Countess Markievicz: The Polish Connection Part 2 of 3: Ireland Becomes Her Mistress

In this, Part 2 of Countess Markievicz: The Polish Connection, we see Constance Markievicz, despite her aristocratic upbringing, transform her burgeoning anger at British rule and social injustice in Ireland into the activism that would soon totally consume her. Sadly, her family is the loser in this competition for her time and focus. WGT's three-part narrative is adapted from WGT Connacht correspondent Joe McGowan's new biography, "Constance Markievicz: The People's Countess," with his kind permission.

Countess Markievicz: The Polish Connection

Part 2 of 3: Ireland Becomes Her Mistress

By Joe McGowan
WGT Connacht Correspondent

Constance with her daughter, Maeve, and stepson Stanislaw, circa 1904.

Between 1900 and 1903, Constance made two visits with Kazimierz to his home estate. There they set up a rough studio to facilitate their painting.

Although Con was fearful that the Markievicz family would treat her indifferently, they had no reservations towards their new daughter-in-law. Winning their respect, she felt at home among them at once. She immediately took to her stepson Stanislaw and he to her. Forty years later, he wrote: "My own mother, who was Polish, died when I was three; and the only mother I can remember was Madame. It was her dearest wish that the little fellow whom she had befriended should forget that he had lost his own mother, and should grow to think of her as 'Mother' and call her by that name; and indeed her wish was fulfilled."

These sentiments are very interesting in light of the fact that Con's own daughter was brought up by her grandmother, Lady Georgina. Although Con and her daughter Maeve were close in later years, Con's work for Ireland was an all-consuming passion that put country first. Indeed, for many wealthy families it was not unusual to farm off their offspring to nannies and boarding schools while they pursued the aristocratic lifestyle.

Through her association with her husband and his family, Constance seemed to come to an understanding of the history of the Poles and their resentment of their Russian overlords. Anna Marreco, in her biography "The Rebel Countess," notes that "the Gore-Booths lived as Anglo-Irish landowners on Irish property granted to their ancestors by a conquering power, the Markieviczs and their fellow Polish landowners held on to their own estates, in what had been Polish territory until the partition of the 18th century gave it to the Russians. In spite of Russian persecution, reminiscent of English treatment of the native Irish, these Poles of the Ukraine were tenacious in matters of their language, religion and customs." Marrecco draws the conclusion that this must have struck a resonant chord with Con, whose forebears seized the lands of the native Irish.

'When I think of what the Fenians suffered, or what the Poles suffered in the Sixties ...'

In May 1916, in a letter to her sister Eva, Con wrote: "When I think of what the Fenians suffered, or what the Poles suffered in the Sixties, I realise that I am extremely lucky." Her husband Casimir, being completely apolitical, held no ill will toward Russians, or anyone else. In Dublin, he happily fraternised with the Dublin Castle social set, taking no part in, and becoming increasingly frustrated by, his wife's burgeoning passions of nationalism, feminism, and socialism.

A New Life in Dublin

At the end of their 1903 visit to the Ukraine, Con and Kazimierz brought Stanislaw back to Dublin with them. Con was never to return to Poland, Stanislaw not for 12 years. On their arrival in Dublin, they lived at St. Mary's, Frankfort Ave., Rathgar. In 1907, Stanislaw was sent to boarding school at Mount St. Benedicts, in Gorey, County Wexford, where he remained until 1913. He then went on to become a student of French and Russian at the Berlitz School in Grafton Street, Dublin.

By 1908, Con and Kazimierz were well established in Dublin society and artistic circles. They had joined with George Russell ("AE") in a number of successful exhibitions and in establishing the United Arts Club. The Gore-Booth family

Signatures on the marriage certificate of Casimir and Constance.

background ensured Con of a place in Dublin social circles; Kazimierz established himself in the inner circles by his reputation as an artist and portraitist. An immensely tall, dramatically handsome man, his exotic origins and flamboyant personality appealed to Dublin society. His paintings of AE, of the Earl of Mayo being invested with the Order of St. Patrick, and of Lord O'Brien of Kilfenora, the Chief Justice of Ireland, brought him recognition as a painter of skill and merit.

On arrival in Dublin, the Markieviczs were a devoted couple often seen walking hand in hand—like lovers still. What happened then to create a rift between this happy couple? Was it because Con"s political activism eventually grated on the apolitical Kazimierz, who wanted nothing more than the good life. His sole ambition was to move upward among the Dublin elite, to further his career among those who provided the richest vein of customers for his paintings.

Kazimierz Dunin Markievicz

This aristocratic Pole had no real interest in either the nationalist or the labor struggles to which Constance was now firmly committed. Although a flawed biographer, Sean O'Faoilean probably got it right when he wrote that Kazimierz, "had no desire to break finally with the Castle folk. He had less desire to be associated, even indirectly, with politics. A Pole, an aristocrat, a member of the Russian Imperial Army he saw in politics Siberia and chains, and he had no wish for what corresponded to either in the British system." The more militant Con became, the less hope he had of portrait commissions from the Castle set, or even of socialising with them.

Casi Departs

Seeing nothing but complications, Casi fled Dublin for the Ukraine in late autumn 1913. With the outbreak of the First World War in August 1914, he was working in the Balkans as a war correspondent. From there, he was recalled to serve with the Imperial Russian Army. Responding to the call, he took horse and rode 700 miles to join an Imperial Hussar regiment.

From the time of his departure from Dublin in 1913, until a letter arrived in April 1915, Con had no news of his whereabouts. Now she learned that he had been fighting on the southwestern front, that he had been seriously wounded and had contracted typhus. He had been invalided out of the army and was living at the family home. Enclosing 300 rubles in the letter, he requested that his son, now 19, return home. Stanislaw set out from Dublin for Russia on June 15. On arrival there, he was drafted into the navy and started his new life there as an interpreter at the headquarters of the Russian Northern Fleet in Archangel.

'My position is simply desperate.'

By the summer of 1917, Kazimierz had recovered sufficiently to move to Moscow where he took a job as artistic director of a Polish theatre company. He had also resumed painting. His family fortunes had changed with the Bolshevik Revolution of that year. In a letter to Con's brother, Josslyn, he wrote that, "All our property is taken from us. ... With the abolition of class distinction and titles people who used to have them have not the slightest chance to get employment under new system of government."

"My position," Kazimierz wrote, "is simply desperate." Stanislaw, although having lost touch with his father, corresponded occasionally with the Gore-Booth family.

Constance, although herself interned in Holloway Jail in 1918, was concerned about her husband and stepson. In a letter to Eva, she says that she often feels so anxious "about my Polish relations. Poor Casi hated wars, revolutions and politics and there he is or was in Kiev, or in the Ukraine."

Con's sister, Eva Gore-Booth.

Realising that Con was, by marriage, probably a Polish subject, the British authorities thought they had found the ideal solution to their problems with this seemingly unmanageable woman. In November 1919, they attempted, without success, to have her deported to Poland. In 1922, Con was invited to visit the United States as a member of an anti-Treaty delegation. She refused to travel on a British passport and, ironically, applied for and was given a Polish passport!

In the fall of 1921, she received a letter from her husband, her first since 1917. He had a job as commercial and legal adviser to the U.S. Consulate-General. He was also active again in the theatre. Stanislaw was interned by the Bolsheviks in a camp near Moscow, where he remained until his release in 1922. There are some unclear references to Stanislaw having married around this time. In a letter written to him from America, Con says, "Do send me a photo of your wife." Although never referring to a wife, or a marriage, in a letter written to his father in 1921, he says, "I miss Shura—we had a baby daughter who was born prematurely and died." Apart from those brief references, nothing is known of this union.

In her American letter to Stanislaw, Con compares the Polish experience to that of Ireland: "You rail against the Bolshies. I know little about them, but one thing I do know is that our people suffered far worse from the English; and what I begin to believe is that all governments are the same, and that men in power use that power for themselves and are absolutely unscrupulous in their dealings with those who disagree with them."

Copyright © 2003, GAR Media. 
All rights reserved.

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Tags: Countess, Ireland, Markievicz, Poland


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