The 1916 Series: Joseph Mary Plunkett's Dunsany connections
Joseph Mary Plunkett, one of the seven signatories of the 1916 Proclamation, had connections with Dunsany parish and the Killeen area, where his grandfather, Patrick Plunkett was born.
His sister, Geraldine Plunkett Dillon, recorded the family history in a memoir ‘All in the Blood’, edited by her granddaughter, Honor O Brolchain. Geraldine wrote that Pat Plunkett was born in 1817 on a farm which he described as adjoining the demesne wall of Killeen, the castle of the Earls of Fingall.
His father, Walter, was educated at the end of the 18th century when education in Ireland was prohibited for Catholics, and it was also illegal for the to send their children abroad for it. However, many Catholic households like the Plunketts at Killeen secretly employed teachers who came to the house for weeks or months and taught not only the family but also children from the surrounding area.
Geraldine wrote: “My grandfather’s family were farmers and had lived alongside their Fingall relations for generations, but this relationship was not considered by Grandpa to mean that he himself was an aristocrat; it was not a very grand thing to be related to an impecunious Catholic peer. He was prouder of the fact that he was a lineal descendant of the brother of Archbishop Oliver Plunkett who, only four generations before, had been executed at Tyburn.
“Walter Plunkett was not on close terms with his Fingall cousin and he had no lease on the land he farmed. The deer from the demesne, particularly one great stag, used to break out onto his farm and damage his crops. As a boy, my grandfather Pat resent this deeply and decided to lie in wait for the stag by a gap in the hedge. When the stag came at last he jumped for its throat with his knife but the stag knocked him down with a sweep of its antlers and gored him on the temple. The mark was on his temple until he died in 1918. Walter died in 1844 and was buried at the foot of the Fingall vault in Killeen where his father George (1750-1824) also lay.
When the potato crop failed in 1845 and 1846, Pat and his 12 brothers and one sister abandoned the farm. Pat moved to Dublin and worked in one of the shops on O’Connell Street where Clery’s now stands, and in the space of a year had married, Elizabeth (Bess) Noble. Her father, John Noble, was a leather merchant of Italian (and possibly Jewish) extraction who had moved to Dublin. Pat and Bess Plunkett travelled in Europe after their marriage, stopping in Paris to collect a Freres Raingo clock and matching candlesticks which had been made for them. On their return they ran the shop, which was immensely successful, together, and by the following year the name had been changed to Patrick Plunkett, Irish, English and French Leather Merchant and Post Office Receiver.
They had three children: John, who died in infancy, Mary Jane, who lived until she was 15, and Joseph Mary Plunkett’s father, George, who was born on 3rd December 1851 and, using both his parents’ names, was called George Noble Plunkett.
Pat Plunkett went into the building business in the 1850s, initially using his wife’s money and, as he prospered, using his own. He already had some yards and warehouses in the Werburgh Street area and he how bought a plot in Rathmines on what was to become Belgrave Road. Bathrooms were just becoming fashionable and he thought he was being very progressive in leaving space for them in the houses, but he didn’t go to the extreme of actually installing them; after all, they might have just been a passing fad!
He and Bess kept on the shop in Aungier Street but moved house, first to Upper Mount Pleasant Avenue while he and his in-law, Patrick Cranny, completed the building of Belgrave Road, then to No 3 Belgrave Road, in 1861. At this stage Pat Plunkett was building more houses on Belgrave Square and beginning the development of Palmerstown Road.
He took contracts for all kind of building work, including the lowering of the whole ground floor of Arnott’s in Henry Street by two feet in one night in order not to disrupt business. He built on Cowper Road, Palmerston Park, Windsor Road, Ormond Road and Killeen Road - these last in 1900, when he was aged 83. He named Killeen after home in County Meath, Geraldine Plunkett wrote. Pat Plunkett died in 1918, aged 101.
Geraldine and Tommy Dillon were married on Easter Sunday 1916. It was to have been a joint wedding with Joe Plunkett and Grace Gifford, but that wedding was postponed because of the Rising. It was later made famous in the song, ‘Grace’, written by Frank and Sean O’Meara, and sung by Jim McCann, and now re-recorded for by Coronas’ frontman Danny O’Reilly, his sister Róisín and their cousin, Aoife Scott, within the walls of Kilmainham Gaol for RTÉ’s 1916 Centenary events.
Joe Plunkett became friendly with the 1916 leaders through his fellow poet, Tomas McDonagh. His father, George Noble Plunkett became a Papal Count as a result of help he gave accommodating an order of nuns in Nottingham, and was a member of the first Dail Eireann in 1919.
Further reading: ‘All in the Blood - A family memoir of the Easter Rising and the War of Independence’, by Geraldine Plunkett Dillon, edited by Honor O Brolchain, published by A&A Farmar.