Constance Georgine Markievicz, Countess Markievicz (Polish: Markiewicz; née Gore-Booth; 4 February 1868 – 15 July 1927) was an Irish Sinn Féinand Fianna Fáil politician, revolutionary nationalist, suffragette and socialist. In December 1918, she was the first woman elected to the British House of Commons, though she did not take her seat and along with the other Sinn Féin TDs formed the first Dáil Éireann. She was also one of the first women in the world to hold a cabinet position (Minister for Labour of the Irish Republic, 1919–1922).
In 1913 her husband moved to Ukraine, and never returned to live in Ireland. However, they did correspond and Kazimierz was present by her side when she died in 1927. As a member of the ICA, Markievicz took part in the 1916 Easter Rising. She was deeply inspired by the founder of the ICA, James Connolly, and she both designed the uniforms of the ICA and composed their anthem, a Polish song with changed lyrics. Markievicz held the rank of an officer, making her a decision maker, and more importantly, giving her the right to carry arms.
During the Rising, Lieutenant Markievicz was appointed second in command to Michael Mallin in St Stephen’s Green. She supervised the setting-up of barricades as the rising began and was in the middle of the fighting all around Stephen’s Green, wounding a British army sniper. Inspired by newsreel footage from the Western Front, they initially began to dig trenches in the Green. British fire from the rooftops of adjacent tall buildings, including the Shelbourne Hotel, however, soon convinced them of the folly of this tactic, and they withdrew to the adjacent Royal College of Surgeons.
Mallin and Markievicz and their men held out for six days, finally giving up when the British brought them a copy of Pearse’s surrender order. The English officer, Captain Wheeler (aka Major de Courcy Wheeler), who accepted their surrender was a relative of Markievicz.
They were taken to Dublin Castle and the Countess was then transported to Kilmainham Gaol. They were jeered by the crowds as they walked through the streets of Dublin. There, she was the only one of seventy women prisoners who was put into solitary confinement. At her court-martial on 4 May 1916, the Countess pleaded not guilty to “taking part in an armed rebellion…for the purpose of assisting the enemy,” but pleaded guilty to having attempted “to cause disaffection among the civil population of His Majesty” and she told the court, “I did what I thought was right and I stand by it.” Her conviction was assured, only her sentence was in doubt. She was sentenced to death, but General Maxwell commuted this to life in prison on “account of the prisoner’s sex.” It was widely reported that she told the court, “I do wish your lot had the decency to shoot me”. The prosecuting counsel, William Wylie, later to be appointed a High Court judge in 1924, wrote to his daughter and alleged that she said “I am only a woman, you cannot shoot a woman” and that she had “never stopped moaning the whole time she was in court”.
The Countess was transferred to Mountjoy Prison and then to Aylesbury Prison in England in July 1916. She was released from prison in 1917, along with others involved in the Rising, as the government in London granted a general amnesty for those who had participated in it. It was around this time that Markievicz, born into the Church of Ireland, converted to Catholicism.
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