Helen Ruth (‘Nellie’) Gifford Donnelly

(09/11/1880 - 23/06/1971)

Nellie was a sister of Grace Gifford who married Joseph Plunkett before he was executed for his role in the 1916 rising. Nellie lived in Larkfield House (located where Supervalu is now) on Sundrive Road, which was owned by Grace after her husband was executed.

Nellie Gifford Donnelly (1880-1971) was an Irish republican activist and nationalist. She was born in Phibsborough, Dublin, as the fifth child and second eldest daughter of Frederick Gifford, a solicitor, and Isabella Julia Gifford, a Protestant from a large family. Nellie, along with her five sisters, was raised in the Church of Ireland, while her six brothers were unionists who emigrated.

Growing up in Rathmines, Nellie attended Alexandra College and later trained as a domestic economy teacher. She worked in various positions in County Meath, where she witnessed the plight of the rural poor and became an enthusiastic supporter of the land agitator and nationalist MP Laurence Ginnell.

Nellie’s sisters, particularly Grace and Sydney, were prominent in nationalist politics, and she too became involved with the Irish Women’s Franchise League and was part of Countess Constance Markievicz’s circle. She also participated in stage plays and played a pivotal role during the 1913 Dublin lockout when she assisted James Larkin in addressing a crowd in disguise, triggering the “Bloody Sunday” police baton charge.

Nellie was a founding member of the Irish Citizen Army (ICA) and gave lessons on camp cookery in Liberty Hall. She introduced Michael Collins to her future brother-in-law Joseph Plunkett. During the 1916 Easter Rising, she served with the ICA’s St Stephen’s Green contingent, managing provisions and supplies for the garrison.

Nellie was one of the few women arrested at the surrender and jailed in Kilmainham Gaol. Following her release, she travelled to the US, where she married Joseph Donnelly in 1918. Later, she returned to Ireland with their daughter Maeve in 1921.

After her father’s death, Nellie received an inheritance of £800 but still faced financial challenges. She worked as a broadcaster and journalist for national radio and the Irish press. She remained a staunch Protestant, unlike her sisters who converted to Catholicism.

Nellie was dedicated to preserving the historical record of the independence movement. She campaigned for a permanent exhibition of recent Irish nationalist history and amassed a substantial collection of material relevant to nationalist organisations, the Easter Rising, and the war of independence. She was actively involved in various historical and cultural societies and cared for stray animals.

Nellie Gifford Donnelly passed away on June 23, 1971, in Dublin, leaving behind a legacy of dedication to the Irish nationalist cause and historical preservation.

Person Photo
Connection with area: Republican activist who lived with Plunkett family, Larkfield, Sundrive Road.