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Home - Spying - The 1916 Easter Uprising - Joseph Plunkett

Introduction

The trial of Joseph Plunkett took place on 3 May 1916. The trial followed Plunkett’s detention after the Easter Rebellion, which started on Easter Monday 24 April 1916. The suppression of the rebellion was completed on 29 April 1916. The Field General Court Martial was convened by General Sir John Maxwell, commander-in-chief of the British forces in Ireland, on 2 May 1916. The trial was conducted in camera.

In a memorandum sent by General Sir John Maxwell to the then British Prime Minister, Herbet Asquith, the following description was provided for Joseph Plunkett:

This man was also a signatory to the Declaration of Irish Independence. He was a member of the Central Council of the Sinn Fein Volunteers and took part in their meetings and parades. His residence was a training ground and arsenal for the rebels. This man, being of good education, exercised great influence for evil over the other members. He took an active part in the fighting in and around the GPO where the British troops suffered severely. He held the rank of Captain.

The following notes were taken from the PRO document WO 71/349.

Court Members

The court consisted of three members: Colonel E.W.S.K. Maconchy, CB, CIE, DSO (President), Lieutenant-Colonel A.M. Bent, CMG, 2/Royal Munster Fusiliers and Major F.W. Woodward, DSO, Loyal North Lancs. Regiment.

The Charge

Joseph Plunkett was charged with the following offence:

Did an act to wit did take part in an armed rebellion and in the waging of war against His Majesty the King such act being of such a nature as to be calculated to be prejudicial to the Defence of the Realm and being done with the intention and for the purpose of assisting the enemy.

Joseph Plunkett pleaded not guilty to this charge.

1st Witness

Major Philip Holmes, 5th (attached 3rd) Battalion, Royal Irish Regiment, states after being sworn:

I identify the prisoner as a man who was one of the leaders of a large company of Sinn Feiners who surrendered on the evening of 29 April 1916. They surrendered at the northern end of Sackville Street in the area to which the Sinn Feiners who had been in the Post Office for several day had retired when the Post Office was burnt. The Sinn Feiners in the Post Office had been firing on the troops for several days & killed & wounded a number of soldiers. He was dressed in the green uniform he is now wearing with a Captain’s badge of rank on his sleeves when he surrender. The party at the head of which he surrendered was armed.

2nd Witness

Sergeant John Bruton, Dublin Metropolitan Police states:

I know the prisoner Joseph Plunkett. The headquarters of the Irish Volunteer movement was at No. 2 Dawson Street. I have seen him on two occasions entering & leaving No. 2 Dawson Street dressed, as well as I could see, in the uniform of the Irish Volunteers on at least one occasion. His name appears on the Proclamation issued by the Irish Volunteers & I believe him to be a member of the Executive Council.

cross-examined by the prisoner:

How do you know the Proclamation was issued by the Irish Volunteers?

Answer:

I know that the names of the men which appear at the foot of the Proclamation are connected with the Irish Volunteers. They include P.H. Pearse, Edward Kent, Thomas MacDonagh and John MacDermott who are members of the council of the Irish Volunteers & who constantly attended meetings at No. 2 Dawson Street.

3rd Witness

Lieutenant-Colonel H.S. Hodgkin, DSO, 6th Sherwood Foresters states:

I saw the prisoner when he surrendered on the 29 April. He was wearing a sword & pistol.

Defence

In his defence the prisoner states:

I have nothing to say in my defence but desire to state that the proclamation referred to in Sergeant Bruton’s evidence is signed by persons who are not connected with the Irish Volunteers and the Proclamation was not issued by the Irish Volunteers.

Outcome

Joseph Plunkett was found guilty and sentenced to death with no recommendation for mercy. The finding of the court-martial was promulgated to Joseph Plunkett later in the day.

The Marriage

At about 5pm on Wednesday 3 May 1916, a young lady drove up to a jeweller's shop in Grafton Street. The jeweller had put his stock away for the night, and was about to shut the shop. The lady asked for any kind of wedding ring. The jeweller went over his stock, and gave the lady a ring.

At 1.30am on 4 May 1916, Grace Gifford was led into the small chapel of Kilmainham Jail and stood waiting until the handcuffed Josef Plunkett was brought in, and led up the aisle to stand beside her at the chapel's altar. As there was no electricity available, the marriage ceremony was conducted by Reverend Eugene MacCarthy, using candles for light. Twenty British soldiers, with fixed bayonets, lined the walls of the chapel. Immediately after the conclusion of the ceremony Joseph Plunkett was taken away.

Before Plunkett's execution by firing squad, Grace was allowed to see him for a further ten minutes. During this time, 15 soldiers stood guard in the cell, and the duration of the meeting was timed by a soldier with a watch.

In the Irish Times of Friday 5 May 1916, there appeared the following marriage notice:

PLUNKETT and GIFFORD - May 3, 1916, at Dublin, Joseph Plunkett to Grace Gifford.

One hour after this last meeting, Joseph Plunkett, together with Edward Daly, Michael O'Hanrahan and William Pearse were executed by firing squad in the high-walled, former stonebreakers’ yard at Kilmainham Jail.

Grace Gifford was the sister of Thomas Macdonagh's wife. He was also executed by firing squad at Kilmainham, for his part in the rebellion.

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