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Countess Markievicz

Here's to the woman of our blood
Stood by them in the fiery Hour,
Rapt lest some weakness in their mood
Rob manhood of a single power.
You, brave on such a hope forlorn,
Who smiled through crack of shot and shell,
Though the world cry on you with scorn,
Here's to you, Constance, in your cell.

-AE (George Russell)

Lieutenant Countess Constance Georgina Gore-Booth Markievicz began life as the strikingly beautiful older daughter of Henry and Georgina Gore-Booth, wealthy Ascendancy landlords from Sligo, in the north of Ireland. She was the belle of the society balls, and in 1900, at age 32, Constance married Count Casimir Markievicz, at the insistence of her parents and the Count himself. (Constance, who met Casi at a Paris art school, would have preferred to continue her studies and become a professional artist.)

The Countess Markievicz was soon to find her aristocratic lifestyle unsatisfying. In the summer of 1907, she went to the mountains of County Dublin on holiday. In the little cottage she rented for the purpose, she could relax and paint. As legend has it, however, she unearthed a box of revolutionary propaganda left behind in the cottage by a previous tenant, and she was instantly converted.

She joined Sinn Fein, the up-and-coming Irish Republican Party (which was not quite legal at the time). It is said that she attended her first meeting immediately after a ball at Dublin Castle, and was delighted when (despite her jewels, silks, and assorted finery) the republicans refused to fawn over her. (Years later, when she was asked if she enjoyed parties at Dublin Castle, the seat of British rule in Ireland, she replied, "Oh, no. I want to blow the place up.")

During the following years, Con organised the women's wing of the (highly illegal) Irish Republican Brotherhood, as well as a sort of militant Boy Scouts, which she called the Fianna after Finn Mac Cool's legendary warriors. She also became involved with socialist and feminist causes.

In the Easter Rising of 1916, Con (now Lieutenant Markievicz of the Irish Republican Army) held St. Stephen's Green in Dublin until she was ordered by her commanders to deliver the surrender to the British. She was originally sentenced to death for her part in the rising, but (to her great disappointment) the sentence was commuted to life in prison due to her gender.

Comrades, To Con

The peaceful night that round me flows,
Breaks through your iron prison doors,
Free through the world your spirit goes,
Forbidden hands are clasping yours.
The wind is our confederate
The night has left the doors ajar;
We meet beyond earth's barred gate,
Where all the world's wild rebels are.

-Eva Gore-Booth

While imprisoned, Con converted to Roman Catholicism, learned to speak Irish Gaelic (though she would always retain her very British accent), and became the first female member of the British Parliament. In keeping with Sinn Fein policy, however, she did not take her seat in Westminster, but instead assembled in a rival (and, yes, illegal) Irish Parliament. She was released from prison in an attempt to pacify the Irish people, though she would be jailed four more times. In the course of her career, she was also appointed Minister of Labour for the newly-independent Irish nation, becoming the first female to hold a Cabinet office in all of Europe.

Con died, possibly of consumption (contracted when she worked in the poorhouses of Dublin) or complications related to appendicitis, in 1927, at the age of 59. Her estranged husband and daughter and beloved stepson were at her side.

In Memory Of Eva Gore-Booth And Con Markiewicz

The light of evening, Lissadell,
Great windows open to the south,
Two girls in silk kimonos, both
Beautiful, one a gazelle.
But a raving autumn shears
Blossom from the summer's wreath;
The older is condemned to death,
Pardoned, drags out lonely years
Conspiring among the ignorant.
I know not what the younger dreams -
Some vague Utopia - and she seems,
When withered old and skeleton-gaunt,
An image of such politics.
Many a time I think to seek
One or the other out and speak
Of that old Georgian mansion, mix
pictures of the mind, recall
That table and the talk of youth,
Two girls in silk kimonos, both
Beautiful, one a gazelle.
Dear shadows, now you know it all,
All the folly of a fight
With a common wrong or right.
The innocent and the beautiful.
Have no enemy but time;
Arise and bid me strike a match
And strike another till time catch;
Should the conflagration climb,
Run till all the sages know.
We the great gazebo built,
They convicted us of guilt;
Bid me strike a match and blow.

-WB Yeats

Remembering Con Markievicz

Child running wild in woods of Lissadell:
Young lady from the Big House, seen
In flowered dress gathering wild flowers: Ascendancy queen
Of hunts, house-parties, practical jokes- who could foretell
(Oh fiery shade, impetuous bone)
Where all was regular, self-sufficient, gay
Their lovely hoyden lost in a nation's heroine?
Laughterless now the sweet demesne,
And the gaunt house looks blank on Sligo Bay
A nest decayed, an eagle flown.

The Paris studio, your playboy Count
Were not enough, nor Castle splendour
And fame of horsemanship. You were the tinder
Waiting a match, a runner tuned for the pistol's sound,
Impatient shade, long-suffering bone
In a Ballaly cottage, you found a store
Of Sinn Fein papers. You read (maybe the old sheets can while
The time). The flash lights up a whole
Ireland which you have never known before,
A nest betrayed, its eagles gone.

The road to Connolly and Stephen's Green
Showed clear. The great heart which defied
Irish prejudice, English snipers, died
A little not to have shared a grave with the fourteen.
Oh fiery shade, intransigent bone!
And when the Treaty emptied the British jails,
A haggard woman returned and Dublin went wild to greet her.
But still it was not enough: an iota
Of compromise, she cried, and the Cause fails.
Nest disarrayed, eagles undone.

Fanatic, bad actress, figure of fun-
She was called each. Ever she dreamed,
Fought, suffered, for a losing side, it seemed
(The side which always at last is seen to have won),
Oh fiery shade and unvexed bone.
Remember a heart impulsive, gay and tender,
Still to an ideal Ireland and its real, poor alive.
When she died in a pauper bed, in love
All the poor of Dublin rose to lament her.
A nest is made, an eagle flown.

-Cecil Day Lewis

Move On

The Great Hall
The Pictures Above the Fireplace