Page 10, 13th July 1984

13th July 1984
Page 10
Page 10, 13th July 1984 — Champion of the poor
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Locations: Dublin, Paris

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Champion of the poor

IT IS STILL possible to win a modest bet, if you're in the mood, on the question of who was Westminster's first woman MP.

Most people say Lady Astor who was, it is true, the first woman to take her seat in the Holise of Commons, but the first lady to be elected to that House was a very different sort of person.

Memoriesof her flickered again last week among those reading the obituary of a distinguished Anglo-Irishman and sometime head of the Foreign Office, Lord formerly Sir Henry GoreBooth.

For Henry had been much embarrassed in his young days by the eccentric behaviour on the hunting field, in the drawing room and, above all on the political hustings, by his astonishing, fearless and alarmingly outspoken aunt, Constance.

As a girl, in the eighties of the last century, she had been saddened by the hovels in which so many of the Gore-Booth tenants lived and shocked by the loss at sea of a boatload of those expelled from the Sligo countryside by an ancestor who knew the boat to be unseaworthy. (The point from which they sailed is not far from that on which Lord Mountbatten met his violent death).

Constance was not the first of her class to embrace the Irish Nationlist cause but, like many converts, she became something of an extremist. After the first world war she was elected to the Westminster Parliament the first woman to achieve this but was in prison when her summons to appear in the House was brought to her.

As a Sinn Feiner she never took her seat, but later became a deputy in the Irish Parliament. She was disillusioned by the civil war and disappointed by the victory of the home rulers. But, having smelt blood in the 1916 Dublin Rising, she was never willing to rest content until Ireland should become a Republic, an event she did not live to see.

She is best known to us as Countess Markiewicz having, as a young woman whose beauty was apostrophised by the poet Yeats, married a profligate Polish nobleman whose spiritual home was the artists' quarter of Paris.

She became a Catholic and her last days were povertybound and pathetic. She died (in 1927) a lonely death in the public ward of a DUblin hospital. Few of her former comrades in arms came to see her though one who did was Eamonn de Valera.

Her family were rather ashamed of her and she got tittle gratitude from those in politics (so different in background) for whom she gave up everything.

She is commemorated by a small bust in Stephen's Green scarcely noticed by the passersby of today in that part of Dublin. But perhaps she is still revered wherever any slums are left For there she was rich in friends.




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