2016 is the 100th anniversary of Ireland’s Easter Rebellion, which erupted in Dublin early in World War I and was quickly put down by the British. Nonetheless, it was the rebellion that finally set Ireland on the path toward independence. The leaders of the rebellion were an unusual group of revolutionaries—most were not soldiers or politicians, but artists,
playwrights and poets. And one of them was a woman, Constance Markievicz, who grew up in the Downton Abbey atmosphere of her family’s estate, Lissadell, but spent most of her adult life as a freedom fighter. Her journey was the opposite of Tom Branson’s in Downton Abbey. He made his first appearance as a fighter for Irish freedom, but ended the series as an automobile salesman—I can’t help but wonder what Lady Sybil would have thought of that. Tom Branson, however, is fictional. Constance Markievicz was a real woman and her life was far more exciting than the life of any character in Downton Abbey.
Born to an aristocratic life at her family’s estate, Constance Gore-Booth and her sister Eva grew up as admired society leaders. They were both considered great beauties and William Butler Yeats later described them in a poem as “Two girls in silk kimonos, both/Beautiful, one a gazelle…” They went to parties and balls, but instead marrying into the aristocracy, they followed very different paths. Eva became a champion of women’s rights and a suffragette, while Constance determined to be an artist and studied art in Paris, but later turned to politics and the struggle for Irish freedom.
Constance married Count Casimir Dunin-Markievicz, which is why she had a Polish name despite being associated far more with Ireland than with Poland. In fact, she only visited Poland once for a few months shortly after her marriage. Casimir Markievicz was also an artist who became a well-known portrait painter, but never shared her passion for politics or Irish rebellion. For most of their marriage they lived quite separate lives, although they remained friendly.
How then did a woman with this kind of background become a fighter in the middle of the Easter uprising? A woman condemned to execution by the British army who said at her trial that “I did what I thought was right and I stand by it.” ? And finally the first woman elected to the British House of Commons?
This is a story too long to tell in one post, so I will continue it in my next post.