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Markievicz [née Gore-Booth], Constance Georgine, Countess Markievicz in the Polish nobilityfree

(1868–1927)
  • S. Pašeta

Constance Georgine Markievicz, Countess Markievicz in the Polish nobility (1868–1927)

by Keogh Brothers

courtesy of the National Library of Ireland

Markievicz [née Gore-Booth], Constance Georgine, Countess Markievicz in the Polish nobility (1868–1927), Irish republican and first woman elected to parliament, was born on 4 February 1868 at 7 Buckingham Gate, Pimlico, London, the eldest of the three daughters and two sons of Sir Henry William Gore-Booth (1843–1900), philanthropist and explorer, of Lissadell, co. Sligo, and Georgina Mary Hill (d. 1927), of Tickhill Castle, near Doncaster. Eva Gore-Booth, the campaigner for women's suffrage, was her sister. Constance Gore-Booth spent most of her childhood at the family house at Lissadell, and although she lived most of her adult life in Dublin and abroad she retained a strong attachment to the west of Ireland.

Descended from seventeenth-century planters, the Gore-Booths were prominent landowners whose wealth and social standing ensured that their children enjoyed a privileged childhood. The family entertained lavishly, hosting such guests as W. B. Yeats, whose poem 'In Memory of Eva Gore-Booth and Constance Markievicz' (1927) chronicled both his early visits to Lissadell and the subsequent careers of both women. Taking advantage of the family's extensive grounds Constance Gore-Booth enjoyed country pursuits, including hunting, driving, and riding, and became especially well known for her skill with the rifle and in the saddle. With Eva she was educated by governesses at home, her tutelage consisting mainly of instruction in the genteel arts of poetry, music, and art appreciation. In 1886 she made a grand tour of the continent, and in the following year was presented to Queen Victoria.

Constance Gore-Booth hoped to study art, and finally persuaded her disapproving parents to fund her studies in 1893, when she enrolled at the Slade School of Art, in London. Having moved to Paris to further her studies she met fellow art student Count Casimir Dunin-Markievicz, a Polish widower whose family owned land in the Ukraine. They married in London in 1900 and their daughter, Maeve, was born the following year. Constance Markievicz's relationship with her daughter was strained; the couple returned to Paris in 1902, leaving their daughter in the care of Lady Gore-Booth. The child's family was reunited when her parents moved to Dublin, but from about 1908 she lived almost exclusively with her grandparents at Lissadell House.

The Markieviczes' move to Dublin coincided with a period of literary and cultural renaissance, and they soon became involved in the city's liveliest artistic circles, displaying their paintings and producing and acting in plays at the Abbey Theatre. They co-founded the United Arts Club in 1907 but Constance Markievicz's interest in Irish nationalism soon took precedence over her artistic ambitions. She joined Sinn Féin and Inghinidhe na hÉireann (Daughters of Ireland) in 1908 and helped to found—and became a regular contributor to—Bean na hÉireann ('Women of Ireland'), Ireland's first women's nationalist journal. She had become interested in women's suffrage as a young woman, presiding in 1896 over a meeting of the Sligo Women's Suffrage Society; she remained committed to this cause but she gave increasing time to overtly nationalist organizations.

Markievicz became something of a celebrity in Dublin's radical circles. A strident and flamboyant orator, her background and penchant for military uniforms and weaponry made her a figure of fun in some circles, while attracting deep suspicion in others. In 1909 she founded Na Fianna Éireann, a youth movement whose aims included establishing an independent Ireland and promoting the Irish language. By 1911 she had become an executive member of both Sinn Féin and Inghinidhe na hÉireann, and was arrested in the same year for protesting against George V's visit to Dublin. She grew increasingly interested in socialism and trade unionism, becoming a strong supporter of the Irish Women Workers' Union and of the political programme advocated by the prominent socialist James Connolly. She assisted striking workers during the lock-out of 1913, organizing soup kitchens in Dublin slums and at Liberty Hall. Strongly opposed to Irish involvement in the allied war effort, she co-founded the Irish Neutrality League in 1914 and became a vocal advocate of the small group of men who split from the nationalist Volunteer movement over the question of Irish participation in the war. She had separated amicably from her husband about 1909; while he worked as a war correspondent in the Balkans she continued to assist in training and mobilizing the Irish Citizen Army and the Fianna.

Markievicz made no secret of her support for armed rebellion against British forces, and joined whole-heartedly in the Irish Citizen Army's involvement in the Easter rising of 1916. She was second in command of a troop of Irish Citizen Army combatants at St Stephen's Green; her battalion was hopelessly outmanoeuvred by British soldiers and was forced to retreat to the College of Surgeons. After a week of intense fighting Markievicz and her fellow rebels surrendered. She was sentenced to death for her part in the rebellion but this was commuted to penal servitude for life on account of her sex. She served fourteen months of her sentence at Aylesbury gaol before being released in the general amnesty of June 1917. She claimed to have experienced an epiphany during the Easter rising, took instruction from a priest while in prison, and converted to Catholicism shortly after her release.

In 1918 Markievicz was arrested along with many fellow Sinn Féin members on account of their alleged involvement in a spurious ‘German plot’. While in prison she stood successfully in the general election of 1918 as a Sinn Féin candidate for Dublin's St Patrick's division, and became the first woman elected to the British parliament; like all Sinn Féin MPs she refused to take her seat. Released from gaol in March 1919 she was appointed secretary for labour in the first Dáil Éireann, but like her colleagues in the proscribed Dáil she spent much of her time on the run. She was arrested again in June for making a seditious speech, and was sentenced to four months' hard labour—her third prison term in four years. After another arrest a sentence of two years' hard labour in the following year was interrupted by the general amnesty that followed the signing of the Anglo-Irish treaty. A vocal opponent of the treaty, she denounced it in the Dáil and continued to work against it through Cumann na mBan, a republican women's organization of which she was president.

Markievicz's stand against the treaty forced her into another period of exile and abstention from the Dáil. She publicized the anti-treaty position during a speaking tour of America and through several publications in which she continued to extol the republican cause. Markievicz lost her seat in the general Dáil election of 1922 but was elected to the Free State parliament in August 1923. In common with other elected republicans she refused to take the oath of allegiance to the king, thus disqualifying herself from sitting. Her characteristic flamboyance—she insisted, for example, on wearing her Cumann na mBan uniform while addressing the Dáil—and an increasingly hostile general attitude to female politicians ensured that she was viewed with growing suspicion by a number of her fellow republicans. She was arrested for the last time in November 1923 but was released soon after she went on hunger strike in protest. She joined Fianna Fáil on its establishment in 1926 and stood successfully as a candidate for the new party in the general election of 1927. She remained an outspoken republican but her influence waned and her health suffered as a result of hard work and often rough conditions. She died, of peritonitis, in a public ward at Sir Patrick Dun's Hospital in Dublin on 15 July 1927, and was buried in Glasnevin cemetery in the city, following a well-attended public funeral.

Sources

  • Prison letters of Countess Markievicz (Constance Gore-Booth) (1934)
  • B. Farrell, ‘Markievicz and the women of the revolution’, Leaders and men of the Easter rising, ed. F. X. Martin (1967)
  • A. Marrelo, Rebel countess: the life and times of Countess Markievicz (1967)
  • J. Van Voris, Constance Markievicz: in the cause of Ireland (1967)
  • S. O' Faolain, Constance Markievicz (1968)
  • E. Coxhead, Daughters of Erin: five women of the Irish renascence [1969]
  • E. Ni Éireamhoin, Two great Irish women: Maud Gonne MacBride and Countess Markievicz (1971)
  • M. Ward, Unmanageable revolutionaries: women and Irish nationalism (1983)
  • A. Maverty, Constance Markievicz: an independent life (1988)
  • D. Norman, Terrible beauty: a life of Constance Markievicz (1988)
  • b. cert.

Archives

  • NL Ire.
  • NRA, priv. coll., corresp., sketch pads, news cuttings
  • TNA: PRO, papers, CO 904
  • NL Ire., letters to Eva Gore-Booth

Likenesses

  • Keogh Brothers, photograph, NL Ire. [see illus.]
  • photographs, repro. in www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/Wmarkiewicz, 4 Oct 2002

Podcast

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