A huge hat’s off to Belinda Evangelista who tracked down two recordings that Constance Markievicz made in New York just before the Irish general election of 16 June 1922. “The Countess” had left government six months earlier, along with Éamon de Valera and others, in opposition to the Anglo-Irish Treaty. You’ll hear the first recording here and the second, in which she urges American listeners to support de Valera, here. These were probably recorded by the Gaelic Phonograph Record Company Inc. at their offices at No. 40 West 57th Street, here. The company was run by Hugh P. Fay and Harold G. Sucker. Belinda also tracked down this account from the New York Clipper, 14 June 1922:
“NOVELTY RECORD RELEASED Countess Markievicz , known as Ireland s Joan of Arc , who is visiting America , has just completed a phonograph record for the Gaelic Phonograph Record Company that is called Irelands Dead Leaders . The record is in the form of an oration and is quite interesting.” –
So, who was “The Countess”?
Constance Markievicz, eldest daughter of the Anglo-Irish landowner and Arctic explorer Sir Henry Gore-Booth, was born at Buckingham Gate, London, in the winter of 1868. Raised on the family estate of Lissadell in north Co. Sligo, she was eleven years old when she witnessed large numbers of her fathers’ tenants assemble at the house for free food when the failure of the Irish harvest prompted widespread fears of a major famine. She attributed her subsequent empathy for the working class to this moment, although such sentiments were dramatically hardened by her experiences during the 1913 Lockout.
One of her closest childhood friends was the poet W. B. Yeats, who penned a poem, ‘In Memory of Eva Gore-Booth and Con Markiewicz’, describing the sisters as ‘two girls in silk kimonos, both / Beautiful, one a gazelle’. Constance, the gazelle, went on to study at the Slade School of Art in London and at the celebrated Académie Julian in Paris.
In 1899 she met Casimir Dunin Markievicz, a large, handsome, heavy-drinking Polish artist whose family owned substantial lands near Kiev in present-day Ukraine. He claimed to be a count, although there are considerable doubts as to whether he was a bona-fide aristocrat.  When his wife died, later that year, Constance and Casimir became close. They were married in London in 1900, and their only child, Maeve, was born the following year.
By 1903 the Markieviczes were living in Rathgar, south Dublin, mixing with the city’s artistic and literary elite. Constance helped found the United Arts Club. Always drawn towards revolutionary souls, the tall, graceful brunette became friendly with Maud Gonne. She made her debut appearance at an Inghinidhe na hÉireann event by arriving at their headquarters on North Great George’s Street in a satin ball-gown and diamond tiara; she had come straight from a ball at Dublin Castle.
Although initially shunned by Inghinidhe members on account of her upper-class background, she soon gained acceptance and wrote the gardening column for their monthly magazine Bean na hÉireann. Her achievements before the First World War were remarkable. She became treasurer of the ICA and designed their uniform, and became a major patron of the Liberty Hall soup kitchen during the Lockout of 1913. The following year, she played an instrumental role in merging Inghinidhe na hÉireann with Cumann na mBan.
Markievicz also co-founded Fianna Éireann, having set the scouting concept in motion in early 1909 when, following an introduction by Tom Clarke, she convinced Seán McGarry (a future IRB president) to accompany her on a visit to St Andrew’s National School on Great Brunswick Street (now Pearse Street) on the south side of Dublin city. They persuaded schoolteacher William O’Neill to send eight or nine St Andrew’s boys to Markievicz’s home in Rathgar to learn about scouting. Markievicz christened them ‘The Red Branch Knights’. The organisation didn’t get off to a great start. As Marnie Hay put it, Markievicz ‘tried – unsuccessfully – to instruct them in signalling, drill and scouting, while they – successfully – raided her husband’s whiskey supply’. After a muddled camping trip, she decided the organisation would require more official direction. The Fianna boys would play an important role in 1916, carrying messages and firearms to rebel strongholds across the city in what, according to the school’s roll books for Easter Week 1916, they rather fetchingly described as the ‘Poets’ Rebellion’.
At this point she teamed up with Bulmer Hobson, who had attempted something similar six years earlier when he founded Fianna Éireann, a hurling league for boys and girls, in West Belfast. Hobson’s outfit had failed through lack of funding, but, with Markievicz as patron, Fianna Éireann was reborn. It was billed as a national, non-party organisation, open to all Irish boys from the ages of eight to eighteen. Hobson was initially elected president but, following his return to Belfast shortly afterwards, Markievicz was elected in his place.
Although referred to by some as ‘The Mad Countess’ and ‘The Loony’, she was nonetheless deeply committed to the republican cause and became arguably the best-known woman of the Rising, not least because she sported a handsome feathered hat during the week, along with her top boots and service tunic. It is to be noted that the chain-smoking radical once offered her fans these unusual fashion tips: ‘Dress suitably in short skirts and strong boots, leave your jewels in the bank and buy a revolver.’
Having sidestepped execution after the Rising on account of her gender, she was incarcerated in Kilmainham, Mountjoy and Aylesbury prisons. In 1917 she was received into the Catholic faith and became President of Cumann na mBan, an office she held for the next seven years. At the general election in 1918, she was one of the seventy-three Sinn Féin MPs returned when that party swept the polls; she thus holds the distinction of being the first woman elected to the British House of Commons although, in line with Sinn Féin policy, she never took her seat. As Minister for Labour of the Irish Republic (1919–22), she was the second woman to become a government minister in Europe and the only one in Ireland until 1979, when Máire Geoghegan-Quinn was appointed Minister for the Gaeltacht.
Staunchly republican, her campaign to secure the release of republican prisoners set her at odds with the Free State and she was sent back to prison in November 1923. She went on hunger strike but was ordered off by the IRA after three days. She was interned in the North Dublin Union and released on Christmas Eve 1923. When Fianna Fáil was founded, three years later, she chaired its inaugural meeting, and in June 1927 she was re-elected to the Fifth Dáil for Dublin South. However, less than five weeks later, the fifty-nine-year-old was dead, the victim of appendicitis complications. Among those at her side when she died at Sir Patrick Dun’s Hospital on Grand Canal Street were her husband Casimir and his son Stanislas, as well as Kathleen Lynn and Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington. Éamon de Valera arrived shortly afterwards. She was buried at Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin, with de Valera giving the funeral oration. Her controversial legacy is perhaps best summed up by a remark in a letter she wrote to her brother in late 1916: ‘My enemies will make a monster out of me, my friends a heroine and both are equally wide of the truth.’
Sincere thanks to Karen D’Alton for this transcript of Constance’s words from her 1922 recordings:
“Today in Ireland, it is not a question of leaders, of De Valera or Collins or Griffiths. It is a question of a republic that is the American republic versus the miserable travesty of Canada’s constitution.
Each man and woman among us republicans understands and knows what he or she wants.
If De Valera was taken from us, the call would go on, go on for the republic. De Valera’s position today is unique. He embodies all that is strongly globally …..in Ireland.
His is the voice that tells the world what the state of Ireland stands for, what our young soldiers would give their lives for.
Our real leaders today are those who died for Ireland and who … message to us … stand firm on the great fundamental principles, these men our knights of valour travelled down the dark road before us. Their Martyrs crowns shine through the gloom and are our guides today. From them we derive the courage to go on, to go on, no matter how hard the road before us and Ireland is safe as long as there is one of us alive to stand in her defence. We have pledged ourselves and our dead will give us the courage not to fail. The men who lie in quick lime graves in Arbour Hill, their bodies were burned. From the smoke of their burning bodies, prayers for Ireland ascended to heaven and these men await up today… One of us will do a deed or say a word that will make us shamed to look in their faces when we meet them on the other side.
Kevin Barry the schoolboy martyr hung in Mountjoy Jail left the same message in his schoolboy words, he told his sister, “I go over the top for Ireland on Monday. Tell the people “hold on, stick to the republic” .
And Terence MacSwiney voiced all our noble dead down the long centuries by the great message he left us.
“To those who endure most is victory. We know that Ireland can endure, and with God’s help we can endure and we know therefore that Victory for the republic is ours””
 Ruth Dudley Edwards, Speaking Ill of the Dead: Countess Markievicz, recorded in March 2006 by RTÉ Radio.
 Marnie Hay, ‘The Foundation and Development of Na Fianna Eireann, 1909–16’, Irish Historical Studies, 36 (141) (2008): 53–71, at p. 55.
 Ibid., pp. 57–8. It is not certain what Markievicz’s position was. Some refer to the election of her and Pádraig Ó Riain as joint secretaries, while others suggest that Markievicz became Vice-President and Ó Riain Secretary.
 A lecture to the Irish Women’s Franchise League in 1915, quoted in Maedhbh McNamara and Paschal Mooney, Women in Parliament: Ireland, 1918–2000, Dublin: Wolfhound Press, 2000.
 ‘The Count, Stasco, Mrs Skeff, M. O’Byrne, Emer, Mrs & May Coughlan, D. Cavanagh & I were with her. Dev came later. We each got one of her roses.’ Extract from the unpublished diary of Dr Kathleen Lynn, 14 July 1927, transcribed by Pat Quigley and held by the Allen Library, Dublin.
 Letter to Josslyn Gore-Booth, 17 October 1916, Lissadell Papers, PRONI, D4131.