Remembering Constance Markievicz – Irish Revolutionaries
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Remembering Constance Markievicz

Remembering Constance Markievicz

Markievicz was the first woman ever elected to the British parliament (she refused to take her seat) and the first woman in the world to hold a ministerial position as Minister for Labour in the Irish Republic 1919 - 1922.

Markievicz was born Constance Georgine Gore-Booth at Buckingham Gate in London on February 4th 1868 the elder daughter to arctic explorer & adventurer Sir Henry Gore-Booth who was also a wealthy landowner.

In 1892 while studying at the Slade school of art in London she first became politically active, joining the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies (NUWSS).

Later she moved to Paris and enrolled at the prestigious Académie Julian where she met her future husband, Casimir Markievicz, an artist from a wealthy Polish family from Ukraine, they married in London on September 29th 1900.

The Markieviczes settled in Dublin in 1903 and moved in artistic and literary circles, with Constance gaining a reputation as a landscape painter and in 1905 she and other artists founded the United Arts Club which was a club for those interested in the Irish language and culture.

In 1906, Markievicz rented a cottage in the countryside near Dublin. The previous tenant, the poet Padraic Colum, had left behind copies of The Peasant and Sinn Féin. These revolutionary journals promoted independence from British rule. Markievicz read these publications and was propelled into action.

In 1908 Countess joined Sinn Fein & Inghinidhe na hÉireann ('Daughters of Ireland'), in 1909 she co-founded Fianna Eireann an Irish Republican scouting group and trained young boys in the use of firearms.

In 1911 she was jailed for the first time for speaking at an Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) demonstration attended by 30,000 people to protest against the visit of King George V.

Markievicz also joined James Connolly's socialist Irish Citizen Army (ICA), a small volunteer force formed in response to the lock-out of 1913, to defend the demonstrating workers from the police.

As a member of the ICA, Markievicz took part in the 1916 Easter Rising. She was deeply inspired by the founder of the ICA, James Connolly. Markievicz designed the Citizen Army uniform and composed its anthem, based on the tune of a Polish song.

During the rising, she fought in St Stephens Green which held out for six days, when the rising was over she was imprisoned in Kilmainham Gaol.

At her court martial she was sentenced to death, but this was commuted to a life sentence based solely on that she was a woman to which she said to her captors: "I do wish your lot had the decency to shoot me".

Markievicz was transferred to Mountjoy Prison and then to Aylesbury Prison in England in July 1916. She was released from prison in 1917, along with others involved in the Rising, as the government in London granted a general amnesty for those who had participated in it. It was around this time that Markievicz, born into the Church of Ireland, converted to Catholicism.

In 1918 she saw herself in prison again and while she was there she stood for election in December 1918, winning a seat for the constituency of Dublin St Patricks making her the first woman ever to be elected to the British parliament.

But like all Sinn Fein elected representatives they refused to take their seats in Westminster, instead forming their own parliament in Dublin which sat for the first time in January 1919.

Markievicz was in Holloway prison when her colleagues assembled in Dublin at the first meeting of the First Dáil, the Parliament of the revolutionary Irish Republic. When her name was called, she was described, like many of those elected, as being "imprisoned by the foreign enemy" (fé ghlas ag Gallaibh).

Markievicz served as Minister for Labour from April 1919 to January 1922, making her the first woman in the world to hold a ministerial position but resigned from Government in 1922 in opposition to the treaty.

She fought on the Republican side during the civil war which saw her elected as a TD in the 1923 elections, but she refused to take her seat in the now partitioned parliament in Leinster House.

In 1923 Markievicz found herself in Kilmainham Gaol again where she and 92 other women prisoners went on hunger strike, she was released one month later.

When de Valera founded Fianna Fail in 1926 Markievicz joined and stood successfully for election again in June 1927, but died before she could take her seat.

Markievicz died at the age of 59 on July 15th 1927, of complications related to appendicitis. She had given away the last of her wealth, and died in a public ward "among the poor where she wanted to be".

Countess Markievicz is buried in Glasnevin Cemetry Dublin.


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