Plunkett is Republican royalty, if one can forgive the obvious contradiction in terms.
His uncle was Joseph Mary Plunkett, a signatory of the Proclamation, executed for his part in the Rising; his grandfather was Count [George Noble] Plunkett, whose byelection victory for Sinn Féin in Roscommon in 1917 was one of the most significant in Irish history.
Eoghan Plunkett’s father, also called George, was in the GPO in 1916 along with his brother Jack. At one stage all three Plunkett brothers, Joseph Mary, George and Jack, were sentenced to death for their part in the Rising, but only one execution was carried out.
There is a photograph of George and Jack in one of the newspapers from the time with “big broad grins on their faces” despite being sentenced to death. “How the hell can you smile like that?” asks Eoghan Plunkett.
The family carried on the republican tradition, taking the anti-Treaty side in the Civil War. The Plunketts are a storied family. An antecedent was Archbishop Oliver Plunkett. There was also a Protestant side to the family. Horace Plunkett was a founder of the co-operative movement.
Eoghan Plunkett is now 86 and in the TLC Citywest nursing home in Dublin. The revolutionary generation have all passed away, but many of their children are still alive. As part of the decade of centenaries, Nursing Homes Ireland (NHI), the representative body for nursing homes, asked for residents to come forward with their stories. Few are as compelling as Eoghan Plunkett's.
The former advertising executive and Labour Party backroom worker is not a historian, but he gives a human dimension to a generation who only exist as icons in the public imagination. "I have to explain to you that my mother knew Mick [Michael] Collins very well," he says. "He had an office in her flat and she despised him. He was a pup, a nasty piece of work."
One is not used to hearing a great Irishman described in such terms. “Whenever he came into their livingroom, the carpet on the livingroom floor was surrounded by a timber floor, but he walked on the timber part,” says Plunkett. “Why? Because it made more noise. That’s the sort of fellow that he was. She and he were both from west
; she recognised him for what he was.”
Surely Collins was one of the greatest Irishmen? Plunkett laughs. “Not in our eyes.”
There are pictures of the family sitting around the dinner table in the 1940s, the old count at the head of table with a flowing grey beard. George Noble Plunkett was made a papal count in 1884. He lived until he was 97, outliving most of his children.
Eoghan’s father, George, rarely spoke about Easter 1916. “He knew all he needed to know. He was more interested in what it meant than what happened.” What did it mean? “It meant that he was right.”
His family took the anti-Treaty side and his father did not like de Valera. “He was a pain in the arse. [My father] was put on the run by de Valera. As far as he was concerned, de Valera just fixed things for himself. He was a mé féiner. ”
George Oliver Plunkett was later involved in the IRA bombing campaign in Britain before the outbreak of the second World War in 1939. His son did not carry on the militant republican tradition and opposed the IRA during the Troubles.
The execution of his uncle Joseph Mary was “not a subject for conversation” in the family. “The one thing about Joseph Mary is that he was thoroughly admired by his family. People like my da and Jack adored him and put him on a pedestal, and that was long before he died.”
When asked how next year’s centenary of the Rising should be commemorated, Plunkett says the public should remember the honesty of those who fought. “Most of them were totally honest and decent.”
Plunkett’s father died in a riding accident in 1943. Plunkett was just 14. “I’m 86 now, and I still remember him. He was a very likeable character, happy and cheerful. When he went, it was like a big slap in the face.”