Booth was born in 1868 into a land-owning family of the Protestant Ascendancy in Co. Sligo. During her life she became heavily involved in nationalist movements and is most renowned for the role she took in the 1916 Easter Rising, as the most prominent female leader. She was arrested and put on trial like the other leaders of the Rising, but, because of her sex, she avoided execution by firing squad. Instead she served a prison sentence in Britain, separated from the surviving leaders of the Rising and was released in 1917, to then pursue a career in politics.
She died in 1927, a hero to the people of Ireland. On Easter Monday, the 24th of April, 1916 the Volunteers took several positions around the city which included the GPO, the Four Courts, Boland’s Mills, Jacob’s Biscuit factory and the College of Surgeons. Countess Markievicz held the rank of Staff Lieutenant with Michael Mallin as her superior officer and was the only woman among the leaders of the Rising. During the morning of Easter Monday, Countess Markievicz drove to the City Hall with medical supplies, successfully loaded the supplies into the building and then drove on to St.
Stephen’s Green, where she reported to Mallin. Wearing a Citizens Army tunic, she was placed in charge of the trench digging around the Green. Meanwhile, her comrades were taking their posts around the city, Pearse read the Proclamation of the Irish Republic and the Rising had begun. Between one and two o’clock that day, a page boy claimed he saw Markievicz drive up in a car, blow a whistle and give orders to rebels to shepherd civilians out of the Green. Then he allegedly saw Markievicz take aim at the window of the University Club.
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Another witness saw Markievicz on Harcourt Street that day, watching British soldiers approach. The witness claimed that Markievicz “raised her rifle, took aim and fired” – (Anne Marreco, The Rebel Countess, Great Britain, 1967, p . 203) into the soldiers, killing two of them. An unpublished memoir of William Wylie stated that “She’d been in command of the Stephen’s Green contingent and according to the report had been full of fight” – (The Court Martial of Countess Markievicz, RTE, http://www. youtube. com/watch? v=LO4HXVYurOE).
For the days that followed, Markievicz was the chaperone of the 150 men and 20 women under the College of Surgeons roof and when news of the surrender came, it was a shock to all there. Captain de Courcy Wheeler, a relation of Markievicz’ through marriage, came to receive their surrender. The Captain claimed that Markievicz “reverently kissed” – (Anne Marreco, The Rebel Countess, p . 207) her weapon before handing it over and when offered a drive by car to Dublin Castle she refused, saying she preferred to march with her men.
Marching with them showed her commitment to them and the cause they had been fighting for. The Rebels were initially taken to Dublin Castle, then to Richmond Barracks and finally Kilmainham Jail, where the leaders of the Rising were executed by firing squad. The British claimed that during Markievicz’s court-martial she broke down and begged for mercy. William Wylie wrote “She curled up completely. ‘I am only a woman’ she cried, ‘and you cannot shoot a woman. You must not shoot a woman’. She never stopped wailing the whole time she was in the courtroom” – (Leon O Broin, W. E.
Wylie and the Irish revolution, Dublin 1989, p. 27).
However, the official court-martial records show that she said “I went out to fight for Ireland’s freedom, and it doesn’t matter what happens to me. I did what I thought was right and I stand by it” – (Brian Barton, From Behind Closed Doors, Belfast 2002, p. 80).
This proves that the British used propaganda against Markievicz, fearful that her strength of character would have a knock on effect on more women in Ireland. Markievicz’s life was spared merely because she was a woman and it would have looked bad for the British had they shot a woman.
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Asquith, the Prime Minister of Britain at the time, wrote to General Sir John Maxwell, who was put in charge in Dublin, that “no sentence of death on any woman, including Countess Markievicz, should be conferred and carried out without reference to the field marshal CNC and myself” – (The Court Martial of Countess Markievicz, RTE, http://www. youtube. com/watch? v=LO4HXVYurOE), showing that Markievicz was of interest to the British government for her role in the 1916 Rising. During her stay at Kilmainham Jail, Countess Markievicz had to endure listening to gunshots, which only signalled the death of another comrade and friend. She broke down and asked “Why don’t they let me die with my friends? ” – (Anne Marreco, The Rebel Countess, p . 212).
She felt that she was just as equal as the other leaders of the Rising and wanted to die beside them as she felt she had committed the same crimes. However it was soon becoming apparent to the British that Markievicz was leaking information out of the prison. General Maxwell wrote to the British Home Office “It appears to be desirable that the Countess Markievicz should be removed from Mounjoy Prison, Dublin, to some prison in England.
From censored letters it appears that sympathizers know how she is getting on in prison and that in some way information is leaking out” – (Anne Marreco, The Rebel Countess, p. 218), and by June 1916 Countess Markievicz was behind British bars in Aylesbury Prison. Whilst in Aylesbury, Markievicz had no contact with any other political prisoners and she alone was treated as a convicted murderer. But other prisoners, such as Chicago May, remarked of Countess Markievicz “No kind of hardship ever fazed her” – (Anne Marreco, The Rebel Countess, p. 220).
She was set with hard labour and her impoverished diet led to a substantial weight loss.
She once said to a friend “The only thing that prison does for people, as far as I can see, is to teach them to use bad language and steal. I was so hungry yesterday I stole a raw turnip and ate it”. Markievicz endured just under a year of imprisonment in Aylesbury, with her release on the 17th of June 1917 due to a General Amnesty from the British government. Markievicz returned to Ireland to a tumultuous welcome in Dublin. The crowds, filled with the working class who idolised Markievicz, were so thick that it was almost impossible for Markievicz to make her way to Liberty Hall.
This lesson is a continuation of the study of British literature and will focus on literature from the Neoclassical Period to today. This lesson is only an overview of some of the authors and literary works produced in England during a particular period. There are many other authors that made important contributions to the literature of this time period. The periods of British Literature are: ...
Amongst the working class she was the best known of the rebels, almost the only survivor of the leaders of the Rising. Countess Markievicz sacrificed everything in pursuit of a free Ireland, risking her life and spending time imprisoned, she became a hero in Irish history. Following her imprisonment she pursued a career in politics, becoming the first female Dail member. She died on the 15th of July 1927. Chicago May said of her “She was a real Irish patriot, sacrificing money, position, health and freedom for liberty” – (Anne Marreco, The Rebel Countess, p. 229)