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Sunday, 15 July 2012

15 July 1927: The death of Constance Constance Georgine Markievicz, (Countess Markievicz).

Countess Constance Georgina Markievicz wasborn at 7 Buckingham Gate, London, on 4 February 1868. Her father, the philanthropist Henry Gore-Booth, was also an Arctic explorer and a landlord in the west of Ireland. Constance was educated by a governess at Lissadell, Co. Sligo where the family held extensive estates. In the monarch jubilee year of 1887 she was presented at court to Queen Victoria and was called ‘the new Irish beauty’, and took her place in society as a member of the Anglo-Irish aristocracy. She was also noted as a fine horsewoman, and as an excellent shot. William Butler Yeats was a frequent guest at Lissadell.

 After listening to his stories of Irish myths and folklore and to his passionate political ideas, she was stirred to action. At that time women were not allowed to vote in elections or to become Members of Parliament. Markievicz decided to join the suffragettes who were fighting for women’s rights. Around this time she joined the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies, a cause she was to remain devoted to throughout her life.

In 1893 she moved to London to study at the Slade School of Art in London. In 1898 she moved to Paris where she continued to study art at the Julian School. While there she met and later married fellow artist and Count Casimir Dunin-Markievicz. The Polish widower’s family owned a large estate in Ukraine. In Dublin in 1903 began to make a name for herself as a landscape artist. She was attracted to the Gaelic League and the Abbey Theatre. She helped to found the United Arts Club in 1907, which helped bring together people of the artistic renaissance. 

Markievicz became active in nationalist politics and her aim was to make Ireland an independent nation. In 1908 she joined Sinn Féin and Maud Gonne’s women group, Inghinidhe na hÉireann (Daughters of Ireland).  She founded Na Fianna Éireann (1909), an organisation for boys, who were taught to drill and use arms. The movement aimed to establish an independent Ireland and also to promote the Irish language.

In 1911 Markievicz was arrested when she took part in a demonstration against the visit of King George V to Ireland. She worked closely with James Connolly who fought for Irish nationalism and social equality. She ran a soup kitchen in Liberty Hall during the 1913 Dublin lockout. Markievicz then joined the Irish Citizens Army. During the 1916 Rising Markievicz was appointed second in command to Michael Mallin at St. Stephen’s Green. Although condemned to death when the rising was crushed, she had her sentence commuted to penal servitude for life (on account of her sex) and was imprisoned in Aylesbury Jail. Under the general amnesty of 1917, Markievicz was released and immediately became a convert to Catholicism—she claimed to have experienced an epiphany during the rising. 

In 1918 she was again arrested by the British during their bogus ‘German Plot’, which was aimed at defeating the anti-conscription forces in Ireland. While in prison, she was returned in the general election of December 1918 for St. Patrick’s division of Dublin. Markievicz became the first woman to be elected to the British Parliament, but in accordance with Sinn Féin policy she did not take her seat. She refused to take the oath of allegiance to the King.
She was a member of the first Dáil Éireann, which met on the 21 January 1919, and was appointed Minister for Labour. She was arrested in the summer of 1919 for making a seditious speech, and was sentenced to four months’ hard labour. After being arrested again in 1920 she received a sentence of two years’ hard labour.

She denounced the Anglo-Irish treaty of 1921, which established the Irish Free State within the British Commonwealth, in the Dáil after being released from prison early under the general amnesty that followed its signing. She toured America in 1922 to enlist support for the Republican cause. She stated:

‘It is the capitalist interests in England and Ireland that are pushing this Treaty to block the march of the working people in England and Ireland ... Now I say that Ireland’s freedom is worth blood, and worth my blood, and I will willingly give it for it, and I appeal to the men of the Dáil to stand true’.

She was also leader of Cumann na mBan. An opponent of the Irish Free State, she supported the ‘Irregulars’ during the Civil War, for which she was imprisoned. She was released soon after she went on hunger strike in protest. In the general election of 1923 she was elected as Sinn Féin abstentionist TD for Dublin City South. When de Valera formed Fianna Fáil in 1926 Markievicz became a member. During the general election of 1927 she conducted her own campaign and was re-elected to the Dáil. For some years her health was failing, and she died in a public ward in Sir Patrick Dun’s Hospital, Dublin on 15 July 1927. 

The working-class people of Dublin lined the streets of Dublin for her funeral. Eamonn de Valera was one of the pall-bearers. She is commemorated by a limestone bust in St. Stephen’s Green, by a plaque in St. Ultan’s Hospital and by the Yeats’s poem ‘In memory of Eva Gore-Booth and Constance Markievicz’. She is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery, Co. Dublin.