seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA

Birth of Constance Georgine Gore-Booth (Countess Markievicz)

Leave a comment

countess-markieviczConstance Georgine Gore-Booth is born on February 4, 1868 at Buckingham Gate, London, the eldest daughter of Arctic explorer and philanthropist Sir Henry Gore-Booth and Georgina May Hill.

The Gore-Booths are known as model landlords in  County Sligo as they provide free food for the tenants on their estate. Perhaps being raised in this atmosphere of concern for the common man has something to do with the way Constance and her younger sister, Eva, conduct their later lives.

Gore-Booth decides to train as a painter and, in 1892, she enters the Slade School of Art in London because, at the time, only one art school in Dublin accepts female students. While in school in London Gore-Booth first becomes politically active and joins the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies.

She later moves to Paris and enrolls at the prestigious Académie Julian where she meets her future husband, Count Casimir Markievicz. They are married in London on September 29, 1900 making her Countess Markievicz. The Markieviczes relocate to Dublin in 1903 and move in artistic and literary circles, with Constance being instrumental in founding the United Artists Club.

In 1908, Markievicz becomes actively involved in nationalist politics in Ireland and joins Sinn Féin and Inghinidhe na hÉireann (Daughters of Ireland), a revolutionary women’s movement founded by Maud Gonne. In the same year, Markievicz plays a dramatic role in the women’s suffrage campaigners’ tactic of opposing Winston Churchill‘s election to Parliament during the Manchester North West by-election. Churchill ultimately loses the election to Conservative candidate William Joynson-Hicks.

In 1909, Markievicz founds Fianna Éireann, a para-military nationalist scouts organisation that instructs teenage boys and girls in the use of firearms. Patrick Pearse says that the creation of Fianna Éireann is as important as the creation of the Irish Volunteers in 1913. She is jailed for the first time in 1911 for speaking at an Irish Republican Brotherhood demonstration organised to protest against George V’s visit to Ireland.

Markievicz joins James Connolly‘s socialist Irish Citizen Army, a small volunteer force formed in response to the lock-out of 1913, to defend the demonstrating workers from the police. During the Howth gun-running on July 26, 1914, Irish Citizen Army members led by Markievicz, and including Thomas MacDonagh, Bulmer Hobson, Douglas Hyde and Darrell Figgis, unload arms from Erskine Childers‘ yacht Asgard in Howth harbour with hand carts and wheelbarrows.

As a member of the Irish Citizen Army, Markievicz takes part in the 1916 Easter Rising. Under Michael Mallin and Christopher Poole, she supervises the erection of barricades as the Rising begins and is in the middle of the fighting all around Stephen’s Green. Mallin and Poole and their men and women, including Markievicz, hold out for six days, ending the engagement when the British bring them a copy of Patrick Pearse’s surrender order.

They are taken to Dublin Castle and Markievicz is transported to Kilmainham Gaol, where she is the only one of 70 women prisoners who is put into solitary confinement. At her court martial on May 4, 1916, Markievicz is sentenced to death, but General Maxwell commutes this to life in prison on “account of the prisoner’s sex.” It is widely reported that she tells the court, “I do wish your lot had the decency to shoot me.” Markievicz is transferred to Mountjoy Prison and then to Aylesbury Prison in England in July 1916. She is released from prison in 1917, along with others involved in the Rising.

In the 1918 general election, Markievicz is elected for the constituency of Dublin St Patrick’s, making her the first woman elected to the British House of Commons. However, in line with Sinn Féin abstentionist policy, she does not take her seat in the House of Commons. She is re-elected to the Second Dáil in the elections of 1921. Markievicz serves as Minister for Labour from April 1919 to January 1922, holding cabinet rank from April to August 1919, becoming both the first Irish female Cabinet Minister and only the second female government minister in Europe.

Markievicz leaves government in January 1922 along with Éamon de Valera and others in opposition to the Anglo-Irish Treaty. She fights actively for the Republican cause in the Irish Civil War. She is returned in the 1923 general election for the Dublin South constituency but again, in common with other Republican candidates, she does not take her seat.

She joins Fianna Fáil on its foundation in 1926, chairing the inaugural meeting of the new party in La Scala Theatre. In the June 1927 general election, she is re-elected to the 5th Dáil as a candidate for the new Fianna Fáil party, which is pledged to return to Dáil Éireann.

Before she can take up her seat, Markievicz dies at the age of 59 on July 15, 1927, in a public ward “among the poor where she wanted to be” of complications related to appendicitis. One of the doctors attending her is her revolutionary colleague, Kathleen Lynn. Also at her bedside are Casimir and Stanislas Markievicz, Éamon de Valera, and Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington. Refused a state funeral by the Free State government, Markievicz is buried at Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin, and de Valera gives the funeral oration.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s