The Countess had been acquainted with James Connolly
since 1911, when she and the Scottish socialist participated in protests against the English King. They again crossed paths during the 1913 lockout, when she opened her home to the protest's leaders.
In late 1915, she joined Connolly's Irish Citizen Army
and was given the position of lieutenant. This struck a negative cord with some of the men in the ranks of the ICA; namely Sean O'Casey
who ended up quitting in protest.
When the unrest in Dublin finally boiled over into the Easter Rising
, Constance fought bravely with the men at St. Stephen's Green
with Michael Mallin
as her commanding officer. Her exploits in the face of danger are well recorded in the annals of history by first hand witnesses. They held for six testing days thru bitter fighting. The men and women of the ICA refused to surrender the Green until forced after a copy of Pearse
's surrender notice
, also signed by Connolly was presented to Mallin and the Countess.
Once taken into custody by the British, she was transported to Kilmainham Jail where she was the only female prisoner to be held in solitary confinement. She rightly expected and waited to be executed along with her comrades. And she actually was given a sentence of death but it was later commuted to life in prison, much to the Countess' dismay. The only reason her death sentence wasn't enforced, to quote General Maxwell
, was because "of the prisoner's sex."
Released after the General Amnesty in the early winter of 1917, she returned to the revolutionary society of Ireland. Her activities got her arrested once again in 1918 under the Defence of the Realm Act in regards to the bogus "German Plot." She ran for a Westminster seat whilst in an English Jail and actually won! She became the first woman to win a Parliamentary seat.
Released just before the first assembly of the Dail Eireann, she was appointed Minister of Labour. She did not get to participate very often in the proceedings as she was forced to go on the run from the Tans and the Brits. She would be subsequently arrested twice more in the next 3 years and interned for months at a time.
Her internment ended when the Treaty debates began in July of 1921. She spoke out against a treaty which would split Ireland in any way. Vocally against the signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty
, she told Michael Collins
directly that it was a traitorous act to legitimise the document.
With the beginning of the Civil War
, she again put on her holster and fought hard against the Staters, who were attempting to crush the Republican dream. Constance helped to defend Moran's Hotel in Dublin amidst heavy fire from borrowed British guns operated by her former comrades.
After the conclusion of the Civil War, she ran to keep her seat in the Dail, and was successful. Her politics, however, conflicted with the Free State policies and she was arrested for "suspicious activities." Along with nearly a hundred of her fellow female Republicans, she embarked upon a hungerstrike in October of 1923. It only took a month for the Free State to cave under the pressure of these hard women. They were released in November of 1923.
She joined De Valera's Fianna Fail
party in 1926, and stood in the Dail election of 1927. She was elected to the assembly, but suddenly grew ill and had to be hospitalised. She died in Sir Patrick Dunn's Hospital's public wing on 15 July 1927. Her funeral procession to Glasnevin was one of the biggest in Irish history and drew nearly 300,000 people. Eamon De Valera
delivered an eloquent and striking eulogy, very worthy of the women it was written about. The Countess lives on in Irish history and needs to be remembered for what she was, a brave and relentless Irishwoman.
Comrades, To Con
The peaceful night that round me flows,
Breaks through your iron prison doors,
Free through the world your spirit goes,
Forbidden hands are clasping yours.
The wind is our confederate
The night has left the doors ajar;
We meet beyond earth's barred gate,
Where all the world's wild rebels are.