Saturday, 17 March 2012

Lá Fhéile Pádraig Sona Daoibh - Happy St. Patrick's Day From Belfast

© Copyright Joe ÓNéill

© Copyright Joe ÓNéill

© Copyright Joe ÓNéill

© Copyright Joe ÓNéill

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

International Women's Day - The Countess Markievicz

The Countess Markievicz

Tomorrow March 8, is International Women’s Day. First celebrated in 1911, last year was the Global Centenary Year of the event which celebrates the achievements made by women past, and present.

Queue the BBC, which will no doubt cover the event with the usual plethora of world wide snapshots of celebrations. More than likely they will finish with the customary review of the struggle of British women to secure adult suffrage and the election of Viscountess Nancy Astor as the first woman to sit in the British House of Commons. More than once I have heard it reported that she was the first woman elected to the said institution.

Students of Irish history will of course know that the first woman elected to the British House of Commons in 1918, was Constance Gore Booth, better know as Countess Markievicz, a year before Nancy Astor. Nancy Astor replaced her husband as MP for Plymouth Sutton. Waldorf Astor was elevated to the House of Lords in 1919, and thereby became ineligible to hold a seat in the Commons thus necessitating a by-election.

Though both women came from a privileged background their paths to elected office was radically different. Markievicz, an officer in the Irish Citizen Army, was second in command of the garrison in St. Stephen’s Green during the 1916 rising and was sentenced to death after the surrender of the Republican forces. Her sentence was commuted to life in prison on account of her sex. Released in the amnesty of 1917, she was returned to prison in 1918 for anti-conscription activities.

In the General Election of 1918, as a member of Sinn Féin, she was elected for the Dublin St. Patrick’s constituency to the Westminster Parliament. Elected members of Sinn Féin refused to take their seats in Westminster. Markievicz was incarcerated in Holloway Prison in January 1919, when the first meeting of Dáil Éireann was convened. Serving as Minister of Labour she was the first woman to hold Cabinet office, and sadly, was the only woman to hold a Cabinet position in Irish political life until 1979.

In 1926, in the aftermath of the Irish Civil War, along with De Valera, Seán Lemass, Frank Aiken, Gerry Boland, and others, she was a founding member of the Fianna Fáil party.
In July 1927, ‘’Madame Markievicz’’ as she was respectfully known by working class Dubliners, died at the age of 59. It is estimated that over three hundred thousand people attended her funeral and Eamon de Valera in his funeral oration described her as, ‘’the friend of the toiler, the lover of the poor’’.

Nancy Astor, the Honourable member for Plymouth Sutton, was to go on to earn a reputation as an anti-catholic bigot and anti-Semitic, with fellow members referring to her as ‘’The Member for Berlin’’.

Leading members of Fianna Fáil 1927.
Constance Markievicz is bottom row centre, beside Éamon de Valera.