Down the Rabbit Hole


Ever just let your mind wander down a rabbit hole?

Last week, on Spring Break and slowed down by a bad cold, I let myself do just that, following whatever random trails my imagination opened to me, a kind of un-schooling for grownups.

It started with a song that was lodged pleasantly in my head, a song called Grace which I first heard on my Irish Tenors tape. The lines

Oh Grace, just hold me in your arms and let this moment linger

They’ll take me out at dawn and I will die…

always ripped my heart out, even though I had no idea what the song was about or whether it was based on fact or fiction.  My Irish friend, Stan Heary, told me recently there was a new Rod Stewart version of Grace and I should hear it. It even told the back-story of the song.

Rod Stewart? He’s not even Irish!

But since Stan recommended it, it had to be okay, so I sat there like an Irish couch potato and clicked You-Tube, searching for “Grace, Rod Stewart.”

Within moments of the video starting, I was a sobbing mess, melted into a puddle of surprisingly strong emotion. The song itself is enough of a tear-jerker, but from Rod I learned for the first time the tragic story behind it:

In 1916 there was an uprising in Dublin.  The Irish Republican Brotherhood attempted to throw off the British occupation under which they suffered for 700 years. At first triumphant, the Rising failed when the British brought in thousands of troops to crush the rebellion. Ringleaders were rounded up, charged with treason and sentenced to death.


One of those arrested and charged was 28-year-old Joseph Plunkett who was engaged to be married to his childhood sweetheart, Grace Gifford.  A few hours before his execution, Joseph and Grace were married in the chapel of Kilmainham Jail in the presence of two armed guards. The wedding took 15 minutes. Grace lived until 1955 and never re-married.

When I could compose myself, I researched a line of the song that I always found both exquisite and mysterious:

I loved so much that I could see His blood upon the rose.

A brief search led me to the delightful discovery that Joseph Plunkett was a poet as well as a revolutionary. In his short life he wrote 58 poems, many of them mystical and expressive of his love for Jesus. One such poem begins:

I see His blood upon the rose

And in the stars the glory of his eyes…

My own Irish ancestors came out to New Zealand in the 1800s, leaving behind siblings, nieces and nephews who stayed in Ireland through “the troubles” and were there during the 1916 Rising. I couldn’t help wondering, what were their thoughts? What were they feeling? Were they involved?

I followed my mind’s trail down a rabbit hole that had actual Rabbits in it. Rabbit was the maiden name of my grandmother and on a marvelous website called I read some amazing stories, like the one about a teenage boy, Johnny Holland, who pretended to be asleep while the Black and Tans searched his home in the middle of the night for rebels on the run. Unknown to the soldiers, Johnny was hiding the gun of his brother-in-law under his nightshirt. Other relatives’ homes, known to be “safe houses,” were regularly raided by the Royal Irish Constabulary.


My favorite Irish relative is my Great-uncle Thaddeus Rabbit. “Thaddy” joined the monks, became a Cistercian brother and later a priest, taking the religious name Brother Paul, then Father Paul. In April of 1916, Father Paul wrote a six-page sermon on the Uprising.

Great-uncle Thaddeus Rabbit

Of the dead, he wrote:

…all were killed with the love of God and of the Green Isle that bore them…they met their death in an ecstasy of love for Ireland—their souls went forth in Ireland’s sacred cause, and all the glory that this world can offer is unworthy to be compared with that fame and love in which their memories will be enshrined…

In my wanderings I’d traveled from a song to a poem to a sermon within a website, all of them profoundly interconnected. Drained by spasms of historic grief, I had to wonder what it all meant.  For what reason had I come down this particular Rabbit hole at this particular time?

I’m told that this physical world intersects with the world of spirit and that angels and ancestors live amongst us to guide and protect, inspire and empower. I’d like to think that my ancestral spirit guides have a message for me that they hope I will take to heart. It goes something like this:

“You have the blood of rebels in your veins. Fight the good fight and keep the faith. We have your back.”

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