Two Sisters; Grace and Muriel Gifford – Their Stories, Links with Greystones and Their Place in History

The script Barry Burke via Compfight

Introduction

The Irish Free State was an independent state established on 6th December 1922

under the Anglo Irish Treaty of December 1921. 

That treaty ended the Irish War of Independence

between the forces of the Irish Republic and the British forces. 

The Easter Rising in 1916 had not been popular with the public.

But the execution of the leaders, changed people’s minds

 

This is the story of two sisters, with links to Greystones,

who were close to those fighting for Irish freedom

in the lead up to the foundation of the Irish state. 

They were the Gifford Sisters; Muriel and Grace.

You can read about their stories below or download their stories here:

 Two Sisters; Their Story & Their Place in History 

 

What were the Gifford family links to Greystones?

1.They used to come to Greystones on holidays as children every summer. 

There they learned to swim.

While their father took to teaching the boys, 

their mother appointed a woman called Ellen, 

who ensured the girls, would all become strong swimmers.

 

2.Muriel and Thomas had married on January 31, 1912. 

There is a letter from Éamon De Valera addressed to Thomas Macdonagh 

at Annaville, Church Rd., Greystones,  dated 17th September 1915.

 

3. Among Thomas Macdonagh’s family papers there are photographs from 1915

of Thomas Macdonagh’s  wife Muriel swimming in the sea at Greystones

and ‘dipping’ her baby daughter Barbara in the water.

 

Muriel Gifford

Muriel was married to Thomas MacDonagh.

He was one of the leaders of the 1916 Rising.

Muriel and Thomas’ son, Donagh MacDonagh, was born on the 12th November, 1912.

Their daughter, Bairbre, was born nearly three years later on the 24th March, 1915.

Muriel didn’t know that her husband was involved in planning the 1916 Rising. 

Muriel last saw her husband on Easter Sunday 1916

He said:

‘I may or may not see you tomorrow – if possible, I will come in the morning.’

He did not say anything about the Revolution. She never saw him afterwards.

 

For his part in the Rising, Thomas MacDonagh was executed

in the Stonebreakers’ Yard in Kilmainham Jail. 

A British officer was reported to have said afterwards: 

‘They all died well, but MacDonagh died like a prince’.

 

Very tragically,  year later Muriel drowned accidentally on the beach at Skerries

For the rest of her daughter’s Bairbre’s life, she kept a little eau-de-cologne cardboard box.

Inside were the seashells she had collected with her mother in Skerries in 1917.

 

Grace Gifford

Joseph  Mary  Plunkett and Grace Gifford were to have a joint wedding

with his sister Geraldine Plunkett and her fiancé Tom Dillon, 

on Easter Sunday, April 24 1916.

Joseph Plunkett felt it would not be fair to go ahead with their wedding

as there were rumours of a possible rising.

So he postponed the wedding.

While Geraldine and Tom went ahead with their wedding,

he took part in the Rising.

 

Sentenced to death for his part in the Rising, 

Joseph Mary Plunkett and Grace Gifford were given permission to marry 

the night before his execution.

Grace said later 

“We, who never had enough time to say what we wanted to each other,

found that in that last ten minutes we couldn’t talk at all.”

 

This sad story was one of a number that changed public opinion and meant

there was increasing support for what had been an unpopular rising to begin with.

 

Many history books tell the story of 

Thomas MacDonagh and Joseph Mary Plunkett. 

We believe Muriel and Grace Gifford deserve their place in history too.

 

Kitty Kiernan and Sinéad De Valera found themselves involved

in the fight for Irish freedom through people in their lives.

Click on THIS link  to read their stories.

The Gifford Sisters; Muriel & Grace & their Connections with Greystones

We learned about the links between

Muriel and Grace Gifford and Greystones

from the book:

‘Unlikely Rebels – The Gifford Girls and the Fight for Irish Freedom’ 

by Anne Clare published by Mercier Press 2011

 

You can read about what we learned below

or download a powerpoint

about their connections with the town

where we go to school here:

Muriel& Grace Gifford; Their Connections with Greystones

What were the Gifford Sisters’ links with Greystones?

People standing on the beach in AstoriaCreative Commons License simpleinsomnia via Compfight

1. As children the Gifford family used to come to Greystones

on holidays every summer. 

There were twelve children in the family.

The Gifford children  learned to swim in Greystones.

While their father Frederick taught the boys,

their mother Isabella employed a woman called Ellen,

who made sure the girls, would be strong swimmers.

Creative Commons License Simon Greening via Compfight

On page 22 we read:

‘Frederick (their father) took an interest in gardening,

bringing some plants over from England.

One particular return from their two-month annual summer stay

in Greystones, County Wicklow,

was recalled by Nellie (their sister)

because on their arrival home

not only had the grass grown almost knee-high

but the plants her father had put down before leaving

were ‘climbing and sprawling’,

and, most curious of all, low-growing, very red apples were in fruit.

On biting the apples, the children discovered

they were a new ‘fruit’ which they had never encountered before

and which they were told were called tomatoes’

Vintage: Girls In White Dresses dvdflm via Compfight

2. Two sisters of Muriel and Grace; Nellie and  Ada

were bought  hats by their mother that they did not like.

On page 26 of ‘Unlikely Rebels’ it says:

‘The reluctant boater-wearers waited for their chance,

which came with the annual holiday in Greystones,

They walked down to the breakwater,

where the sea was deep,

and whirled the hated hats into the water,

as far as they could,

gleefully watching the little boats riding the waves

till they were so sopping with water that they sank.

They decided to accuse the blameless wind as the culprit

which had ‘unfortunately’ snatched their hats from them, elastic and all.’

Take your ghosts to the seaside (OvO) via Compfight

3. Their mother was called Isabella

and the family lived in Rathmines, in Dublin.

On page 43 of the book we read:

‘Sometimes Isabella’s concern was ‘keeping up with the Joneses’.

And such, in part at least, was the annual holiday in Greystones.

This was considered so socially necessary in Rathmines

that those who could not afford to go would

pull down their blinds as camouflage

and live in the back of the house during the Summer months.’

 

‘Greystones was largely owned by the Huguenot La Touche family

…Then a small fishing village, Greystones was slowly developing

after the opening of the railway line from Dublin in 1850.

There emerged a sort of unwritten law in Dublin

which observed geographical distributions of holiday areas

for Protestants, Catholics and Jews.

 

The Protestants gravitated towards Greystones,

partly because of the influence of the La Touche family

and partly also because Wicklow (the ‘Garden’  of Ireland)

was almost exclusively in the hands of Protestant landowners.

Greystones was, as it were, one of their marine suburbs’.

 

On page 44 ‘There is a description in sister Nellie’s memoirs

of their setting off for the yearly Greystones summer holiday

…seventeen people…Isabella’s ‘husband, her sons and the maids

stagger down the steps with huge baskets laden with crockery,

household utensils, clothes, bedding and food.

 

‘The maids hated the holidays and it is easy to see

that even the going and the coming back were heavy chores;

Nevertheless, their shrewd young charges noted that when

the coastguards started to call at the kitchen

in the rented house at Greystones, the extra drudgery was forgotten

as a bit of flirtation lightened the scene.’

 

On page 46 it says:  

‘Not the least of the Greystones delight for the children

were the establishments that hired out

horse-drawn vehicles by the hour, a half day or  a full day

…The favourite conveyance for the Gifford children however,

was a pony and trap which they were allowed to drive themselves.

The ‘pony’ could be either a donkey or a jennet,

and their favourite haunt was the Glen of the Downs’.

(A jennet is a female donkey.)

 

‘For the Gifford children, these holidays were times of freedom

and wandering over the countryside,

finding fraocháns and wild strawberries

in the fields about the house where they were staying,

picking blackberries to make jam

which was consumed while it was still warm,

getting up at dawn in the chill air to pick mushrooms

and then running back home to put them on the hob upside down,

with a knob of butter before eating them’.

(Fraocháns are bilberries).

 

‘There were days in the cove with Ellen,

days taking turns at driving the trap,

and days when they stood and listened

to the strange new music coming from America via England’.

 

According to the book ‘Unlikely Rebels’ by Anne Clare, Mercier Press 2011

these are links between the Gifford Sisters and Greystones.

Anne Clare based her book on the Gifford sisters on family papers

and a diary kept by Grace that was given to her.

 

Graphics: from Compfight.

Please note: These are not photos of Greystones or the Gifford sisters.

Information in this post from

‘Unlikely Rebels – The Gifford Girls and the Fight for Irish Freedom’

by Anne Clare, Mercier Press 2011

Dramatic Piece – Women of the Revolution

Mr. Dodd’s 6th class prepared this piece for the opening of the

La Touche Legacy ‘Festival of History,’ September 2017.

Opening Quote:

‘We are ready to fight for the Ireland we love

Be the chances great or small:

We are willing to die for the flag above

Be the chances nothing at all.’

A verse from ‘Easter 1916’ by Constance Markievicz published in the ‘Worker’s Republic’

on Easter Saturday, 22nd of April 1916.

This opening quote reflects the strength of character and conviction

that many women had at the time of rebellion.

This was the strength that led to the eventual foundation of the state and republic.

The role and strength of women during this era in our national history came from the unlikeliest of sources.

Today we will examine the lives of some of these women,

and the transition they mad to becoming inextricably linked to rebellion.

We will also look at the interesting connections they had with our local area here in Greystones.

The Memoir of Grace Gifford (imagined)

Oh how I love Greystones! Two months of merriment and fun to be filled picnics, swimming, long evening strolls in the sunshine, tennis parties, musical nights and numerous social gatherings. Our annual trip here brings us so much pleasure, even though there is always some arguing when the packing begins, (Mother can be such a strict taskmaster!), the familiarity of the Sugarloaf and Greystones harbour settles us all. I just cannot wait to begin sketching and painting.

The train is always so busy! We travelled through Blackrock, Kingstown, Dalkey and Killiney before finally reaching Bray, then on to Greystones.

Muriel and I become very excited when the train comes to a halt. We look forward with great intent to visiting the North and South Beaches. Finally!, our white-gabled house that overlooks the sea. It stands welcoming and proud on Marine Road.

Historical account of the life of Grace Gifford

Grace’s life was to take an extraordinary turn of events when she became involved in political issues.

She was raised through the Protestant faith and studied art in both Dublin and London. She became a caricaturist for the Irish Review, which was edited by Joseph Plunkett.

After Plunkett’s proposal of marriage to her in 1915, Grace was received into the Catholic Church. They planned to marry on Easter Sunday 1916. Plunkett was arrested, however, due to his involvement in the 1916 Rising.

On hearing the devastating news that her beloved was to be shot by firing squad in Kilmainham Gaol she managed to persuade the military authorities to allow them to marry.

On the 3rd of May, four hours before Joseph Plunkett was executed, the couple became husband and wife in the prison chapel.

Grace then devoted her life to political duties, and was elected to the Sinn Féin executive in 1917. She was arrested during the Civil War. Her artistic work continued to be published in various newspapers and magazines. She passed away in 1955 and was buried with full military honours.

Musical Piece: Song-Grace

The Memoir of Kitty Kiernan (imagined)

                                                                                                                        8th October 1921

Dear Diary,

It has been such a wonderful day. Michael brought me out to the beautiful Grand Hotel in Greystones, which is furnished in the most luxurious style. I could never have believed, growing up in Granard, Co. Longford, that I would ever visit such a splendid place in such a picturesque location.

Michael has expressed his true affections for me and has proposed marriage. I feel overwhelmed and truly excited. My mind is racing with thoughts of planning for such an occasion. Dresses and shoes, flowers and music …

Historical account of the life of Kitty Kiernan

Unfortunately, Kitty’s marriage to Michael Collins never took place. Due to the progression of the Civil War, the couple were delayed in setting a wedding date.

Michael was assassinated by the Anti-Treaty Irregular forces at Béal na mBláth, Co. Cork.

Kitty later married Felix Cronin, a general in the Irish army and had two sons.

Musical Piece: Song-Óró ‘Sé do bheatha abhaile

The Memoir of Sinéad de Valera

‘Is mise Sinéad Ní Fhlannagáin. Múinim Gaeilge le Conradh na Gaeilge i lár na cathrach. Bím an-ghnóthach na laethanta seo mar tá mé i mo bhall den eagraíocht ‘Inghinide na hÉireann le Maud Gonne. Tá dalta nua i mo rangsa. Éamon de Valera is ainm dó…'( í ag brionglóideach faoi).

Historical account of the life of Sinéad Ní Fhlannagáin

Sinéad Ní Fhlannagáin later married this student, Éamon de Valera in 1910. Together they had five sons and two daughters, Vivion, Éamon, Brian, Ruairí, Terence, Máirín and Emer.

Following the 1916 Rising, de Valera spent a long period of time in America raising support and funding for the cause back home. Sinéad remained in Greystones, living quietly with her children at Craig Liath, Kinlen Road in the Burnaby.

Michael Collins regularly travelled by bicycle to Greystones, avoiding detection from the British forces to bring Sinéad money and supplies.

Musical Piece: Tin Whistles-Fáinne Geal an Lae