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A blog about the recent history of Ireland, with a focus on the revolutionary period of the 20th century, including the Easter Rising, the War of Independence and the Civil War.
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Count Plunkett: scholar, failed politician, rebel emissary to the pope

Posted March 24th, 2017 at 04:30 PM by Ascendant

Quote:
“It is a true fact that the greatest swordsman in Italy would not fear the second greatest but would fear the worst, for that one would be unpredictable” – The Masque of Red Death (1964)
Plunkett’s Rising: Count Plunkett and His Family on the Road to Revolution, 1913-7 (Part I)

On Easter Monday, 1916, Count Plunkett dropped by the office of Archbishop Walsh of Dublin, and explained to the secretary there that he had just returned from Rome, having met the Pope and reassured him about the forthcoming rebellion.

When told about this, the Archbishop did not initially take the Count too seriously, regarding him “as a simple soul and [he] could not conceive a man like him being at the head of a revolution.” In truth, however, there was more to the elderly scholar, ardent Parnellite and three-time electoral candidate than meets the eye...

Click the image to open in full size.

(Count Plunkett and his family)

Born in 1851 as a privileged scion of an illustrious name (the 17th century St. Oliver Plunkett was an ancestor), George Noble Plunkett established himself as a scholar and poet of note, as well as a fledgling politician. Despite originally being rejected by the Irish Party, he stood by Charles Stewart Parnell during the Divorce Crisis of 1890, later standing as a candidate for seats in Mid-Tyrone and twice in Dublin.

In Tyrone, he was attacked by a rival Nationalist mob while out canvassing. Punched in the mouth and bleeding heavily, he made it back to his wagon and escape amidst a hail of stones. While unsuccessful on all occasions, there was no doubting Plunkett's courage.

He was made a Papal Count by the Vatican for his generosity in funding a convent in Rome. Despite this award, and being regarded as “one of those trusted Catholic laymen who represented the best and most orthodox Catholic feeling of Dublin”, he was not above advising John Redmond to “neither fear nor despise the clergy," and to be subtle in dealing with power-brokering clerics.

He played a small role in the Easter Rising, in which all three of his sons, including Joseph Mary Plunkett, played a part. He was sent by Joseph on behalf of the Irish Volunteers to Rome to ensue that Pope Benedict XV did not condemn the rebels. According to the Count:

Quote:
For nigh on two hours we discussed freely the question of the coming struggle for Irish independence. The Pope was much moved when I disclosed the fact that the date for the Rising was fixed and the reason for that decision. Finally, I stated that the Volunteer Executive pledged the Republic to fidelity to the Holy See and the interests of religion. Then the Pope conferred His Apostolic Benediction on the men who were facing death for Ireland’s liberty.
A somewhat different second-hand account portrays the Pope as being distinctly less willing to commit himself:

Quote:
The Pope showed great perturbation and asked was there no peaceful way out of the difficulty…Count Plunkett answered every question, making it plain that it was the will of the leaders of the movement to act entirely with the good-will or approval – I forget which now – of the Pope and to give an assurance that they wished to act as Catholics. It was for that reason they came to inform his Holiness. All the Pope could do was express his profound anxiety.
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(Pope Benedict XV)

One consistent detail in the different versions is how Count Plunkett informed the Pope that the date of the uprising was fixed, leaving the latter with no chance at dissuasion. It was the same Machiavellian deference he would apply when dropping in to see Archbishop Walsh. The Count may have been a pious man of a lofty intellect and cultured tastes, but he was also capable of low cunning when it was called for.
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