How One Woman’s Life Made a Difference
LIFE AND TIMES OF CONSTANCE MARKIEVICZ
Referred to as Madam by many of her friends, Constance Markievicz was well known throughout Dublin during the period leading up to the Easter Rising.
Her life has been documented in books and periodicals as a woman that was militant, dangerously outspoken, and rebellious; a women who is described as craving the limelight and the only leader not executed after the Rising but is that all there was to her?
She was born Constance Georgine Gore-Booth in 1868.
Until almost 30 years of age, she lived with her parents in a manor house called Lissadell and had all that any lady of wealth and class could hope for except what she wanted. A life!
In her diary she wrote:‘I feel the want. Women are made to adore and sacrifice themselves, and I as a woman, I demand as a right that Nature should provide me with something to live for, something to die for. Why should I alone never experience the best and at the same time the worst of Life’s Gifts?’
Well before politics and moving to Dublin, Constance was filled with passion and energy yet she found few ways to use that energy. She’d always loved acting. In fact, she and her siblings put on plays for their guests at Lissadell.
Constance also like to play ‘fairy godmother,’ her favorite being the role of a beggar girl and it’s no wonder she took up acting and costume design later in life. She was also an excellent rider and loved to ride through the Sligo countryside, missing meals, lessons, and an occasional portrait sitting. She wondered at the poverty behind the one room cottages hardly big enough for livestock. Sometimes she would sneak into a house and leave food or clothing without a word. She also liked to have fun and was fond of a good joke especially when making a point.
On one occasion, she bet two men she could come across them in the countryside and they would not recognize her. Riding an old donkey with panniers that had a trap door filled with broken crockery, Constance and her child accomplice came upon the two men on the high road. When the men she let saw her, sh opened the bottom out of the pannier releasing all the broken pottery in the road while the child wailed in panic. The young men dropped from their horses and handed her money to buy more crockery like knights in shining amour. She joyfully revealed her identity to them.
She would help the poor somehow or other her whole life. During the Civil War, Constance was incarcerated many times. In some instances we e can understand why but in others it seems unfair and outrageous. In 1919, she was in London at Trafalgar Square getting involved once again to help feed children with the same goal in mind as the School lunch program in 1911
Like her precious Fianna boys, children were always a focus for Constance and she never turned her back on anyone in need. While in London, she found herself immersed in another cause outside of Irish freedom, much as she did as a young girl in Sligo when she saw Irish peasants starving. Again she took a stand against the British in order to feed children of Europe. For her involvement and support in this endeavor, she was arrested and thrown in jail for sedition
People were Starving all over Europe
Constance joined two women who cared about children and the poor as much as she did. Eglantyne Jebb and her sister Dorothy Buxton campaigned to protest the blockade against Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Turkey, after the First World War. The blockade, which began in 1914, was still in force by 1919 even though the war had ended the previous year and people were starving all over Europe.
To bring this to the attention of Londoners, the two women raised funds and awareness by distributing pamphlets with the words “A Starving Baby and Our Blockade has Caused This” accompanied by photos of emaciated children. ‘ The sisters continued their crusade by setting up the first Save the Children’s Fund in Royal Albert Hall.
With Constance’s flair for drama and speech we can imagine how many she influenced in this campaign.
In a letter to her sister, Eva Gore-Booth, Constance wrote from Cork Jail. “One of the last good works before getting lifted was to help organize a scheme for raising money for the starving Hun babies.“