The tour of Leinster House was very informative and interesting. I was surprised at how beautiful it was, especially the room in which the Seanad Éireann meets. The whole room was very ornate, but what really captured my attention was the ceiling. This was partially because of the use of my favorite color, blue, but also because it is beautifully designed. It is easy to imagine this space being used for its original purpose – a ballroom.
The house was commissioned to be built by James Fitzgerald, the Earl of Kildare. He wanted to reflect his position in Irish society through creating “the stateliest of Dublin Georgian Mansions.” When Fitzgerald became the Duke of Leinster in 1776, the house was renamed Leinster House from its original name of Kildare House.
There is a lot of artwork throughout Leinster House. One painting is of a woman named Countess Constance Markievicz. We were told some of her history when we came across her painting on the tour, and I was immediately struck with how amazing this woman sounded. I had to know more about her.
Countess Markievicz was born into a wealthy family in London. Her family had an estate in County Sligo and held many tenants. Unlike most landowners in Ireland at the time, Markievicz’s father treated his tenants with care and concern. This had a strong impact on Markievicz and her sister, who became involved in the labor movement and women’s suffrage in England. At the time, Markievicz was studying to be an artist. While studying at the Julian School in Paris, she met her husband. The couple moved to Dublin and Markievicz founded and funded the United Artists Club to bring together those in Dublin with artist interests. She did not have much interest in politics until she read “The Peasant and Sinn Fein,” which was left behind in a cottage she was renting out. This publication pushed for independence from British rule and struck a chord with Markievicz.
Markievicz became actively involved in nationalist politics in Ireland through joining Sinn Fein and Inghinidhe na hEerann, a women’s movement. She founded Fianna Éireann, a form of Boy Scouts with a military input. During the lockout of 1913, she ran a soup kitchen for those who could not afford food. She was actively involved in the fighting that took place in Dublin in the Easter Uprising of 1916, as she was second in command at St. Stephen’s Green. 70 women were arrested at the end of the rebellion, but the Countess was the only one held in solitary confinement at Kilmainham Gaol for fear she would stir up trouble with the other women. She was sentenced to death, but this was later changed to life in prison because due to her gender. On hearing the news, she told them, “I do wish your lot had the decency to shoot me.” However, she was released from prison in 1917 and she immediately returned to politics. She was jailed the following year for her part in anti-conscription activities. She was elected to parliament while in prison, but she refused to take her seat, as it would require swearing an oath of allegiance to the king. She served as Minister of Labor in the first Dáil, becoming the first woman to serve as a cabinet member. She was the leader of Cumann na mBan and later joined Fianna Fail. When she died, an estimated 250,000 working class people lined the streets for her funeral.
I wish I had learned about this woman in school. She was brave and caused a lot of change. History focuses so heavily on men, it would be nice to hear about women like Countess Constance Markievicz more often. She was not just a leader for women; she was a leader for all.
“Countess Constance Markievicz.” BBC News. BBC, n.d. Web. 27 Jan. 2014.
“Countess Markievicz.” Ireland 1848 to 1922. History Learning Site, n.d. Web. 27 Jan. 2014.
“Leinster House – A History.” Leinster House, Houses of the Oireachtas. Oireachtas, n.d. Web. 27 Jan. 2014.