Constance Markievicz – leader, pioneer and revolutionary

Constance Markievicz was a leader in the fight for Ireland’s independence and a political pioneer. She was the first woman elected to Westminster parliament, and among the first female cabinet ministers in Europe.

Born in 1868, Constance Markievicz grew up on a large estate in Sligo in the west of Ireland. She was the daughter of Sir Henry Gore-Booth. Constance and her sister Eva were childhood friends of the poet W.B. Yeats.

Her childhood was cultured, wealthy and privileged. Her father, however, inspired her concern for working-class and poor people. 

With few opportunities in Dublin for women to study, in the 1890s Constance went to train as a painter in London. There, she first became politically active and joined organisations campaigning for women’s’ rights to vote.

Whilst in France she met her husband, Casimir Markievicz – known in Paris as Count Markievicz – an artist whose wealthy Polish family were from Ukraine. They married in London in 1900, with Constance afterwards being known as ‘Countess Markievicz’.

They moved to Dublin in 1903, at that time in Ireland, there were growing movements for Ireland to be independent and self-ruling. Cultural movements such as the Gaelic League promoted and preserved Irish language and culture, increased and amplified by political and revolutionary activities.

From 1908, Markievicz became actively involved in politics in Ireland. She joined revolutionary women’s movements. In 1909, she, along with others, founded Fianna Éireann, a paramilitary youth training camp that taught teenage boys how to use guns.

In 1911 she was arrested for demonstrating against King George V’s visit to Ireland. Inspired by its founder James Connolly, she joined the Irish Citizen Army, designing its uniform and composing its anthem.

In April 1916, Markievicz took part in the Easter Rising, a republican rebellion against the British government in Ireland – along with other female fighters such and Mary Sheldreck and Nora Ashe. According to one account, she shot a member of the Dublin Metropolitan Police who subsequently died of his injuries.

After the uprising she was arrested and imprisoned. While many of the 1916 rebels were executed, Markievicz was spared the death penalty (because she was a woman). She complained of sex discrimination as she should have faced the same death as her Male comrades. Instead she was given a life sentence. In 1917, she was released from prison under an amnesty for the 1916 rebellion.

In February 1918, with (some) women winning the right to vote, she put herself forward as a candidate at the forthcoming general election. On 28 December 1918, she was the first woman elected to the UK House of Commons.

0161 Festival recalls with great pride and admiration that on the 15th July 93 years ago Countess Markievicz died in a Dublin hospital. She was a revolutionary, a socialist, a suffragette who led from the front and risked her life for Ireland’s freedom. Her legacy can be found in the actions of those who engage in revolution to advance equally and self determination .

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