Born in London, her father was a philanthropist, Henry Gore-Booth. He was an Arctic explorer and a landlord in the west of Ireland, who was married to Georgina May Hill, of Tickhill Castle, York, England. Constance was educated at the family estate in Lissadell, Co Sligo. She was noted as a fine horsewoman who had an excellent shot.
Inspired by William Butler Yeats, she became interested in Irish nationalism and social issues at a time women were not allowed to vote in elections or to become Members of Parliament. After studying in London and Paris, Constance met and later married Count Casimir Dunin-Markievicz and they returned to Sligo in 1901 where their daughter Maeve was born. Maeve was raised by her grandparents.
In 1903 Markievicz moved to Dublin where she joined Inghinidhe na hÉireann (Daughters of Ireland) and later founded, with Bulmer Hobson, Na Fianna Éireann (1909). Working with James Connolly, she ran a soup kitchen at Liberty Hall during the 1913 lockout, before she joined the Citizen Army. During the 1916 Easter Rising, Markievicz was appointed second in command to Michael Mallin at St Stephen’s Green. Upon surrendering, she kissed her revolver before handing it over to the British officer.
Although condemned to death for her part, she had her sentence commuted to penal servitude for life (on account of her sex) and was imprisoned in Aylesbury Prison, Buckinghamshire. Under the general amnesty of 1917, Markievicz was released and she converted to Catholicism. In 1918 she was the first woman elected to the House of Commons but did not take her seat as was the policy of her party, Sinn Féin.
She toured America in 1922 to enlist support for the Republican cause. She said: “It is the capitalist interests in England and Ireland that are pushing this Treaty to block the march of the working people in England and Ireland. Now I say that Ireland’s freedom is worth blood, and worth my blood, and I will willingly give it for it, and I appeal to the men of the Dáil to stand true.”
Opposed to the Treaty, she supported the ‘Irregulars’ during the Civil War, for which she was imprisoned, a regular occurrence. Markievicz joined Fianna Fáil in 1926 and was elected to the Dáil but died in a public ward in Sir Patrick Dun’s Hospital, Dublin on 15 July 1927. She is commemorated by a limestone bust in St Stephen’s Green, by a plaque in St Ultan’s Hospital, a football ground, and by WB Yeats’s poem ‘In memory of Eva Gore-Booth and Constance Markievicz’.
Truckloads of flowers and thousands of mourners attended her funeral, though the Free State government refused to grant this hero of 1916 official funeral honours. She was buried in Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin and de Valera gave the funeral oration.
Image | 1916 Easter Revolution in Colour