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Wednesday, March 6, 2019


Countess Constance Markievicz (Middle Figure)

In honor of women’s history month and the Irish which are customarily celebrated in March I would like to present one of the most outstanding Irish revolutionary and humanitarian, Countess Constance Georgine Gore Booth Markievicz. I recently discovered her while doing research and was astounded that I knew nothing of this remarkable and courageous freedom fighter.
Born on February 4th 1868, Constance Gore-Booth was the oldest of five children whose father was a landowner in County Sligo, Ireland. Before Constance became involved in Irish politics, her first passion was art. In 1892 she went to London to study painting. While there her political beliefs began to take shape and she joined the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS). She moved from London to Paris in order to continue her art studies. It was there that she met her soon-to-be husband, a Polish Count, Casimir Dunin-Markievicz.

Constance and Casimir on their wedding day at Lissadell

They married in 1900 and she became the Countess Markievicz. Together they returned to Ireland and settled in Dublin. In 1901, at her family’s estate in Lissadell, their only child, Maeve Allys, was born.

Constance and Casimir at home in Ireland

Constance began to gain a reputation as a landscape artist. She became one of the founding members of the Dublin-based United Artists Club, which drew together creative people from across the city to celebrate Irish culture. Now this is where Constance’s life took an historic turn because through this club she began to meet people who would have an enormous impact on her thinking, including a woman named Maud Gonne who, along with Constance, would go on to be a key leader in the fight for Irish independence.
Fate can play a major role in our lives and so it did with Constance when she rented a cottage just outside of Dublin in 1906. By chance, she found some old newspapers called The Peasant and Sinn Féin left in the cottage by the previous inhabitant. As she read about the struggle to free Ireland from British rule she was captivated, and in her own words said, “I read then of what a few were trying to do actually at the moment, and, like a flash, I made up my mind I must join up.”

From that fateful moment her life became almost entirely dedicated to a single cause—a free Ireland. In the coming years she proved her dedication to the freedom of Ireland by risking her life and spending much time in jail for her part in the struggle to that end.
In 1908 she joined Sinn Féin, the Irish party leading the struggle, whose name means ‘we ourselves’ in Irish. She also joined Inghinidhe na hÉireann (Daughters of Ireland) a women’s Irish nationalist group led by her friend, Maud Gonne.
In 1909 she wrote: “The first step on the road to freedom is to realize ourselves as Irishwomen – not as Irish or merely as women, but as Irishwomen doubly enslaved and with a double battle to fight.”

Countess Constance, second in command of the Irish Brotherhood 
While her passion for a free Ireland became her main focus she hadn’t forgotten her suffragist beliefs. In a slight foray from her political life in Ireland she returned to England, to Manchester to visit her sister Eva Gore-Booth, who had also become a political activist in her own right. (You have to wonder what the sisters’ parents must have been like to have so influenced their daughters to become such leaders. I also wondered what Constance’s husband must have been like to support her political views and activities.)
The Suffragettes there were attempting to stop Winston Churchill from becoming elected as MP for the area because he opposed women getting the vote! (If I had known Churchill’s views on suffrage I don’t think I would have liked him as much. Just sayin’…) Constance stood against him in the by-election and drew attention to the suffragist cause when she rode through the streets of Manchester on a carriage drawn by four white horses. When a man from the crowd heckled her by asking whether she could cook she responded without hesitation. “Yes. Can you drive a coach and four?”

In 1911 Constance was jailed in Ireland for the first time after she spoke at an Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) demonstration. After her release she joined James Connolly’s Irish Citizen’s Army (ICA).
In 1913 many poor Irish workers tried to unionize and over 20,000 were shut out of their workplaces in what became known as the ‘Lock Out‘. 

Constance operating her soup kitchen

During this time Constance worked tirelessly with the ICA to organize food for those unable to work. She funded much of this effort herself – selling her jewelry to pay for the food. She also ran a soup kitchen to help feed the City’s poorest school children.

She went on to design the uniform for the ICA and famously gave the fashion advice for other women in the republican movement, “Dress suitably in short skirts & strong boots, leave your jewels in the bank, and buy a revolver.” (Ya gotta love her.)

Constance being arrested after the 1916 Easter Uprising
Perhaps Constance became best known for her part in the 1916 Easter Rising. During this violent stand-off  between the Irish and the British forces she held the position of Second in Command to Michael Mallin in St Stephen’s Green, Dublin. They held out for six days before the leader, Patrick Pearse was forced to surrender. It is said that when the Countess was arrested she kissed her revolver before handing it over. Constance was arrested and taken to Kilmainham Gaol along with the others involved in the uprising. Along with all the male leaders she was tried and sentenced to death by firing squad. However, her sentence was later revoked ‘on account of her sex’. When the court told her of this decision she said “I do wish your lot had the decency to shoot me.” But shoot her they did not, and her career in politics only grew stronger.
After spending time in prison in England she was released in 1917 and returned to Dublin, but she soon found herself in prison again for protesting against the conscription of Irish men during the First World War.
Constance was one determined Irish woman because, from her prison cell, she ran in the upcoming general election! In 1918 she was became the first woman ever elected to the British House of Commons. She was one of 73 Sinn Féin MPs who were elected, all of whom refused to take their seat. Instead they formed the first Dáil Éireann or Irish Parliament. She became the first ever Irish Cabinet member when she served as Minister of Labor (and only the second female cabinet member anywhere in Europe!)

Constance in her garden

Constance had also been an active member of Cumann na mBan (League of Women) since its formation in 1914. After the Rising she helped to revitalize the group and lead the women who formed it in their political activities.
He career in politics, and her episodes in jail continued in the following years. She fiercely opposed the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921 and became active in the Irish Civil War which followed.

Constance joined the newly formed Fianna Fáil party in 1926 and was elected to run as a candidate in 1927. In a sad twist of fate, before she could take her seat, she died in the hospital in Dublin due to appendicitis. Her funeral was held publicly. A massive 250,000 people gathered in the streets of Dublin to say goodbye to the woman who had inspired them so greatly.

Funeral of Countess Constance Markievicz

Now that I have discovered this courageous Irish woman I will never forget her.

Diverse stories filled with heart


  1. Hi, Sarah, I'm so glad you brought Constance to attention today! She was a remarkable woman. I've read quite a bit about her and the other figures involved in the ill-fated Easter Rebellion. It was a unique and fascinating time where poets, women's rights advocates, and visionaries came together. Women in great numbers fought alongside men which given the time was astounding. The first line of the Irish Declaration of Independence reads "Irishmen and Irishwomen" and goes on to say "We declare the right of the people of Ireland to the ownership of Ireland." PEOPLE. They had a vision of an egalitarian society which was decades ahead of its time.
    I've had a book on the back burner for years with the Irish War of Independence as the backdrop (but it's so complex!). There were so many real love stories to be found (says a romance writer). I note too that Ireland sent a women to Parliament when American women were still fighting for the right to vote.
    Incidentally, I've been to Kilmainham Gaol and saw the cells the rebels were kept in and the spot where they were executed (and the chapel where one rebel and his lover were wed hours before his execution...see, love stories to be found here).
    Thanks again Sarah! Love the images you included.

    1. I see you have done some research on this subject. I hope you formulate a plot for the book you have rolling around in your head. I believe it would very interesting to read it. I discovered some other surprising facts in my research--like how the first slaves were not black as I thought; they were Irish slaves who were sent to Barbados by the English and auctioned off. I never knew that before.

      You would think the women of America would be far and away ahead of women in other countries, but we seem to behind Europe. There are female prime ministers in England and Germany, but not in America. I hope the day is coming soon when we do have a woman in the Whitehouse.

      I can't imagine the kind of vibes you must have felt in those prison cells. That was an interesting historical fact about the couple who had a wedding just before the husband's execution. In a fiction story, maybe something happens like a miraculous rescue by the Irish freedom fighters that would lead to a happy ending. Just sayin'...

      Patti, thank you so much for coming and leaving such a juicy comment. I read it twice.

  2. What a remarkable woman. Thanks for shining a light on her incredible work. Wow.

  3. Thank you, Kristy. March is my favorite month and I wanted to write something special about women and the Irish. Constance was such a brave and involved person. I still wonder what her husband thought about her work, the danger she put herself into, and the forays into prison. I also wonder about their daughter. Who took care of her. What did she think of her mother's work? So many unanswered questions.
    I really do appreciate you coming and commenting.

  4. Sarah, what a wonderful research blog of an amazing woman I confess I'd never heard of until now. I think your curiosity has been whetted about Constance's private life: her husband and her daughter...I challenge you to a sequel blog about them.

    1. Thank you, Elizabeth. I had never heard of her before. I don't know if I'm up for your challenge even though I admit I am very curious about her husband and daughter. I wonder if there are any descendants of hers in Ireland today.
      Thank you so much for coming and reading my blog and for your comment.

  5. Belief in, and fighting for, a cause are powerful motivators to keep going in the face of danger and even death. Have you watched the 1996 biopic "Michael Collins"? If not, you might enjoy it as it chronicles his involvement during the Irish Civil War. It doesn't hurt that Liam Neeson plays Micheal Collins. ;-)

    1. I haven't seen it yet, Kaye, but Liam Neeson is the perfect actor to portray Michael Collins who was, by the way, also a very handsome man as well as great Irish leader and revolutionary.

      Thank you so much for visiting my blog, Kaye. I appreciate it.

  6. Thank you for writing about such a brave and fascinating woman.Her range of causes and her subsequent political career are amazing.

    1. Thank you for coming by, Ann.
      When I read about Constance I found her positively fascinating. She came close to being executed and didn't even flinch. She just went right back out and worked for her causes. She was more courageous than I could ever be.
      Thank you so much for your comment, Ann.

  7. What can one say to someone who follows through on their beliefs in what is right. Thank you for an infomative post. Doris

  8. A brave and fascinating woman. Women (and men) in my own family were heavily involved in the early IRA, and I wonder if they would have met her.

    1. C.A., wow, you had family members who were in the IRA? You must have some fascinating tales to tell.
      Thank you so much for your comment.

  9. Amazing woman, Sarah! Thanks so much for this blog.

    1. I don't think I could be as brave as Constance.
      Thank you for dropping in, Lindsay.

  10. Sarah, thank you so much for sharing this story on Constance. What a woman. What strength of character and determination, plus a heck of a lot of courage. One remarkable lady. I apologize for being so late to read this.

  11. No worries about being late, Bev. I know what it's like to get busy and then get behind in everything. I was very surprised and happy to come across this Irish heroine. I wish I could have that kind of courage and conviction.
    Thank you for coming, Bev.