Martin Donaldson with A Celtic State of Mind – How Grace became a symbol of remembrance to the uprising

This week commemorated the anniversary of the beautiful, but heart-breaking story of the wedding between Joseph Mary Plunkett and Grace Gifford. The events of the Easter Rising in 1916 thrust Irish independence and freedom from British hands back in to the world’s focus. Even with the great war raging in mainland Europe, the quest for home rule brought bloodshed to the streets of Ireland and to Dublin in particular. The response from the British government was brutal and controversial, but not unexpected, as the main revolutionary leaders of the Irish rebel forces were executed in the aftermath of the uprising.

In the decades that followed the Easter Rising, balladeers retold the story of the critical events and leaders that shaped those initial steps towards an Irish Republic. In 1985, with the 70th anniversary of the Easter Rising on the horizon, brothers Sean and Frank O’Meara penned Grace, retelling the story of the celebration of the marriage of Joseph Plunkett to fiancée Grace Gifford in the chapel at Kilmainham Gaol, before Plunkett was executed early the next morning. This story and song is very much embedded in the hearts and minds of Irish men and women across the world and has been performed by all types of musicians to global acclaim.

Listen to KEVIN MILES with A Celtic State of Mind here:

The song itself was immediately celebrated by the Irish public with ex-Dubliner Jim McCann’s version spending 36 weeks in the Irish charts. The widespread Irish diaspora ensured the song became globally recognised as different generations of Irish people embraced the ballad in their adopted homeland.

In the early days of my brother George’s singing career, he would perform in a number of pubs in and round Glasgow singing Irish songs of love, hope and freedom. In 1989 he was asked to support Jim McCann at the City Halls in Glasgow, a real honour for George who was only 21 at the time. A number of family and friends, my mum included, attended the show supporting George in his first performance in a major venue.

With George able to relax after his performance, we sat back and enjoyed Jim McCann weave his magic through his back catalogue of Irish ballads, including Grace. This was the first time I had heard the song and you could immediately feel the depth of meaning in the song amongst the crowd in the City Halls.

During the centenary celebrations of the Easter Rising in 2016, Grace was proudly sung in schools and theatres from Dublin to Donegal and Skibereen to Sligo. In the 35 years that have passed since the song was first written, Grace has become a symbol of the romantic ideology in which Irish people remember the sacrifice of the leaders of the uprising.

Martin Donaldson

Watch JOHN YOGI HUGHES with A Celtic State of Mind:

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