Constance Markiewicz

Nature of Event: A Name for Herself: A Rebel Irish countess fights for women and freedom is a new play about Constance Markievicz by Meg McNena. It will be directed by Irish director, Lynda Fleming.
 Sisters: a militant rebel and a pacifist poet strive to set women and Ireland free; one sentenced to death – can the other save her?
In a centenary year of Irish Independence, we are proud to present this compelling story of a trail-blazing Irish suffragist,activist, feminist revolutionary, giving women and Ireland a strong voice in a century that started with women having no voteand with Ireland still ruled by England without its own parliament. 
The story of this Sligo landlord’s daughter is even more remarkable because she turned her back on the Anglo-Irish privilege of gentry,and swapped her ball gowns and jewels for an Irish Citizens Army Uniform and a leading role in the Easter Rising of 1916.
The director’s grandfather was involved with Liberty Hall, so she knows the history, not only from her Dublin childhood but from herfamily connection. However, the story of Constance Markievicz and the women of Ireland who fought beside her, is overlooked.Our play puts them centrestage and shows the sacrifice and struggle that won Irish Independence in a tradition of Celtic Warrior Women.
The professional director, Lynda, spearheads an accomplished and awarded cast supported by a skilled team of designers.
The premiere season coincides with International Women’s Day and occurs just before St Patrick’s Day. It is supported by the City of Boroondara, the Irish Embassy Canberra, and Melbourne Comhaltas.

WRITER/PRODUCER:  Meg McNena is an eager, collaborative writer, and facilitator, with multiform writing credits. She is very familiar to the Tinteán community. She gained RMITs Dip Arts in Professional Writing and in Advanced Screenwriting. Migrating by boat gave a global view of belonging. Advocacy for people with disabilities, Ulster cross-border prejudice reduction, winning an Amnesty International  Freedom Writer Award, being an  FAW literary judge, reviewing and editing for Irish magazines, producing four of her six staged plays  –  a life connecting.

DIRECTOR: Lynda Fleming, a Dublin-born director, teacher, and performer, has worked extensively in theatre and arts education in the UK and Australia. She holds a BA (Hons) in Drama from John Moore’s University Liverpool and a Masters in Directing for Performance from VCA with a secondment at Melbourne Theatre Company. She co-conceived and directed Solas, a play about Lucia Joyce (daughter of James Joyce). She has performed with Bench Theatre Company and received The News Guide Award for her work in Ridley’s Ghosts from a Perfect Place. Lynda has led specialist arts workshops and creative developments for schools, colleges, and theatre programs; and acted as Internal Verifier for BTEC performing arts courses. Since moving to Melbourne, Lynda has worked with director Pip Mushin as Education Manager of Drama Time.

When? Saturday 13 March, 130pm and 6.30pm

Where? Renaissance Theatre, 826 High Street, East Kew.

Cost: $39.50 or Conc. $29

Bookings: trybooking.com/BNWEE or phone 0412320480

COVID safe rules on seating, masks (BYO), entry/exit, record keeping and health guidelines.

A Reflection by Meg McNena, the author

A Name for Herself, a new play about Constance Markievicz and the women of Irish Independence, by Meg McNena and director Lynda Fleming, premieres for two shows on 13 March 2021 at Renaissance Theatre Kew. 

What a tale about an Anglo-Irish landlord’s daughter, who sells her jewels to fund a soup kitchen for starving Dubliners in the 1913 lockout and swaps her gowns for an apron in Liberty Hall, to feed three thousand children a day. Constance Markievicz is a complex heroine, a crack shot and champion horsewoman, a sniper and humanitarian, lauded by some and derided by others.  She said: ‘My enemies will make a monster of me; my friends a heroine and both equally wide of the truth.’

This is true of her first biographer (1934), Sean O’Faolain, who derides her as a gallant folly:

“Constance Markievicz, in her woman’s way, had no intelligible ideas but many instincts.” 

With the horror of hearing her comrades executed by  firing squad under her window at Kilmainham, many months of solitary confinement and hard labour, denied the right of association and a monthly visitor that the other Irish rebel prisoners from the 1916 Rising enjoyed at Aylesbury Prison, multiple incarcerations, a dogged pursuit of Ireland free, and a commitment to improving the conditions of women and the poor, she more than earned her place with the warrior women of Ireland, with Maeve and Macha (her penname) as a pioneer of Irish Independence. After establishing and training Fianna Éireann (Irish scouts), being a founding member of the Irish Citizens Army with James Connolly, taking a leading role in the 1916 Easter Rising: setting up barricades, sniping and fighting at St Stephen’s Green, being the first woman elected to Westminster, why is she still so unknown?

I vividly recalled my own journeying to a place where this story could find me at BrigidFest, after hearing our Minister for Women, Gabrielle Williams, powerfully present on Irish Women of the Resistance and how the struggles of women are often inked out of history and commemoration.

In 1980-81 I was living in my mother’s home-place of Donegal, where black flags flew on white cottages and people in black armbands asked me what I thought of the hunger strikes. Bobby Sands was in the news and bags were passed around in pubs to support prisoners’ families. The talk was about the men in the Maze and friends gave me a Bris an H-Block green badge to wear. Pubs were roused with songs and I sang my share in The Thatch in Burtonport on Saturday nights and then wandered next door to my aunt’s house.  Here is the last line of my favourite by Mickey MacConnell: 

“when there’s sorrow in sunshine and flowers and still only our rivers run free”

Reflecting, I realise now what I didn’t then: it is the Her in that song, Ireland always as She, Her, with Her Four Green Fields and Her Mother’s Love a Blessing. Then why didn’t I hear about the Women on hunger strike and in the dirty protest until I met one of them in Donegal in 1996? I was working on a cross-border project for prejudice reduction in the North of Ireland and she exemplified the cost of struggle.  My father from Tyrone only revealed his own injustices when I faced some hurdle that he guided me over, always with stories and gentleness over bitterness.

So, I read ferociously and Constance found me. I couldn’t believe I knew nothing about her.Well, only in 2018 did her portrait take its rightful place in Westminster when gifted by the Oireachtas. 

This lead me to stand in her dark, dank Kilmainham cell, to her childhood view of the bay at Lissadell, where she and her sister, Eva, drew Yeats’ admiration for his 1927 poem, ‘In Memory of Eva Gore Booth and Con Markievicz:

Great windows open to the south,

Two girls in silk kimonos,

both Beautiful, one a gazelle

Then so far away from all that privilege when I visited Aylesbury and the enormous heavy door that closed her in hard labour and solitary. What inspires me is how far she travelled from where she started to make a difference in the world – a story very relevant to today and parallels with Australia’s own suffragists, Irish born Mary Lee at the forefront in Adelaide, and Melbourne’s Vida Goldstein (the first Australian to visit the White House trying to get women the vote) and Edith Cowan, our first woman to serve in the Australian Parliament. 

Surprisingly, for all that Constance achieved and all the controversy stirred by depictions of her and arguments by revisionist feminists, there has only been one prior play about her that I know of by an American playwright. So, it’s definitely her turn to take centre-stage in the premiere of this new play.

We gratefully acknowledge the support of the City of Boroondara, The Irish Embassy of Australia, and Melbourne Comhaltas, because our community theatre project would not happen without it.

And to give Her the last say: 

‘A dream of liberty can light a flame in every human soul.’