Belfast Telegraph

Female Sinn Fein MP who never took seat makes it to Commons 100 years on

A portrait of Constance Markievicz, who took part in the Easter Rising before being the first woman MP elected in the UK, will hang in Parliament.

A portrait of a controversial Sinn Fein MP who narrowly avoided being executed for her role in the 1916 Easter Rising is to go on display in Parliament 100 years after her election.

The picture of London-born Irish nationalist Constance Markievicz has been gifted to the House of Commons by Sean O Fearghail, the Ceann Comhairle (speaker) of its Dublin counterpart the Dail Eireann.

The photographic reproduction of a 1901 oil painting of Markievicz will form part of Parliament’s Voice and Vote exhibition, 100 years since the Representation of the People Act gave women the vote and the Parliament (Qualification of Women) Act 1918 allowed those aged over 21 to stand for election.

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Markievicz, centre, went on to become a minister in the first Dail (PA Archive/PA)

Countess Markievicz was elected as a Sinn Fein MP in 1918 but was in prison at the time and never took her seat. She later became minister of labour in the first Dail.

Two years previously she had taken a lead role in the historic Dublin uprising which sowed the seeds of Irish independence and only avoided being executed because she was a woman.

Conor McGinn, Labour MP and chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Ireland and the Irish in Britain, said: “Constance Markievicz was a formidable figure whose courage and determination to achieve equal rights and Irish freedom saw her become the first woman ever elected to the House of Commons.

“It is a sign of the strength and depth of today’s relations between Britain and Ireland – and our democratic institutions – that her contribution to our shared and complicated history is marked in the Parliament to which she was elected but never attended, and that her legacy and contribution is remembered a century after women’s suffrage and the historic 1918 election.”

The Rising began on Easter Monday, April 24, and at the end of six days of insurrection 1,350 people had been killed or injured and 3,430 men and 79 women were arrested by the British.

Fifteen of the rebel leaders including Patrick Pearse and James Connolly were executed by firing squad at Kilmainham Gaol in Dublin. The bloody putting down of the rebellion led to a full-blown conflict and the creation of the Irish Free State, later to become Ireland.

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Constance Markievicz seen through a cellar window in Liberty hall after her surrender to the British Army following the Easter Rising (PA Archive/PA)

Markievicz, who took her name from her Polish-Ukrainian husband, is buried in Dublin.

The original portrait, by Polish painter Boleslaw von Szankowski, is owned by Dublin City Gallery The Hugh Lane, and the copy will be in the exhibition until October 9, after which it will hang permanently in Portcullis House.

It was accepted by Commons Speaker John Bercow on Wednesday night.

Mr O Fearghail said: “Ireland is understandably very proud of Constance Markievicz, who amongst her many achievements, was the first woman elected to the British House of Commons, although she refused to take her seat, instead sitting in the first Dail and being the first woman elected to the Irish parliament.

“I think it is very appropriate that a portrait of Countess Markievicz should hang in Westminster to mark the 100th anniversary of her election to this honoured House and that it should be gifted from the House in which she took her seat.

“This gifting also illustrates our shared historical and suffrage heritage and underlines the sometimes troubled, but overwhelmingly very positive links between our two countries.”

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British troops man a road block outside Cassidy’s Grocery during the Easter Rising in Dublin, 1916 (PA Archive/PA)

Mr Bercow added: “It is fitting that in the centenary year of the 1918 Parliament (Qualification of Women) Act, we mark the contribution of Constance Markievicz who, as the first woman elected to Parliament, holds a unique place in British and Irish history.

“The picture of Markievicz will now join the Parliamentary Art Collection: a testament to the past, and an inspiration to future generations.”

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