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She was a soldier, a socialist, an artist, and a suffragette. Could Constance Markievicz become the first of the 1916 rebels to be commemorated with a statue on O’Connell Street?
Independent Councillor Vincent Jackson says now is the time to honour a woman on the nation’s main street. Especially since this year it’s been a century since women in Ireland got the right to vote. (Well, some of them, at least.)
“By putting Countess Markievicz in O’Connell Street, we would give her the stature that she deserves,” Jackson says.
Markievicz was a leader of the 1913 Lockout, second in command of a battalion during the Rising, the first female member of the Westminster parliament, and the first female government minister in Ireland.
She was hugely popular with Dubliners too: hundreds of thousands attended her funeral.
“Constance believed in suffrage, in women’s rights and she believed in national independence and labour rights,” says historian Patrick Quigley, who wrote the 2016 book Sisters Against the Empire: Countess Constance Markievicz and Eva Gore-Booth, 1916-17.“ She united all of those various strands, which was what made her an unusual figure.”
Markievicz was second in command of the battalion that occupied Stephen’s Green in the 1916
rebellion, says Quigley. But she shouldn’t be remembered just as a soldier.
“She certainly deserves a place in O’Connell Street,” he says, but “I’d like to see a statue that reflects all aspects of her character.”
The Countess was artistic. She was an actress who also painted and sketched throughout her life. “She had a great sense of humour as well,” he says. “She loved practical jokes and she loved songs. She was just full of life and a great character.”
She and her sister Eva Gore-Booth also believed that they could contact each other telepathically, says Quigley. She was particularly close to Eva, who was also an activist, as well as a writer and poet, he says.
From an aristocratic, pro-British family, their father, Sir Henry Gore-Booth, was a knight. Constance was born in London, opposite Buckingham Palace, Quigley says, but then she was raised on the family’s land in Lissadell, Co. Sligo.
She went to Paris to study art, and that’s where she met her Polish husband. Poland was occupied at the time as well, and it was through that connection that she realised that “aristocrats like herself could be revolutionaries”, he says.
There were a lot of women active in politics at the time, and there were other women imprisoned too after the Rising, Quigley says. Markievicz was the most prominent female rebel because she was second in command of her battalion, so that’s why she was the only woman who was sentenced to death, he says.
That sentence was never carried out though. The executions were proving unpopular anyway, and “the fact of shooting a woman wouldn’t have looked very good”, he says. British public opinion at the time was outraged by the Germans having shot a British nurse, he says.
In time, Markievicz was released under a general amnesty for political prisoners.
“She was a revolutionary when revolution was the only way to go,” he says, but “she was always ready to adapt to circumstances”. Once the political route was available to her she took it, and she was a founder member of Fianna Fáil.
Markievicz died in 1927 from a burst appendix, at the age of 59, Quigley says. By that time she was broke. “She gave her money really to help the poor, to buy fuel to heat their tenements,” he says.
“Her funeral was one of the biggest ever seen in Dublin. Massive,” he says. Well over 300,000
people turned out, which was unusual at the time.
As things stand, there are no women honoured on O’Connell Street, and none of the 1916 rebels are there either. The only statue added to the street since independence is Big Jim Larkin, who got his place in 1979.
A 2003 council report on monuments in the O’Connell Street area noted that the statues on the street tell “a story which spans a nation’s epic and indefatigable struggle to regain autonomy”.
The nature of the statue depends on when it was commissioned, “leading from the expressly figurative, embellished with unashamed national symbolism, to the representational and global aspirational”.
In 1870, city officials put in a statue dedicated to William Smith O’Brien, a leader of the failed rebellion of 1848. It was the first monument in Dublin to commemorate an individual who had stood for armed resistance to British rule.
The 1882 monument to Daniel O’Connell “was an important move away from commemorating only members of the Castle administration or the British royal family”, the report notes.
The foundation was dug for the statue of the nationalist politician Charles Stewart Parnell in 1899; his organising committee was quick off the mark. He had only died in 1891.
The artist took a bit longer to complete the work though, and the statue was finally unveiled in 1911. Its inscription turned out to be prophetic: “No man has a right to fix the boundary to the march of a nation.”
But still, as statues were added, there were no women. “I think in our heart of hearts, we would all agree that it is an omission that has to be corrected,” says Jackson. He expects his fellow councillors to back the plans. “I think it will have universal support, and if money was the issue, I think we will find the money,” he says.
There is an existing statue of the Countess at the Markievicz Leisure Centre on Tara Street, which potentially could be moved to O’Connell Street. But Jackson says it is too small. He would like to see one that is of the same stature as the men on O’Connell Street, he says.
The Lord Mayor of Dublin, Sinn Féin Councillor Mícheál Mac Donncha, says that he supports the idea of the Markievicz statue in principal. But he says he needs to find out more about the practicalities of getting a new statue erected in O’Connell Street, and to see exactly what is being proposed.
Labour Councillor Rebecca Moynihan is excited by the idea. “I would be very, very supportive of the motion,” she says. “I can’t see anybody opposing it.”
The vast majority of statues in Dublin city centre are of men, said a spokesperson for Dublin City Council. “With the exception of the statue of Markievicz located on Townsend Street and the sculpture of Molly Malone (a fictional character immortalised in the 19th-century ballad), which is now the most visited sculpture in Dublin.”
Moynihan hopes this will be the first of many. “We need to look at including more women in our public art and statues,” she says.
“We could do with some women on that street,” says Lorcan Collins, author of The Easter Rising – A Guide to Dublin in 1916. “But why does it always have to be Countess Markievicz?”
As many as 276 women fought in 1916, he says. There is already a statue of Markievicz on Townsend Street, a bust at Stephen’s Green and a bust at the Dáil, he says.
“Markievicz is great, I love her,” he says. “But what about Kathleen Clarke? Our first female lord mayor, who lost her husband to the executioner’s bullet, her best friend Sean MacDiarmada, and her only brother Ned Daly.”
Clarke was elected a TD in the second Dáil and she lived just off O’Connell Street, he says.
She didn’t fight in the Rising, but she kept the Irish Republican Brotherhood going after its leadership was wiped out in 1916, he says.
It is certainly time that at least one of the leaders of the 1916 Rising is commemorated on O’Connell Street, he says.
During the early years of independence “there was a reluctance to promote the revolutionary period, for fear that that would give fire to the republican cause”, he says.
The conflict over the border issue was not resolved, he says. There were six republican political prisoners executed by the Irish government in the 1940s, he says, and one of them, Paddy McGrath, had actually fought in 1916.
It’s unclear exactly when the motion will come before the full city council, but if councillors then back the proposal, a report would be brought to the Arts and Culture Advisory Group, says Moynihan.
If it gets the go-ahead, the public arts officer would put it out for expressions of interest, she says. After that, it is a matter of picking the proposal and securing funding.