Constance in 1898, from the Sterry Album, acquired for Lissadell in 2007
Countess Markievicz, born Constance Georgine Gore Booth, politician, revolutionary, tireless worker with the poor and dispossessed, was a remarkable woman. Born into great wealth and privilege in Lissadell, Sligo, Ireland, she is most famous for her leadership role in the Irish Easter Rebellion of 1916 and the subsequent revolutionary struggle for freedom in Ireland, for which she risked her life.
Constance Markievicz was the first woman to be elected to Westminster Parliament in London (where she refused to take her seat), and the first to be elected to and serve in Dáil Eireann. She served with distinction as the first female Minister in a modern democracy, having been appointed Minister for Labour at the first meeting of the Dáil in 1919. Constance was sentenced to death for her part in the Rising, commuted (to her chagrin) to life imprisonment because of her sex, and on her release in 1917 following a general amnesty, served a further five terms of imprisonment.
Constance Gore Booth with Althea Giles in London, January 1898
Madame de Markievicz, as she was known by the poor of Dublin, established and operated a soup kitchen from the headquarters of the ITGWU at Liberty Hall during the great Lock Out of 1913 organised by Jim Larkin. She herself collected and delivered bags of turf, which she brought into Dublin in her car from the Dublin mountains.She was regularly seen hauling heavy bags of fuel up flights of stairs in back street tenement houses, where so many of the poorest people in Dublin eked out a mere survival.
In June 1927 Constance fell seriously ill. She was admitted to a public ward in Sir Patrick Dun’s hospital (at her own insistence). She had peritonitis, and although she had surgery, it was too late. Constance Markievicz died at 1:25 a.m. on the morning of 15th July, 1927. She was attended by her husband, Casimir. Her brother, Sir Josslyn Gore Booth, had received daily bulletins from the Matron, and immediately arranged to attend the funeral in Dublin.
Josslyn would have preferred a private, family funeral, but this was not to be. In death Constance Markievicz was even more openly appreciated and acclaimed than in life. Three hundred thousand people attended the funeral to pay tribute to “the friend of the toiler, the lover of the poor”, the words of Eamon de Valera, who delivered the funeral oration, and with whom she had founded the Fianna Fáil Party.
The story of Constance, Countess Markievicz, is a story of a woman of determination, independence, idealism and self-sacrifice in pursuit of freedom for the Irish people. It is the story of a woman who continues to inspire.