Constance Markievicz - Ireland's Revolutionary Countess

Irelands rebel Countess. Constance Markievicz dedicated her life the Ireland's republican cause and helping the poor. She played a key role in the Easter rising and was the first woman elected to the UK Parliament.

Constance Markievicz - Ireland's Revolutionary Countess

Born in London, in 1868, Constance Georgine Gore-Booth was the daughter of Arctic explorer Sir Henry Gore-Booth. Constance's father was also an Anglo-Irish landowner but this did not prevent him from having concerns for the working people and the poor. During the famine of 1879-1880, Sir Henry provided free food for his tenants, actions which inspired Constance, like her father, to have life-long affection and consideration for the poor. [1] Constance's rebellious nature appeared early in her life; to her family's dismay, she desired to be an artist so she elected to study at Slade School of Art in London. [2] It was here that she first became politically active when she joined the National Union of Women's suffrage Societies (NUWSS). Constance continued her studies in Paris where she met Casimir Markievicz - a wealthy Polish man. Constance and Casimir married in 1900.

Constance Markievicz, a renound Irish revolutionary figure known for her role in the Easter rising. Britains first elected female MP.

Over the following years, Markievicz and her husband settled in Dublin where Constance moved in artistic and literary circles, associating with various patriots and future political leaders. In 1907, She rented a cottage in the countryside surrounding Dublin. The previous tenant had been Padriac Colum, a poet who had left copies of revolutionary journals The Peasant and Sinn Fein. Markievicz supposedly read these journals and was propelled into action. [3]

The following year, Markievicz joined Sinn Fein and Inghinidhe na hEireann (Daughters of Ireland), a women's revolutionary movement. For the movement's first meeting Markievicz attended wearing a satin ball gown and tiara having come straight from a function at Dublin Castle, the British seat in Ireland. Other members viewed Markievicz with hostility, but she refused to be deterred. As well as attending revolutionary meetings, Markievicz played a dramatic role in the women's suffrage campaign. During a by-election in Manchester, she opposed the election of Winston Churchill to the seat. Markievicz appeared in the constituency driving an old-fashioned carriage drawn by four white horses. When an onlooker heckled her asking 'can you cook dinner?' she replied 'yes, can you drive a coach and four?' [4] Much to the relief of the suffrage movement, Churchill lost the election.

Markievicz's nationalist work continued when in 1909 she founded Fianna Eireann, a nationalist alternative to the Boy scouts. Although initially challenged on grounds of her gender, she was elected to the committee. [5]

In 1911 Markievicz was arrested for the first time. She had spoken at an Irish Republican Brotherhood demonstration attended by 30,000 people. The protest was against a visit to Ireland by King George V. Markievicz handed out pamphlets and engaged in stone-throwing at portraits of the King and Queen. It would not be the last time that Markievicz's activities would lead to her arrest. Despite Markievicz testifying that she was responsible for the stone-throwing, she wasn't imprisoned. Her friend, Helena Molony was also arrested for stone-throwing and became the first woman in Ireland to be tried and arrested for a political act in decades.

A quote from an article written by Markievicz on behalf of the radical women's organisation Inghininidhe na h-Eireann [6]

During a lockout in 1913, Markievicz joined the Irish Citizens Army, a socialist volunteer force formed by James Connolly. Whilst part of the ICA helped to defend demonstrating workers from the police, Markievicz recruited women to help peel potatoes and distribute food. Despite being born into a life of privilege, Markievicz was drawn to help those less fortunate than herself. In supporting the lockout she paid for food herself taking out loans and selling her jewellery. She also helped to run a soup kitchen to feed poor children and help them attend school. It was during this time that her husband moved back to Ukraine, never returning to live in Ireland.

Modern Aerial view of St Stephen's Green where Markievicz was based with the Citizens' Army (Cpl Colum Lawlor, Air Corps, Photographic Section)

Ireland in the early 20th century was fraught with clashes between Irish Nationalists and the British forces. None of these clashes is as famous as the Easter Rising. Unsurprisingly, Markievicz was present as part of the Irish Citizens Army. She designed the uniform for the ICA as well as its anthem which she based on a polish song. [7] Reports vary as to exactly where Markievicz was on Easter Monday 1916. One account suggests she was at St Stephens Green where she shot Constable Lahiff of the Dublin Metropolitan Police, who later died of his injuries. [8] Others suggest that she began the day at City hall, and arrived at Stephen's Green later in the day after Constable Lahiff was shot. [9]

Royal College of Surgeons on St Stephen's Green. Photo taken after the insurrection. Digital Library, Villanova University

Throughout Easter Monday, Markievicz supervised the setting up of barricades, and during the fighting, she supposedly wounded a British sniper. The garrison at St Stephen's Green dug trenches but was forced to retreat by British machine guns. The garrison, including Markievicz, withdrew to the Royal College of Surgeons on the west side of the Green. For 6 days they held out at the college until they were ordered to surrender by Patrick Pearse, one of the leaders of the rising. The garrisons surrender was accepted by Captain de Courcy Wheeler - the husband of Markievicz's first cousin. The insurrectionists were taken to Dublin Castle and then to Kilmainham Gaol. Of the 70 women arrested, Markievicz was the only one placed in solitary confinement.

A newspaper headline for the Court-Martial of Constance Markievicz

At the court-martial on 4th May 1916, Markievicz plead not guilty to "taking part in an armed rebellion...for purpose of assisting the enemy" however, she plead guilty to attempting "to cause disaffection among the civil population of His Majesty". [10] For the part she played, Markievicz was sentenced to death. However, on account of her sex, her sentence was commuted to life in prison. In July 1917, Markievicz was relocated to Aylesbury Prison in England, although she was released that same year as part of a general amnesty for the Easter Rising.

It was after the Easter rising that Markievicz's political career began. In 1918, she was once again jailed, this time for anti-conscription activities. However, whilst imprisoned, Markievicz was elected to Parliament for the constituency of Dublin St Patrick's. She beat her opponent, William Field, with 66% of the vote and thus became one of 73 Sinn Fein MPs elected. This made Constance Markievicz the first woman to be elected to the House of Commons, but due to Sinn Fein's abstentionist policy, and her incarceration, she did not take her seat.[11] Markievicz was still in prison for the first meeting of the First Dail (Parliament of the revolutionary Irish). When her name was called she was described as 'being imprisoned by the foreign enemy.' [12] From April 1919 to January 1922 Markievicz was the Minister for Labour holding cabinet rank from April to August 1919. This made her not only the first woman elected to Parliament, but also the first Irish female Cabinet Minister, the only female cabinet member in Irish history until 1979, and only the second female cabinet minister in Europe. [13]

Irish politician and nationalist Countess Constance Georgine Markiewicz (1868 - 1927) with a companion, June 1922. (Photo by Walshe/Topical Press Agency/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

In 1922, Markievicz left the Dail in opposition to the Anglo-Irish treaty. In the Civil war which followed, she was an active member of the republican cause. Following the Civil war, she toured the US and although she was not elected in 1922, she was elected in 1923. This time she refused to take her seat in the Dail. That same year, Markievicz was arrested but was released a month later following a hunger strike. [14] She left Sinn Fein and joined Fianna Fail on its foundation in 1926. The following year she was re-elected to the 5th Dail, this time as a member of Fianna Fail. However, once again, she was unable to take her seat as she died 5 weeks after the election.

Countess Markievicz’s funeral photograph. A photograph of mourners from the Madame de Markievicz Cumann, Fianna Fail, at Countess Markievicz’s funeral, July 1927.

On 15th July 1927, Constance Markievicz died from complications following two appendicitis operations, aged 59. She had given away all her wealth and died in a public ward "among the poor where she wanted to be." [15] Despite moving back to Ukraine, her husband had kept in touch and was by her side when she died. Although refused a state funeral, Markievicz's body lay in state. Thousands of Dubliners lined O'Connell Street and Parnell Square to pay their respects and pass by her body. Although a controversial figure during her life, Markievicz has received much posthumous recognition. Since 2019, a Dublin City Council Commemorative Plaque has been in location at her former Dublin home - Surrey House of Leinster Road. [16] A portrait of Markievicz was donated by the Republic of Ireland to the UK Houses of Parliament to commemorate the 100th anniversary of (some) women first gaining the right to vote. Ironically she now graces the corridors at the heart of the government she dedicated her life to overthrowing.

Photo of the portrait of Constance Countess Markievicz (1901). The portrait now graces the UK Houses of Parliament. Photograph: Estate of Boleslaw von Szankowski/PA Wire


  1. “The Gore-Booth and Warwick Families”. Rootsweb Gore-Booth.
  2. “Countess markievicz” Centre for Advancement of Women in Politics.
  3. Anne Haverty, Constance Markievicz: Irish Revolutionary (Liiliput Press: Dublin, 2016), pp. 73-74.
  4. Marecco, Anne (1967). The Rebel Countess. Weidenfeld & Nicolson.
  5. Townshend, Charles (2006). Easter 1916: The Irish Rebellion. London: Penguin Books. pp. 21–2.
  6. Sigillito, Gina (2007). The Daughters of Maeve: 50 Irish Women Who Changed World. New York: Kensington Publishing Corp. p. 87.
  7. Markievicz, Constance (c. 1917). A Battle Hymn. Irish Traditional Music Archive.
  8. Matthews, Ann (2010). Renegades: Irish Republican Women 1900–1922. Mercier Press Ltd. pp. 129–30. ISBN978-1-85635-684-8.
  9. Haverty, Anne (1988). Constance Markievicz: Irish Revolutionary. London: Pandora. p. 148.
  10. Foy, Michael T.; Barton, Brian (2011). The Easter Rising. The History Press. p. 303.
  11. "Archives – The First Women MPs". UK Parliament. Archived from the original on 7 October 2018.
  12. McGuffin, John (1973). "Internment – Women Internees 1916–1973". Archived from the original on 13 September 2019.
  13. Ward, Margaret (1983). Unmanageable Revolutionaries: Women and Irish Nationalism. London: Pluto Press. p. 78.
  14. Pašeta, Senia (2009). "Markievicz, Constance Georgine". Dictionary of Irish Biography. Royal Irish Academy.
  15. Levenson, Leah; Natterstad, Jerry H. (1989). Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington: Irish Feminist. New York: Syracuse University Press. p. 452.