Countess de Markievicz, National Library of Ireland, NPA POLF 203

Secretary for Labour 1st Dáil


‘My first realisation of tyranny came from some chance words spoken in favour of woman's suffrage and it raised a question of the tyranny it was intended to prevent —women voicing their opinions publicly in the ordinary and simple manner of registering their votes at the polling booth. That was my first bite, you may say, at the apple of freedom and soon I got on to the other freedom, freedom to the nation, freedom to the workers. ‘

Countess de Markievicz with Dr. Kathleen Lynn. Courtesy of
/Independent News and Media/National Library of Ireland.

In 1920 Dáil Éireann only met on 29 June, 6 August and 17 September

It was a government ‘on the run.’ Deemed an illegal organisation, teachaí dala were part of a proscribed organisation and liable to arrest, cabinet meetings took place in a variety of places, mainly in the homes of sympathisers. The Department of Labour was located in a first floor 14 North Frederick Street pianos were purchased, should the offices be raided that it would appear to be a music school.

Political Career Timeline:

  • Elected as the only female MP in the British House of Commons for St Patrick’s Division, Dublin. 14 December 1918.
  • David Lloyd George sent an invitation to come to the House of Commons, February 1919. The letter is redirected to her in Holloway Prison where she is held as part of the so-called German Plot.
  • Attends Dáil Éireann second session, 1-11 April 1919.
  • Appointed Secretary of Labour, April 1919. Proposed by Liam de Roiste and seconded by Sean Etchingham.
  • Nominated onto a Select Committee to report on the kidnap of children and the conditions of prisoners of war in jails in England and Ireland.
  • Tom Kelly became the Secretary for Labour when she was imprisoned June – October 1919.
  • When she was arrested again in 1920, Joseph McGrath was appointed as her substitute.
  • Returned to her Ministry after the Truce in July 1921 she was now not required to work ‘underground’ and she immediately put a request in for more resources, her staff had increased from three to seven.
  • A Second Dáil was returned unopposed in May 1921. It did not meet until August.
  • Éamon de Valera decided he wanted a smaller executive and in August 1921, he demoted the Ministry of Labour.
  • On 26 August 1921, she was proposed as Minister by Sean T O’Kelly and seconded by Kathleen Clarke.
  • The Ministry of Labour henceforth enacted the decisions of the Ministry (the Cabinet).

Ministerial Achievements:

  • A Central Conciliation Board was established for the settlement of trade disputes and according to a report ‘a large number of disputants’ had availed of its services.
  • There was also information gathering within the department on costs of production, food prices, wages and conditions of employment which were being prepared to show ‘approximate levels of conditions’ which it was hoped would be stability to the Labour Market.
  • Reported in the Dáil records of the successful resolution of ‘serious disputes’ in the counties of Kerry, Kildare and Meath.
  • By June 1920 Arbitration Courts had been set up for trade disputes (this was skilfully done as recognition was given to the trade union movement and there was no attempt to usurp their role in arbitration). It would only come into the realm of Dáil Éireann when the matter could not be settled by trade union officials and employers.
  • Countess Markievicz also encouraged the establishment of Irish Trade Unions, the practical benefit of this was dues would be paid to an Irish bank. She also encouraged the promotion of Irish manufacture.
  • She also oversaw the setting up of an employment bureau for Volunteers, Members of Cumann na mBan and men who had deserted the Royal Irish Constabulary, which was administered by Lily O’Brennan.
  • The work continued when Markievicz was in prison as she wrote about the Department: ‘Well, I got it underway so that it goes on just as well without me. That wasn’t too bad for an untried fool, was it?’
Constance Gore Booth as a child, Courtesy of Kilmainham Gaol Museum.
17-PO-IA24-01 (a) and 17-PO-1A24-01 (b)


Born Constance Gore Booth at Buckingham Gate in London, she was the elder daughter of the Arctic explorer and adventurer, Sir Henry Gore-Booth, 5th Baronet of Lissadell, County Sligo and his wife Georgina Hill. Sir Henry was a benevolent landlord whose example inspired in his children a deep concern for working people and the poor. The sisters were childhood friends of the poet W. B Yeats who frequently visited Lissadell House, and were influenced by his artistic and political ideas. Yeats wrote a poem, "In Memory of Eva Gore-Booth and Con Markiewicz" in which he described the sisters as "two girls in silk kimonos, both beautiful, one a gazelle" (the gazelle being Constance). Constance spent her childhood at Lissadell and was educated at home

Constance Gore-Booth participated in the London and Dublin social seasons

Constance Gore-Booth participated in the London and Dublin social seasons and, in 1887, was presented at court to Queen Victoria, a rite of passage for women of her class and background. In 1893, she began studying art at the Slade in London and then in Paris from 1898. From this time onwards, Constance's lifestyle would gradually alienate her from her family. In 1900, she married Count Casimir Dunin Markievicz, a Polish widower with a young son. They lived in his home in the Ukraine for a time before returning to Ireland in 1903. Their daughter Maeve was born in 1901: she was given into the care of her grand-mother, Lady Gore-Booth, and brought up at Lissadell.

(Left) Countess de Markievicz, Photograph by Keogh Brothers Ltd.
NPA MGU. National Library of Ireland

(Right) Countess de Markievicz, Photograph by Keogh Brothers Ltd.
NPA KE 82. National Library of Ireland

The couple had their own theatre company

The couple had their own theatre company and were founder members of the United Arts Club, Dublin. Casimir left Dublin on extended ​trips to Europe, finally leaving Ireland to fight in the First World War.

In 1907, Constance joined Inghinidhe na hÉireann and contributed to its paper Bean na hÉireann. She later joined Cumann na mBan. Together with Bulmer Hobson, she founded a youth organisation for boys, the Fianna, in 1909. During the lockout of 1913, in which the workers who supported the union were shut out of their places of employment, she assisted in the soup kitchens and joined the Irish Citizen Army, formed to protect the workers.

During the 1916 Rising, she was second in command at St Stephen’s Green

During the 1916 Rising, she was second in command at St Stephen’s Green and later at the College of Surgeons. She was sentenced to death for her part in the Rising, but her sentence was commuted to life in prison, as she was a woman. She was sent to Ailesbury Jail in England where she was held until June 1917. While in prison she was re-elected as the President of Cumann na mBan.

A scene from ‘The Memory of the Dead’ by Count Casimir Dunin de Markievicz in which his wife is photographed with Seán Connolly (later killed in the 1916 Rising) Photograph by Henry Roe McMahon c.1910. National Library of Ireland.

Political Career

In the 1918 election, Countess Markievicz became the first woman elected to the House of Commons. She did not take her seat as she supported the Sinn Féin policy of absentionism. The Countess opposed the Treaty and argued vehemently against its acceptance it the Dáil debates. During the Civil War she took part in the fighting, helped to edit the Republican newspaper in Glasgow and went on a fundraising trip to the USA. Arrested again in 1923, she was held in the North Dublin Union. Although returned as an abstentionist TD for Dublin City South in the 1923 election, she refused to take the oath of allegiance and so did not enter the Dáil. The Countess joined the Fianna Fail party at its foundation in 1926, giving up her position in Cumann na mBan to do so. She was elected to the Dáil in 1927 and died on 15 July 1927 before Fianna Fail entered government.