When I moved to central London I expected to see famous faces all over the place – every time I walked through Borough Market a little (massive) part of me would be hoping that I would bump into Bridget Jones. Being the kind of person who walks around with their eyes shut, the closest I got to a celebrity was apparently walking past Anne Hathaway (Devil Wears Prada, not Shakespeare’s wife), but I didn’t even notice.
Little did I realise that a spectacular women in history, who’s said and done some of the sassiest things during significant historical moments is distantly related to me. Upon researching her further, I realised that she is worthy of respect and admiration far greater than any J-Lo or J-Law or Kim K.
Countess Markievicz was born in London and lived in Ireland. She studied at the Slade School of Art, becoming known for her landscape paintings. She contributed significantly towards the suffragette cause; her sister lived in Manchester with another suffragette and they helped to oppose Winston Churchill’s re-election – an aim which was achieved. She once cruised through a suffragette march in a coach with four white horses to attract attention. It is rumored that when a guy yelled if she could cook a meal, she replied ‘yes, can you drive a coach and four?’ This sass is a precursor for her later, more violent, political activity where she encouraged upper-middle class women to ‘leave your jewels in the bank and buy a revolver.’
It didn’t take long for a pattern of rebellion in her life to emerge. She married a Polish Count, but they soon separated before WWI. She first got involved in Irish Nationalist politics in 1909, and by 1918 she was the first woman elected to the House of Commons. She didn’t take her seat, instead helping to form the first Dail Eireann (with Sinn Fein). Not only did she work significantly for the freedom of the Irish people, she also founded Fianna Eireann (training teenagers to use guns, basically), joined the Irish Citizen Army as well as designing their uniform and composing their anthem, was considered by some to be second in command during the Easter Rising – and it goes on; her highly active political career stretching on until her death in 1927.
She does indeed crop up in the discourse of Irish political history. Nobody can deny that she is an important figure, with courage and integrity to match that of any of those involved in the rebellious movement of the time. Then again, she doesn’t have a penis so it apparently seems legitimate that whilst learning about Irish history in school, names such as James Connolly, De Valera, Patrick Pearse, Thomas Clarke, Sean Mac Dermott, Joseph Mary Plunkett, Eamonn Ceannt, Thomas MacDonagh – and it goes on – were talked and talked about, whilst our lovely countess, armed with revolver and bravado, tended to make significantly less of an appearance.
I admit that this may be because her overall role was indeed less significant than her male counterparts. However, considering that the majority of the movement was male, it seems important, in turn, to emphasise her importance.
Words by Alex Howlett
Image by Jo Wideman