Sunday, 21 November 2010

Political History - Countess Markievicz by Maureen Hegarty

Constance Gore-Booth was born in London in 1868. Her father was Sir Henry Gore-Booth, the famous arctic explorer. He was also a kind Anglo-Irish landlord. During the famine year of 1879 Constance was living in Lissadell House in Sligo, Ireland.

In 1893 she went to London to study painting, also joining the 'National Union of Women's suffrage'. Constance met Count Markievicz of Polish origin in 1898. They married in 1901. Returning to live in Dublin in 1903, she co-founded the 'United Artists Club'.

In 1908 she joined Sinn Féin and the 'Daughters of Ireland' and in the same year also helped defeat Winston Churchill in a Manchester by-election.

In 1909 Constance set up 'Fianna Éireann'. It's aim was to instruct the youth army in the use of firearms.

She was jailed in 1913 for speaking out at a rally in protest of George Vs visit to Dublin. The same year she joined James Connolly who had set up the 'Irish Citizens Army' in protest against the lock out of workers. Her marriage also ended this year with her husband returning to Europe.

For six days she was second in command at Stephen's Green during the 1916 rising. She was sentenced to death, but pardoned because she was a woman. She was put in Kilmainham jail for life where she told them 'I do wish your lot had the decency to shoot me.' While in jail she was elected to Sinn Féin in 1917 after the government granted amnesty to her.

In 1918 she was jailed again but with 92 other women on hunger strike. They were released due to embarrassment to the Irish and British governments. Upon her release she was elected to the English parliament but refused to take her seat. She was the first woman to be elected to the House of Commons.

Constance became a Labour Minister in 1919 serving in the first Dáil. In 1922 she joined De Valera in opposition to the Anglo-Irish treaty. Again she was imprisoned, but this time by her former comrades in arms.

In 1926 she became a member of Fianna Fáil and was elected to the Dáil but she died on the 15th July aged 59, five weeks before she was due to take her seat in the Dáil.

During her life time in Dublin she had compassion for the poor setting up soup kitchens and visiting slums. It is thought she may have caught Tuberculosis while doing this. It is also thought her compassion was inherited from her father, who had showed kindness to the poor during famine years.

W.B. Yeats (her friend in Sligo) wrote a poem entitled 'In memory of Eva Gore-Booth and Constance Markievicz. 25,000 people lined the streets as her cortege was driven to Glasnevin cemetary. She had one daughter who was reared with the Markievicz grandparents. Her religion was Church of Ireland.

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