Irish revolutionary Constance Markievicz

This video is about Constance Markievicz.

19 November 2005

Constance Markievicz

Moira Nolan opens our series on women who fought back with a portrait of Irish revolutionary Constance Markievicz

Like most people educated in Britain, I was taught that the Tory ruling class that had opposed votes for women so vehemently nevertheless produced the first woman MP in 1919 — Nancy Astor.

When I was told this I challenged my teacher, arguing that Constance Markievicz was elected as Sinn Fein MP for St Patrick’s Dublin in 1918.

I was told she did not count, because she never took her seat in Westminster.

Of course, nobody ever explained why Constance Markievicz refused to take her seat.

Along with 72 other Sinn Fein MPs elected in Irish seats that year, Markievicz refused to recognise the right of Westminster to rule over Ireland.

She viewed her election as part of the powerful campaign to overturn 400 years of British occupation.

Markievicz was a revolutionary socialist and leading figure in the Irish Republican movement during the critical years of the early 20th century.

She was an unlikely revolutionary, born Lady Constance Gore-Booth into a class of aristocratic British landlords determined to keep Ireland firmly under their rule.

But a combination of her personal experience of oppression and her revulsion at contemporary political events led Markievicz away from her background and into the movement for change.

Her constant frustration at the restrictions placed on women in Victorian society led her to join the women’s suffrage movement.

And her anger at the brutality of British imperialism during the Boer War in South Africa led her to define herself as Irish and join Sinn Fein at the age of 40 in 1908.

Markievicz — now married to a Polish count involved in the revival of Gaelic culture — began to see how the struggle for women’s equality had to be connected to the movement for Irish independence.

“There can be no free women in an enslaved nation,” she declared.

Markievicz worked closely with James Connolly, a dynamic socialist thinker and leader of the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union (ITGWU).

This experience helped clarify her ideas about how the various causes she championed – especially equality for women and justice for Dublin’s poor — could be linked through the wider struggle for socialism.

Read more here.

On Connolly: here.

13 thoughts on “Irish revolutionary Constance Markievicz

  1. >>>>>> Feature: Women in Struggle

    The theme of Sinn Fein’s Edentubber Commemoration this year was
    the role of women in the struggle for Irish freedom. The following
    is the text of the address by Bairbre de Brun, MEP.

    Fifty-one years ago close to the spot where we gather today, five
    Republicans, IRA Volunteers lost their lives in a premature explosion.
    Paul Smith from Bessbrook, Oliver Craven from Newry, George Keegan from
    Enniscorthy, Paddy Parle from Wexford Town and Michael Watters, who
    owned the cottage where the fatal explosion occurred.

    Bliain is caoga o shin, congarach don ait ina bhfuilimid bailithe le
    cheile inniu, chaill Cuigear Poblachtach, baill Oglaigh na hEireann, a
    mbeatha ag pleascadh roimh am. Paul Smith on Sruthan, Oliver Craven on
    Iur, George Keegan o Inis Corthaidh, Paddy Parle o Bhaile Loch Garman
    agus Michael Watters, ar leis an teach e san ait ar tharla an pleascadh

    Is fada an t-am sin bliain is caoga, agus sin raite gach bliain o
    tharla se on oiche thubaisteach sin thainig Poblachtaigh le cheile
    anseo, chun cuimhneamh a dheanamh orthu siud a chaill a mbeatha agus
    chun machnamh a dheanamh ar an ait a raibh ar streachailt.

    Fifty one years is a long time, however in every year since that tragic
    night Republicans have came together here, to remember those who lost
    their lives and take stock on where our struggle was at.

    In the course of recent years and again over the past 12 months our
    struggle has undergone significant changes. Different times have placed
    different demands on us all as activists.

    But we are not driven by circumstances – we are driven by our
    republican vision and in our absolute belief that the partition of our
    country is wrong and that the British government has no place in
    running the affairs of Irish people. These were the very same ideals
    which brought the IRA to this place all those years ago.

    Indeed the then Sinn Féin TD John Joe McGirl in his oration at one of
    the funerals said:

    “The tragedy which brought to a sudden end the lives of five great
    Irishmen is a tragedy of the Irish nation, the tragedy of an Ireland
    that is unfree and divided. These men came from the North and South to
    join together to end the tragedy of our nation and her people.”

    This year we have taken the role of women in the struggle for Irish
    freedom as a theme of our commemoration. It is a very appropriate theme
    because this very week marks the centenary of the organisation which
    fought for and won the right to vote for Irish women – the Irish
    Women’s Franchise League.

    The IWFL was founded on 11 November 1908 by Hanna Sheehy Skeffington
    and Margaret Cousins. Hanna was a staunch republican as well as an
    active feminist. Her terms in prison reflected her activism – in 1912
    for women’s rights, in 1913 for supporting the workers in the Great
    Lockout, in 1914 for opposing recruiting to the British Army, in 1918
    for demanding Irish independence and in 1933 for breaking the ban on
    her entering the Six Counties. And there were thousands of women like
    Hanna, most of whom never gained the limelight of history but without
    whom there could be no freedom struggle.

    90 years ago in December 1918 Irishwomen had the vote for the first
    time. They played a key role in the Sinn Féin victory which led to the
    establishment of the First Dail Eireann. Women’s rights were enshrined
    in the 1916 Proclamation of the Irish Republic and the commitment to
    equality was continued in the Democratic Programme of the First Dail.
    Constance Markievicz was one of the first women Cabinet ministers in
    the world. And like Hanna Sheehy Skeffington and the vast majority of
    women republicans she was a strong opponent of the Treaty and the
    Partition of our country.

    For us as Irish Republicans in 2008, the end of partition and the unity
    of our country is a live political project, as is our commitment to the
    equality agenda. We have set out a clear political strategy to achieve
    our republican and democratic goals. In the new phase of struggle,
    those goals will be pursued through exclusively peaceful means.

    The building of political strength and the use of that strength to
    bring about fundamental political, social and constitutional change is

    Women today are proud to carry forward that progressive republican and
    feminist tradition. We recall the words of Mairead Farrell that
    Irishwomen have been oppressed both as women and as Irish people. Much
    progress has been made through the efforts of women in struggle but
    much remains to be done.

    There are the powerful forces in both jurisdictions, however, who will
    continue to do their best to maintain the status quo. They may not put
    it in as clear terms as they once did – but there are those whose
    primary political objective is the defeat of Sinn Féin and the defeat
    of the Republican struggle. We must be conscious that there are those
    who have benefited from partition, even though it has been very
    damaging for the country as a whole. There are those who have benefited
    from inequality and injustice.

    Let me say to them today – be you a rejectionist unionist in the north
    or an opponent of re-unification in the south – the cause of Irish
    Unity is going forward, and an ever growing number of people see it as
    the way ahead.

    People should not be surprised or confused by the current situation in
    Stormont. Remember the DUP were a party formed to oppose power sharing.

    Remember Peter Robinson fronted the Smash Sinn Féin campaign. They led
    the opposition to the Good Friday Agreement before embracing the
    all-Ireland institutions it established.

    They are reluctant partners in government. But we knew that when we
    brought them over the line in the first place. But the core of the
    current difficulties goes beyond policing and justice. This is about
    holding the DUP to their commitments. It is about ensuring that the
    equality demands of the Good Friday Agreement are delivered. It is
    about puncturing the notion held by some within the ranks of the DUP
    that they will operate these institutions on their terms and their
    terms alone.

    That isn’t going to happen. If unionists are ever going to exercise
    power then they will do so acting in partnership with nationalists and
    republicans and within the framework set out in the Good Friday
    Agreement, with all of the checks and balances that includes. One
    aspect of that will be the joint nature of the Office of the First and
    Deputy First Minister.

    Unionism needs to grasp this reality. It remains to be seen whether
    Peter Robinson is capable of leading unionism into a new future built
    upon equality and partnership or whether he will repeat the failures of
    past unionist leaders harking back to days of domination,
    discrimination and inequality.

    But whatever decision he makes, and I hope he opts to show political
    leadership and courage, our task of building the struggle continues.
    Sinn Féin has already demonstrated a commitment to this process and to
    finding a resolution to the current crisis. But make no mistake we are
    equally determined to pursue our primary goal of Irish unity and

    Nuair a cuireadh deireadh le hOibriocht Harvest 1962, chreid cuid mhor
    daoine go raibh deireadh le Poblachtachas Eireannach. Shil ar namhaid,
    gan chuis, nach mbeimis abalta atogail a dheanamh agus an streachailt a
    chur i mbeal an phobail aris eile. Chruthaiomar go raibh siad micheart.
    Ta nios mo Poblachtach ins an oilean seo anois na mar a bhi ag am ar
    bith eile on chriochdheighilt. Is e an rol ata againn seilbh a ghlacadh
    ar an dea-thoil ata againn amuigh ansin agus gluaiseacht fhiornaisiunta
    ar son an athraithe a neartu. Gluaiseacht a bhfuil borradh fuithi gan
    stad gan staonadh. Gluaiseacht ata abalta tionchar a imirt ar mhaithe
    leis an athru. Cinnteoidh sin todhchai bunaithe ar an aontacht agus ar
    an chomhionannas agus todhchai a fhagann teipeanna san am ata chuaigh
    thart sna leabhair staire.

    When Operation Harvest came to an end in 1962, many believed that Irish
    Republicanism was finished. Our opponents foolishly thought that we
    would never be able to rebuild and more importantly re-popularise the
    struggle. We have proved them wrong. There are more Republicans on this
    island now than at any time since partition. Our job is to harness the
    goodwill towards us that is out there and build a truly national
    movement for change. A movement whose momentum will become unstoppable
    and whose ability to effect change will guarantee a future built upon
    unity and equality and one which consigns the failures of past to the
    history books.

    Ach nil an streachailt furasta. Ni raibh si furasta i 1957, ni raibh si
    furasta i 1969 no i 1981 agus b’fheidir go bhfuil si difriuil, ach nil
    si furasta i 2008. Ach nior chreid duine ar bith againn nach mbeadh se
    amhlaidh. Taimid reidh don bhothar fada romhainn. Caithfidh iad siud
    ata ag eileamh an t-athru is mo na rioscai is mo a thabhairt orthu
    Féin. Ni feidir linn fanacht inar seasamh gan bogadh. Ach ta freagracht
    ar an ghluin seo de Phoblachtaigh chun an jab a chriochnu. Ni
    thabharfaidh duine ar bith saoirse duinn ar phlata. Ni bheidh deireadh
    simpli le criochdheighilt. Is e an rol ata againn mar Phoblachtaigh e
    seo a bhaint amach.

    But struggle is not easy. It was not easy in 1957, it was not easy in
    1969 or 1981 and it may be different, but it is not easy in 2008. But
    none of us expect it to be. We are in this for the long haul. Those of
    us who demand the most change have to take the biggest risks. We cannot
    stand still. But this generation of Republicans have a responsibility
    to finish the job. Nobody will hand us freedom. Partition won’t simply
    end. Our job as Republicans is to make this happen.

    We will shortly face into elections, north and south. There will be a
    sustained effort in these campaigns by the opponents of Irish Unity and
    Irish republicanism to stop the advances we have made in recent years.
    But I believe that we as Irish Republicans are up to the task. So let
    us leave here today, reinvigorated and determined, focused on what we
    have to do in the time ahead, and let us ensure that when we come back
    again here next year this party and struggle is stronger and we are
    further along the road to realising the objectives which saw five IRA
    volunteers lose their lives here 51 years ago.


  2. The death also occurred last Friday of Mai Fahy (98), one of the
    last surviving members of Cumann na mBan, the Irish republican women’s
    military organisation.

    Mrs Fahy (nee O’Dea) delivered despatches in the War of Independence.
    Her husband, John Fahy, was a member of the IRA. A Tricolour covered
    her coffin at her funeral Mass in Labane.


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