Markievicz, Countess Constance

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Markievicz, Countess Constance

Constance Markievicz (1868–1927), the first Irish woman cabinet minister and the first woman to be elected to the House of Commons, was born Constance Gore-Booth to a landed Sligo family. She became a countess on her marriage to Casimir Markievicz, from whom she separated amicably in the 1890s; they had one daughter, Maeve. Her first political involvement was with Maud Gonne's Inghinidhe na hEireann; in 1909 she founded the Fianna, a nationalist equivalent to the Boy Scouts. Her association with James Connolly and her involvement in the Dublin Lockout of 1913 led her to become a member of Connolly's Irish Citizen Army, in which women and men were equal combatants. Although she was not first and foremost a feminist, she commented in 1913 that there were three great struggles in Ireland: the national question, labor, and suffrage. As an Irish Citizen Army commandant, Markievicz was second in command to Michael Mallin at the Royal College of Surgeons during the 1916 Rising. Her death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment, from which she was released in the general amnesty of 1917. Rearrested in 1918 because of the "German plot" (an attempt by the British government to prove that nationalists were conspiring with the Germans), she was elected a member of Parliament while in Holloway gaol in December of that year. As a member of the absentionist Sinn Féin, upon her release in 1919 she was appointed minister for labour in the first Dáil. She told Kathleen Clarke that she had to "bully" her male colleagues for this position, arguing that women deserved this recognition for their essential work during the Rising and after it. Markievicz was a very active minister for labour during the War for Independence of 1919 to 1921, when industrial and agricultural disputes were legion, and the Dáil was busily implementing an alternative administration. Like many other prominent nationalist women, she opposed the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921, and although she initially abstained from taking her Dáil seat, she eventually joined Eamon de Valera's Fianna Fáil when it was founded in 1926. A year later, having been reelected to the Dáil, she died in a public ward of Sir Patrick Dun's hospital in Dublin. The people of Dublin thronged the streets for her state funeral in testament to their affection for her. Like Maud Gonne, Markievicz was romanticized by W. B. Yeats, who played an even more marginal role in Markievicz's life than he had in Gonne's.

SEE ALSO Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921; Connolly, James; Cumann na mBan; Labor Movement; Larkin, James; Lockout of 1913; O'Brien, William; Sinn Féin Movement and Party to 1922; Struggle for Independence from 1916 to 1921; Women's Parliamentary Representation since 1922

Bibliography

McNamara, Maedhbh, and Paschal Mooney. Women in Parliament: Ireland, 1918–2000. 2000.

Caitriona Clear