If Countess Markievicz had her way ‘I doubt I’d be around’ – Michael McDowell

90th anniversary of death of revolutionary and first Irish woman minister

Michael McDowell, Síle de Valera and Brenda Power were among the speakers at Markievicz Day 2017 at Lissadell House, Co Sligo. Photograph:  Brian Farrell

Michael McDowell, Síle de Valera and Brenda Power were among the speakers at Markievicz Day 2017 at Lissadell House, Co Sligo. Photograph: Brian Farrell


The 90th anniversary of the death of Countess Markievicz was marked at Lissadell House in Co Sligo over the weekend, with Senator Michael McDowell telling the gathering that Ireland’s first woman minister was never “number one box office in my family”.

Mr McDowell, a former attorney general and tánaiste, explained that had the countess had her way, he probably would not be around at all, let alone marking such an occasion in her childhood home.

The Independent Senator is a grandson of Eoin MacNeill, founding leader of the Irish Volunteers, who was sentenced to life imprisonment for his role in the 1916 Rising but was arguably most famous for trying to stop it.

“On the Wednesday after the Easter Rising, Lord Wimborne, the Lord Lieutenant, was getting drunk on brandy in the Viceregal Lodge, marching up and down saying that he would hang MacNeill when the revolution was over,” Mr McDowell said.

“I always thought this was interesting because on the previous Saturday, Countess Markievicz, with her revolver in her hand, was in a similarly agitated humour in Liberty Hall, saying she intended to go out to Rathfarnham to shoot MacNeill because she thought he was going to cancel the Rising.”

“If Constance had her way I doubt I would be around,” Mr McDowell said.

Also present for the commemoration were Fianna Fáil TD Éamon Ó Cuív and Síle de Valera, both grandchildren of former president and taoiseach Éamon deValera, who read the oration at Countess Markievicz’s graveside and served time in Dartmoor prison with MacNeill after the Rising.


Mr Ó Cuív read the oration echoing his grandfather’s tribute of 90 years earlier for “Madame, the friend of the toiler, the lover of the poor”.

The commemoration was opened by former minister for justice Máire Geoghegan Quinn, who was the second Irish woman appointed to a Cabinet position – 60 years after Countess Markievicz.

Ms Geoghegan Quinn has previously admitted that to her “eternal shame” her response to then taoiseach Charlie Haughey when he offered her the job in 1979 was “do you think I’m good enough?”

Others who served the State were also remembered at the event. Outside on the lawn, the Tricolour was raised by members of the Army’s 28th Infantry Battalion from Finner Camp, and those present were urged to help veterans affected by the current homelessness crisis.

Ollie O’Connor, chief executive of the Organisation of National Ex-Servicemen and Women, said that since 1994 in the region of 700 veterans had faced homelessness. The organisation runs three residences for former soldiers in crisis and needs €600,000 a year to keep a roof over their heads.

“We currently provide accommodation for 40 former soldiers,” he said.