“I went out to fight for Ireland’s freedom and it does not matter what happens to me. I did what I thought was right and I stand by it.” –Constance Markievicz
During the Easter Rising of 1916, Constance was second in command under Michael Mallin in Dublin’s St Steven’s Green. She proved fearless under fire and fought alongside the men. Eyewitnesses reported she was responsible for the killing of at least one British soldier during the battle.
After their defeat, Constance Markievicz marched at the head of her company. Tried for treason to the Crown, Constance was sentenced to death. However, her sentence was commuted due to her sex. A mercy she did not appreciate for she resented being discriminated against because she was a woman.
Constance was jailed at Aylesbury prison in England until being released under the general amnesty of 1917. She was welcomed home as a hero, with a torchlight parade through Dublin’s streets. Constance was the much-loved and respected Rebel Countess of Ireland.
All of this activity made the British government quite unsettled of course. In 1918 they feared another rising, this time with the popular support of the civilian population of Ireland (the common people’s resistance spurred by the brutal executions of the brave leaders and soldiers of the Easter Rising). Action had to be taken fast and under the pretence of the Irish Rebel leaders taking part in a ‘German plot’ the British arrested all the nationalist leaders. This time Constance was imprisoned in Holloway, London.
At the 1918 general election, Markievicz was elected for the constituency of Dublin St Patrick’s, beating her opponent William Field with 66% of the vote, as one of 73 Sinn Féin MPs. This made her the first woman elected to the British House of Commons. However, in line with Sinn Féin abstentionist policy, she would not take her seat in the House of Commons.
Markievicz was in Holloway prison, when her colleagues assembled in Dublin at the first meeting of the First Dáil, the Parliament of the revolutionary Irish Republic. When her name was called, she was described, like many of those elected, as being “imprisoned by the foreign enemy”. She was re-elected to the Second Dáil in the elections of 1921.
During the civil war that followed Constance went on the run and later served two prison sentences, one in Cork Gaol the other in Mountjoy jail in Dublin. Constance was opposed to the 1921 Treaty that effectively split Ireland in two. She said of the Treaty, ‘While Ireland is not free I remain a rebel, unconverted and inconvertible.’
She was again arrested in 1923 and went on hunger strike. When Éamon de Valera founded the Fianna Fáil party in 1926 she joined and was re-elected to the Dáil the following year. Her health was now failing and on 15th July 1927 the Rebel Countess died. She was buried in Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin; finally taking her place beside many of brave rebels of 1916 and others who fell in the fight for Irish freedom.
Photo: 18 June 1917, Constance Markievicz after her release from prison. The Irish Citizen Army, headed by the new Commandant, James O’Neill, marched to Westland Row station to meet her. They then proceeded to march through the city, their first victory parade since the 1916 Easter Rising. A rousing welcome was given to Constance from the thousands who gathered to see her.