Gifford, Grace (Evelyn) (1888–1955), cartoonist and republican, was born 4 March 1888 at 8 Temple Villas, Palmerston Park, Rathmines, Dublin, one of twelve children of Frederick Gifford, a wealthy solicitor, and Isabella Gifford (née Burton), a niece of the artist Sir Frederic Burton (qv). She was a grand-niece of the cooperator John Scott Vandeleur (qv). With a catholic father and protestant mother, the Gifford girls were all brought up as protestants; however, by her own admission she was influenced by her catholic nursemaids. Eventually she and her sisters would reject the unionist beliefs of both parents and became republicans. Educated at Alexandra College, she was, like her elder brother Gabriel, artistic. Her sister Sydney (qv) subsequently recalled how their work attracted the attention of family friend John Butler Yeats (qv), who often visited their home. She initially studied at the Metropolitan School of Art and proved a successful student, winning two prizes in her first two years. Her teacher, William Orpen (qv), painted her portrait in 1907 as part of a study of ‘Young Ireland’. She subsequently went on to attend the Slade School of Fine Art in London (1907–8).
On her return to Dublin, Gifford became associated with George Russell (qv), and from 1908 Thomas MacDonagh (qv) and Patrick Pearse (qv), whom she met while visiting St Enda's school. In the period that followed she became increasingly involved in republican politics. She joined Inghinidhe na hÉireann and was among those whom Maud Gonne (qv) mobilised to give out free dinners to children at St Audeon's national school (1910), in an effort to force local authorities to accept responsibility for providing meals for poorer children. The following year she participated in the protests, led by Gonne, against a proposed ‘Loyal address from Dublin corporation to King George V’.
Maintaining her contacts with the Dublin art scene, she was a frequent visitor to the Dublin United Arts Club from its foundation (1907), and went on to contribute illustrations to various newspapers and journals, including the Irish Review (of which her future husband Joseph Plunkett (qv) was an editor), Irish Life, and the Shanachie. She also contributed to a suffrage monthly, the Irish Citizen (17 May, 14 June 1913), and produced artwork for the militant suffrage organisation, the Irish Women's Franchise League. She soon established a reputation for humorous depictions of Irish writers, artists, academics, and actors, among the most notable of these being Susan Mitchell (qv), John Pentland Mahaffy (qv), George Sigerson (qv), and George Moore (qv) (Irish Review, Sept.–Nov. 1914). Nevertheless, she found it difficult to make a living in Dublin. In a letter to theatre critic Joseph Holloway (qv) she mentioned her intentions to emigrate, adding ‘It's a terrible tragedy – I would rather be a servant in Ireland than a millionaire elsewhere.’
In December 1915 she became engaged to Joseph Plunkett who, like her sister Muriel's husband, Thomas MacDonagh, was a key organiser of the 1916 rising. Notice of their engagement appeared in Irish Life magazine (11 Feb. 1916). Some months after her engagement she converted to catholicism. Their original intention was to marry on Easter Sunday 1916, but preparations for the rising prevented this, and it was only after Plunkett 's arrest that they were married in Kilmainham jail on 4 May, within hours of his execution. In a subsequent newspaper interview, widely reported in the British press, her mother referred to her as a ‘very headstrong and self-willed girl’, and went on to cite Constance Markievicz (qv) as a bad influence on her daughters (Nell Gifford had fought with the Citizen Army at St Stephen's Green, and was afterwards imprisoned in Kilmainham jail). In the immediate aftermath of the rising she moved into the Plunkett family home at Larkfield, where, according to her sister-in-law Geraldine, she suffered a miscarriage. Her financial position remained precarious; however, she did receive a legacy of £500 on her father's death (1917).
Appointed to the Sinn Féin executive at its convention in October 1917, she had the least political experience of the executive's four women members, but used her skills as an artist to aid the nationalist cause, producing banners, posters, and the cover design for Chrissie Doyle's Women in ancient and modern Ireland (1917). One of her caricatures was distributed as a handbill by Irish Women Worker's Union members on May Day 1919. In that year she published her first book, a collection of caricatures of leading Irish personalities entitled To hold as ‘twere.
She opposed the treaty, and in an article entitled ‘White flags of 1916’, published in The Republic (March 1922), outlined her endorsement of the 1916 proclamation's conception of the republic as her reason for doing so. The following year, while participating in a demonstration with the Women's Prisoners Defence League, she was arrested and held without charge at Kilmainham jail, where she illustrated the wall of her cell with what became known as the ‘Kilmainham Madonna’. She was also imprisoned in the North Dublin Union.
Gifford's political activism largely ceased after the civil war. Initially troubled by difficulties in securing commissions, she took on commercial work and costume design for the Abbey Theatre from the 1920s. Nevertheless she continued to produce cartoons, publishing Twelve nights at the Abbey Theatre (1929) and Doctors recommend it: an Abbey Theatre tonic in twelve doses (1930). During the 1920s she also published some of her poetry in the Catholic Bulletin. The 1930s proved to be a more productive decade. Granted a civil list pension by the Fianna Fáil government in 1932, she became a member of the Old Dublin Society shortly after its foundation in 1934. She occasionally contributed to Dublin Opinion and Irish Tatler and Sketch, and in 1934 had a cartoon published in Punch. In that year she initiated legal proceedings against the Plunkett family for her husband's share in the estate of his predeceased uncle, J. J. Cranny. Embarrassed by the resulting newspaper coverage, the Plunkett family subsequently settled out of court, with Gifford receiving £700 plus legal costs.
Gifford's later years were dogged by poor health, which restricted her ability to work. She died 13 December 1955, in her flat in 52 South Richmond St., Dublin. Her sister-in-law described her as ‘a loner and often very difficult’. Her two posthumous portraits of her husband (1916, 1938) are in Áras an Uachtaráin, while her own portrait by Orpen is part of the NGI collection.