Aristocrat, abstentionist, anti-imperialist, suffragette, socialist, and Irish revolutionary… Thus has been described Constance Markievicz, the countess who rebelled. At aged 48, Markievicz took part in the Easter Rising in Dublin, 1916, when Irish Republicans attempted to end British rule and establish an Irish Republic. After shooting a Dublin Metropolitan Police officer dead on the first day of fighting, she was imprisoned in London’s Holloway prison.
Remarkably, she fought the 1918 election for the constituency of Dublin St Patrick's from her prison cell, combining her suffragist ideals with her anti-imperialism. Even more remarkable, she won, making her the first woman to be elected to parliament. However, she never took up her seat. Markievicz – along with 72 other Sinn Féin MPs – refused to acknowledge the authority of the British government, and instead helped Sinn Féin set up their own parliament in Dublin in 1919 (the ‘Revolutionary Dáil’) where Markievicz was appointed Minister for Labour.
She soon became an icon for the women of the rebellion, telling them to ‘dress suitably in short skirts and strong boots, leave your jewels in the bank, and buy a revolver.’ She never slowed down either: in her final years she became an avid motorist and accomplished mechanic. She died in 1927, still politically active. By then, she had given away the last of her wealth, and died in a public ward among the working classes she had fought for all her life.