Music Makers: Joseph Plunkett and the Irish Easter Rising

“We are the music makers, and we are the dreamers of dreams.”

When Arthur O’Shaughnessy wrote his famous ode to the power of the poet’s imagination in 1873, he had no inkling how prophetic those words would prove. A poet’s imagination and dreams molded and fired the Easter Rising of 1916—the final catalyst of Irish independence, after four centuries of British oppression. That poet was Joseph Mary Plunkett, and 1916 was his last year on earth.

irisheasterrisingbHe was twenty-eight. Plunkett was dying of tuberculosis, the disease that had stalked him since boyhood. He was a gentle soul. You only had to read his mystical gem of a poem, “I See His Blood Upon the Rose,” to know he valued the sublime above all else. You needed one look at his frail, bespectacled, Sunday-school face to know this was the last person in the world who’d even think about taking up arms against the sitting government.

At Easter time in the year of our Lord 1916, he did just that.

Joseph Plunkett didn’t play a mere bit part in the rebellion, either. He was one of its central architects. Plunkett made a secret trip to wartime Germany, Imperial Britain’s nemesis, to negotiate for assistance. He organized a military training camp for the Irish rebel forces—an accomplishment which brought his fellow revolutionaries great pride, since it was (in their words) Ireland’s first standing army in several hundred years. And when the time came for battle, Plunkett was right on the front lines—although he’d just had a serious operation to slow the inexorable progress of his tuberculosis.

The rebellion failed.


Joseph Mary Plunkett was among the fifteen Irish heroes shot to death by British firing squads in Dublin’s Kilmainham Jail. And, as if his entire life wasn’t enough proof, Plunkett cemented his reputation as an incurable romantic by marrying his sweetheart, Grace Gifford, just hours before facing the bullets.

Did he die in vain? No. The brief blaze of glory of the Irish Easter Rising sparked massive resistance all over the country, culminating in Great Britain being forced to recognize the free Republic of Ireland in 1922. And our gentle poet and his lovely bride have remained one of its most enduring symbols, even to this day. No one has forgotten Joseph Plunkett. No one ever will.

What was it O’Shaughnessy said? “World-losers and world-forsakers, on whom the pale moon gleams… yet we are the movers and shakers of the whole world forever, it seems.”


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jessica Prescott is a former homeschool student and current graduate student, pursuing a master’s degree in American history with a focus on immigration studies.  In her (sadly limited) free time, she can usually be found listening to “Hamilton” or Celine Dion or Twenty One Pilots and dreaming up new ideas for historical fiction novels.  Which, she hopes, will someday make her famous.  Someday… She also blogs.

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