Michael Collins and Éamon de Valera are two of the most iconic figures in Irish history, both strongly commended in the country’s struggle for independence.
Many historically-minded people also stand firmly in either of the two camps—Collins or de Valera—that mark the opposition to the Anglo-Irish Treaty in 1921 (de Valera) or the pro-Treaty side of the Civil War (Collins).
However, Eoghan Plunkett, a nephew of 1916 Easter Rising leader Joseph Mary Plunkett, describes one as a “pup” and "a nasty piece of work," and the other as a “pain in the arse” and a “me-Féiner” (a play on “Sinn Féin” meaning “ourselves,” “mé-Féin” is the Irish for “myself,” implying that de Valera only looked after himself).
In 2016, 86-year-old Eoghan Plunkett, then a resident of TLC Citywest nursing home in Dublin, was the living legacy of one of Ireland’s most revolutionary families. His uncle Joseph Mary Plunkett, one of the leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising and a signatory of the Proclamation of Independence, was famously executed for his role in the 1916 Rising in Kilmainham Gaol just hours after marrying his sweetheart Grace Gifford in the prison’s chapel.
Eoghan’s own father George Plunkett was also sentenced to death for his participation in the Rising, as was his other uncle Jack. In the end, they were not executed and his father and uncle Jack were to later become important IRA men, taking the anti-Treaty side during the Civil War.
Eoghan told the Irish Times in 2016 that there was a photo of the pair in one of the newspapers not long after they had both been sentenced to death for taking part in the Rising. In the photograph, the two men are standing with “big broad grins on their faces.” “How the hell can you smile like that?” Eoghan questioned.
Eoghan’s grandfather, Count George Noble Plunkett, was also a significant Irish figure, winning a by-election for Sinn Féin in Roscommon in 1917, and other family members included Archbishop Oliver Plunkett and Horace Plunkett, a Protestant and Unionist who worked at reconciling Unionists and Nationalists.
With the 1916 centenary approaching, Nursing Home Ireland (NHI) sought residents who had lived through the Rising and its aftermath and could give first-hand evidence and insight into the political and social scene in Ireland a hundred years ago. Few had as great insight as Eoghan Plunkett.
As a member of one of Ireland’s notable revolutionary families, Eoghan had personal experiences of family members dealing with some of Ireland’s greatest historical figures.
Despite his father’s alliance with the anti-Treaty side during the Civil War, the anti-Treaty leader de Valera was not held in very high regard in the Plunkett household.
“He was a pain in the arse,” Eoghan says. “[My father] was put on the run by de Valera. As far as he was concerned, de Valera just fixed things for himself. He was a mé féiner. ”
There was little talk of the events that preceded the Civil War from his father and Joseph Plunkett and the events of the Rising were not discussed at great length among the family. “He knew all he needed to know,” Eoghan said of his father. “He was more interested in what it meant than what happened.”
“The one thing about Joseph Mary is that he was thoroughly admired by his family. People like my Da and Jack adored him and put him on a pedestal, and that was long before he died.”
Eoghan’s mother was also in contact with the other side of the Treaty conflict and his stories of the “The Big Fellow,” while slightly tarnishing the hero image of Collins, give his life a beautifully human context.
Eoghan, a former advertising executive and Labour Party backroom worker, says, “I have to explain to you that my mother knew Mick [Michael] Collins very well. He had an office in her flat and she despised him. He was a pup, a nasty piece of work.”
He continued: “Whenever he came into their living room, the carpet on the living room floor was surrounded by a timber floor, but he walked on the timber part. Why? Because it made more noise. That’s the sort of fellow that he was. She and he were both from west Cork; she recognized him for what he was.”
When asked by the Irish Times if he thought Collins was one of Ireland’s greatest men, Plunkett replied: “Not in our eyes.”
Despite his family’s involvement in the Rising and in its aftermath, and his father’s involvement in the bombing campaign in England up until the Second World War began in 1939, Eoghan did not follow in his footsteps and opposed the IRA throughout the Troubles.
He still feels that those lost in the Rising should be remembered, however. “Most of them were totally honest and decent,” he concludes.
H/T: The Irish Times.
*Originally published in 2016. Updated August 2021.
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