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'People really loved her': 90th anniversary of Countess Markievicz's funeral to be commemorated

The event will mark her impact on Irish history.

The Countess Markiewicz bust in Dublin.
The Countess Markiewicz bust in Dublin.
Image: William Murphy/Flickr/CC

THE 90TH ANNIVERSARY of the funeral of Countess Constance Markievicz will be celebrated this weekend with a ceremony at Glasnevin Cemetary.

The event is being organised by the 1916 Relatives Association and is set to take place today at 11.30am at the grave of the Countess in the cemetery.

Noreen Byrne, who is secretary of the association, explained to TheJournal.ie that they want to mark the impact the Countess made on Irish politics and history, particularly given that it is believed she has no relatives left in Ireland.

“So we just felt that for that reason we would like to commemorate the anniversary of her funeral, because the funeral was such a big event at the time in 1927,” explained Byrne. “Next year there is another big anniversary, the 150th [anniversary] of her birth and then I think the anniversary of her election in 1918, but we decided to honour her this year.”

Suffragette, socialist, politician

Byrne explained that Markiewicz, who was a suffragette, socialist, the first woman elected to the British House of Commons (though she didn’t take her seat), part of the first Dáil Éireann and a female Cabinet minister, was “born into power and privilege and yet she took a stand on behalf of the poor”.

That began before the 1916 Rising, said Byrne, as Markievicz was also involved in the 1913 Lockout.

“And she visited people in their homes – she visited my own grandmother in her home – so had a big social conscience,” said Byrne. “Because of all that the women in particular of Dublin turned out for her funeral and people had a huge regard for her.”

10600907384_f307ebf385_z The statue of the Countess and her dog Poppet on Tara Street Source: William Murphy/Flickr/CC

A privileged life

Born Constance Gore-Booth, she grew up in Sligo, and went on to study at the Slade School of Art in London (she couldn’t study art in Ireland as none of the art schools admitted women). There, she met the Polish Count Casimir Markiewicz, and the pair were married in 1900.

They settled in Ireland in 1901, where their daughter Maeve Alys was born that year. Within a few years they had separated, and her husband returned to Poland. In 1908, the countess decided to join Sinn Féiin meetings, and by 1916 she was second in command of the Irish Citizen Army during the Rising at St Stephen’s Green.

She was court-martialled and sentenced to death over her role in the Rising, but escaped death due to her gender. She was taken to jail, and was released after 14 months.

Markiewicz died aged 59 at Sir Patrick Dun’s Hospital in 1927, after undergoing treatment for appendicitis.

According to the Irish Labour History Society, Markiewicz was given a public funeral, “ceremonial with many bands, eight motor-tenders of wreaths”. The oration was delivered by one Eamon de Valera. According to Lissadell House’s biography of the Countess, 300k people attended the funeral.

The funeral was held at Glasnevin Cemetery, but due to the lack of gravediggers, she wasn’t buried until the next day. “She was buried the day after the funeral so to speak,” said Byrne.

I think people really loved her, the women in particular remembered her and really remembered her for her solidarity.

Role in history

Although she grew up in privilege, Markiewicz’s life wasn’t always that way.

“I often think that after 1922, I think that she may have come from a very grand background but she ended up in poverty really, her own family were losing more and more in terms of their money and their income,” said Byrne. “They may have had land but their day, so to speak, was over and I think she ended up quite poor and I think she was in very bad health all the time she was in prison.”

Byrne also emphasised the Countess’s strength and bravery – and how pioneering she was as a politician.

“I think she was a very important figure because of her class background – she was very confident as well as standing up to the British she stood up to the politicians after 1922.”

“She was a very brave woman. The other women in the movement really looked up to her.”

Ireland as a very closed place after 1922 and she wasn’t the only woman who had queried and questions about what was happening but she was the most prominent one and so maybe got the most coverage and publicity and for that reason a lot of women held her in great affection.

The fact that she was a woman in Irish political life was also major. “I think it was a huge thing and if you think about it, De Valera was the leader and he had big issues with women because he didn’t even have women in the volunteers,” said Byrne.

“I can’t imagine what it must have been like to stick your head above the parapet in those days. [Women like Markiewicz] did us all some service, as the phrase goes.”

At the one-hour commemoration ceremony today, the historian Dr Margaret Mac Curtain will given an oration on the life of Countess Markievicz and a wreath will be laid by Sabina Higgins. Ciara Burke will sing the Foggy Dew and read The Death of Fionavar from The Triumph of Maeve by Countess Markiewicz’s sister Eva Gore-Booth. There will also be music from piper Séan Kelly, and a colour party provided by Scouting Ireland. Members of the Citizen Army re-enactment group will be present also.

Read: The forgotten story of Irish-Australians after the 1916 Rising is getting an international audience>

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