When I was very little, my parents took me to visit Lissadell house in Sligo. It was still privately owned by the Markievicz family and, it was the Countess' niece, I think, who gave us the tour. My parents thought that was really something, I remember.
When we got to the Gallery, she asked if any of us played piano and Mum said I did, which was a shame because I was a mediocre student. Next thing you know I was sitting at the 1820 walnut grand piano. To this day I don't know why I picked Greensleeves to play.
And it's easier to tell you my story of minor mortification than to explain why I find Countess Markiewicz inspiring. Because talking about Irish freedom fighters has taken on a different hue in adulthood. And in childhood our curriculum gave us a simplified version of imperialistic enemies and beleaguered, plucky countrymen. And we shook our heads in silent reverence at their acts.
All this I face each time I go home, trying to match it all up; to reconcile critical thinking with that fundamental pride. But let me tell you this much: Constance Markievicz was sentenced to death for her part in the Rising, commuted to life imprisonment because of her sex, much to her chagrin. And she was the first woman to be elected to Westminster Parliament in London, where she refused to take her seat, as well as the first to be elected to and serve in Dáil Eireann in 1919.
And I love her. In the way you do when you brush up against something heroic when you're very young. In the way you notice your Dad look pointedly at you as a story is being told because he wants some of it to rub off on you, so you grow up fierce and strong and full of conviction. And she was all that to me then.
Websites: Lissadell House & Constance Markievicz
Images via Lissadell House