Markievicz - an inspiring woman

Diana Norma's book - Terrible Beauty A life of Constance Markievicz reviewed by Ruth Coppinger in Militant, September 1988

Only two people spoke in the entire debate on the Treaty which confirmed Partition in 1922, on behalf of the Irish working class. One was Liam Mellowes, the other was Constance Markievicz. Here in her best, most politically clear statement, she argued that the ruling class had 'combined against the workers', the Treaty was to 'uphold English interests in Ireland…My ideal is the Workers' Republic for which James Connolly died…It is the capitalists' interests in England and Ireland that are pushing this Treaty to block the march of the working people of Ireland and England.'

While the name of Constance Markievicz is familiar to most people throughout the country, the details of her life and what she really stood for are virtually unknown.

This recently published book about her life, long overdue, is not only revealing about the life of Markievicz but about the revolutionary period she lived through. There was then much collaboration between the growing trade unions, Markievicz and the Suffragettes, with a huge meeting in Dublin in 1912 called for the expected Home Rule Bill to include a woman's franchise. Sinn Fein was reactionary, on (among other questions) the question of woman's suffrage.

Markievicz had great respect for and worked closely with Connolly and Larkin, appearing with them at rallies and doing a lot of work for the unions, particularly during the 1913 Lock Out. She said of Larkin: (he) ' changed the whole life of the Dublin workers…I looked upon Larkin as a friend and was out to do any little thing I could to help him in his work.'

However, much confusion surrounds her socialist tendencies. This stems largely from the fact that she allied with Sinn Fein and the Nationalists throughout her political life. Markievicz had illusions in the nationalists and some of her speeches reflect the same romantic hyperbole and calls for self-sacrifice associated with Patrick Pearse.

However this should be understood in the context of the break from her own background, the smug, parasitic Anglo-Irish Ascendancy where, as she herself said, 'everyone accepted the status quo.' It is a tribute to Constance Markievicz that she broke from her class.

She earned the respect of workers and the poor, working day and night with striking workers and their families and throughout her life spending all she had on the struggle.

The failure of the Labour Party to pose a socialist solution to the national question allowed Fianna Fail to pose a radical alternative to the right wing Cumman na Gael government who took over the state in 1922. Markievicz, in the last years of a life shortened by prison hardship, joined Fianna Fail . She saw the 'Calvary sent in the wary and hopeless ranks of the unemployed when 'home' has become the farcical name that custom gives to a one room tenement where a hungry mother awaits'…..the workhouse 'that hell devised by a capitalist government' and wanted to do something about it.

De Valera's vision of Ireland was different. He was hallucinating about villages 'joyous with the sound of industry, the romping of sturdy children, the contests of athletic youths, the laughter of comely maidens..' There was gulf between their visions of Ireland.

Lack of political clarity brought Constance Markievicz to Fianna Fail before she died in 1927 but nothing can take away from the contributions of a brave and in many ways remarkable woman. Her life, achievements and mistakes, serve as a good study for all in the Labour movement today.

More Labour History pieces are available here

Another series of articles on Northern Ireland political developments
are available here.

The full range of articles from the Socialist Party
are available in our sitemap