An Irish hero
Costance Markievicz [nee Gore-Booth], was born at Lissadell, County Sligo, in Ireland 140 years ago this week.


At Easter 76 years ago in Dublin, Irish Republican rebels declared independence, hoisted the tricolour flag over the GPO and fought courageously for a week to defend their dream of a free and socially just Ireland.

One of the many rebels of the rising, Constance Markievicz, has often been neglected by conventional historians and fellow Republicans alike, because of her gender. She was second in command of the Citizens Army force which captured St Stephen’s Green. When the rising was crushed with excessive brutality by the British, the leaders were sentenced to death and barbarously executed. Constance’s sentence was reduced from death to life imprisonment because of her sex.

Her significant role in the Rising was only one of the many parts she played in Ireland’s history. Coming from an Anglo-Irish aristocratic family, and marrying a Polish count, she was a “society beauty” who acted, hunted, painted and lived very well until she was led into politics through Irish language and literature.

She joined Daughters of Ireland with Maud Gonne, launched Irish Woman and established a women’s suffrage society, saying, “The sooner we begin to make a row, the better”. In 1908 she joined Sinn Féin and by 1909 was on its executive. She founded Fianna Na h-Eireann, the Irish Boy Scouts, who had sworn never to serve England. She taught the Fianna boys shooting.

On discovering Larkin, the famous trade union leader and Connolly, the renowned Republican socialist, she became active in the labour movement. Known as the Red Countess or just Madame, she tirelessly organised and personally distributed food and fuel to families of workers during the lockout of 20,000 workers by big employers in 1913.

In the 1918 general election, Sinn Féin won a majority in Ireland, confirming the people’s support for the Republic fought for by centuries of rebels. Released, Constance became the first woman ever elected to a UK parliament. The elected members established the Dail Eiran, refusing to sit in the House of Commons. She was minister for labour in the illegal Dail.

Throughout her life, she was constantly in and out of prison and “on the run”. She passed police in the city disguised as an old woman -- recognised by street workers and paperboys who never gave her away.

Despite the tragedy of civil war which broke out in 1922, her frequent imprisonment and hunger strikes, she remained unstoppably active and visionary until she died in 1927. She spent her last days in a public hospital among Dublin’s poor, refusing any privileged treatment. At her funeral 300,000 people filled the streets to mourn the death of their beloved Countess.

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© 2005 Irish Republican News