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    Powerful Irish Women: Countess Markievicz

    By Ruth O'Meara
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    Countess Constance Markievicz

    The early 1900s were a pivotal time in Irish history. After centuries of British rule, the Republic of Ireland finally gained independence. One key figure who passionately and courageously fought for the freedom of the Irish people was Countess Markievicz, born Constance Gore-Booth.

    Take Me Straight To:

    Who was Constance Markievicz?

    Constance was born in London in 1868 to a wealthy Anglo-Irish family at a time when almost all wealthy families in Ireland were Anglo-Irish. She was brought up in Lissadell House in Co. Sligo. Constance and her sister, Eva, were friends with Ireland’s beloved national poet W.B. Yeats. Also a Sligo native, Yeats often visited Lissadell; his interest in arts, poetry, literature, and culture left an impact on her, and Yeats mentions her in some of his poems. Discover more about the inspiring Sligo region by reading our travel guide here.

    Constance trained as a painter, studying at the prestigious Académie Julian in Paris, where she met fellow artist Casimir Markievicz, whom she subsequently married, becoming Countess Markievicz. They had one daughter, Maeve.

    Caring deeply for the poor and underprivileged, Constance was sympathetic to the revolutionary movements across Ireland in the early 1900s. Aching to support Irish people in gaining their freedom, she became actively involved in politics by 1908. She became a founding member of three key political organisations: Cumann na mBan (The Irish Woman’s Council), the Irish Citizen Army, and Fianna Éireann (the Fianna of Ireland).

    Courtesy Cassidy, Lissadel House and gardens

    Constance, The Revolutionary

    Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin

    Constance was one of the leaders of the famous Easter Rising of 1916, which was the most significant challenge to British rule in Ireland since 1798. She bravely fought during the six-day-long Easter Rising, during which hundreds were killed. Constance was arrested for her involvement in the uprising, notable as the only woman court-martialled by the British following the Rising, and narrowly escaping execution.

    Constance was told she escaped execution by virtue of her gender, to which she famously responded, “I do wish your lot had the decency to shoot me.” She wasn’t short of courage and was devastated to see her fellow male leaders and compatriots executed by firing squad. Over the next few years, the British imprisoned her several times for fighting for Irish freedom. She joined the Irish political party Sinn Féin and became a suffragette. She campaigned tirelessly for women’s right to vote, which they received partially in 1918 and entirely in 1922.

    Constance, The Politician

    In 1918, the Parliament Act allowed women to stand for election for the first time. The same year, Constance was elected as a member of parliament and became Minister of Labour. She was Europe’s first female cabinet minister.

    The party refused to take their seats in the British parliament in London; instead, they set up an Irish parliament called the Dáil. At the initiation of the Dáil, they were forced to hold their meetings in secret, as its existence was considered illegal.

    She had an active role in the Irish Civil War (1922 – 1923), which ended in a cease-fire in 1923, finally bringing some peace to the country. Although the six counties of Northern Ireland were still part of the U.K., the southern 26 counties had finally gained independence. Initially called the Irish Free State, this conglomeration of counties later became known as the Republic of Ireland.

    Constance’s Legacy

    Constance also advocated for people experiencing poverty and set up soup kitchens in Dublin. She was well known and greatly loved in poor and underprivileged communities, where she was referred to as “Madame.”

    Countess Markievicz knew her contemporary and another influential female figure of the west, Lady Gregory. Both friends with the poet Yeats, Lady Gregory once said after an encounter on a train with Countess Markievicz: “There was something gallant about her. We were each working for what we believed would help Ireland, and we talked together.” (Lady Gregory, 1927, courtesy of Lissadell House).

    Constance died in 1927, aged 59, following an unsuccessful appendicitis surgery. She was admitted, on her insistence, to a public ward in a Dublin hospital and died among the poor, surrounded by family and Irish political leaders – much the way she had lived her life. Her funeral was widely attended, and hundreds of thousands thronged the streets of Dublin to say a final farewell to “Madame,” the brave and courageous Countess who had inspired millions.

    Her beautiful childhood home, Lissadell House, in Co Sligo, commemorates her life and legacy and is a lovely spot to visit on the west coast.

    Visit Ireland

    Meet the Author: Ruth O'Meara

    From the Irish Midlands, I have a love of hiking, surfing and cycling along the Irish coast. After years of living abroad and travelling around the world in international sales and teaching roles, I moved to Achill Island to pursue my passions, share my joy of the outdoors with others, and enjoy the outdoors in any weather.

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