A Soldier’s Pistol
Sinne Fianna Fáil.
The wild rebel countess kissed her gun
when memories of Lissadell’s tenants called
put on the freedom fighters’ trousers
Creating the Centena.
The story of the women of the Irish rebellion is largely untold, although the men are remembered in a rich catalogue of rebel songs, and so I wanted to use my centena to add the Countess Constance Markievicz to the canon of rebels-in-song. The form, imagery and vocabulary of the centena are drawn from and inspired by a series of excerpts that I curated from rebel songs about the uprising. I used existing songs because I wanted to take the words that generally were written by men, about men and to use them to give voice to a woman who was more than an equal to any of the more familiar names.
Markievicz was born Constance Gore-Booth in London, but her family were the Protestant landowners of the Lissadell estate in Co. Sligo and she came back to Ireland as an adult, where she took a leading role in both women’s suffrage and the Irish republican movement.
During the Easter Rising of 1916, she was second in command to Michael Mallin and a sniper at St. Stephen’s Green and the Royal College of Surgeons. She was court martialled with the other leaders of the uprising and although she too was sentenced to death by being shot her sentence was commuted to imprisonment ‘solely and only on account of her sex.’ After her life was spared, she went on to be the first woman elected to the British House of Commons and a minister in the first Irish Dáil.
The penultimate two lines come from a song written by Constance herself giving her a voice in her own myth-making. The beginning and ending three words come from a rebel song that later became the Irish national anthem. During the British occupation of Ireland, the Irish language was outlawed and English became the defacto first language of most Irish people and so the national anthem was actually first written in English, although its Irish translation has largely surpassed it. I wanted to represent the resurgence of the Irish language in the centena by using both languages to tie the poem together and to suggest a kind of unity that transcends barriers such as sex or language.
My centena looks at the way we use language to construct mythologies and about whom we construct those mythologies. My centenary partners, The Nerve Centre in Belfast and the Ulster Museum, have both marked the centenary by also looking to highlight the role of women and Markievicz in particular, in the Easter Uprising. The Nerve Centre will soon release a graphic novel on Markievicz which will be available at: http://www.creativecentenaries.org/resources, while the Ulster Museum screened Seven Women, a film about the Easter Uprising, as part of their Hear Her Voice programme.
26 is a group of writers whose purpose is to inspire a greater love of words in business and in life.