"She was a founding member of Cumann na mBan, an all-female paramilitary which joined with the Irish Volunteer Force in the 1916 Easter Rising"Wikipedia Commons

“Dress suitably in short skirts and sitting boots, leave your jewels and gold wands in the bank, and buy a revolver.” These are the words of the first woman elected to the House of Commons. You might have thought it was Nancy Astor, who was elected in 1919. In fact, it was the Countess Markievicz, a woman born into a high-class family, who gave it all up to follow pursue her beliefs. She was a badass, and I won’t have her forgotten.

This is not to say that most people are incorrect in viewing Nancy Astor as the first; that would not be fair to Nancy Astor. This is only an opportunity to show another historical woman, who fought for women’s suffrage, fought for the freedom of Ireland, and was integral in the new Irish republic.

“It is undeniable that she was the first woman elected, and that is not to be ignored”

So why do people always refer to Nancy Astor? Simply put, the countess did not take her seat. This is because she won her election under the banner of Sinn Fein, who did not take their seats on principle, and still don’t for those MPs elected in Northern Ireland. At the time it was because in order to take their seats, the elected members of Sinn Fein would have to swear an oath of allegiance to the king.

At this point Ireland was part of Britain. So when women got the vote in Britain, they got it in Ireland too. Some might look down at the choice not to take her seat, but it was to make a point. Boycotting has its history in Ireland as an opposition to British rule. Whatever view you take of this tactic, it is undeniable that she was the first woman elected, and that is not to be ignored.

“This was a turning point in Irish history and she was there”

From a personal perspective, it really hurts to see her left out of the discussion. She was one of the only women of significance in my history classes. The only other one I remember being Kitty O’Shea and, who was famous for having had an affair with Charles Stewart Parnell, which was not something to look up to (although the pun ‘Kitty O’ no Shea’ didn’t was said a lot). To me that cannot afford to be ignored. Apart from that, she wasn’t just any historical figure, she was a really cool one. She had been born into a rich family and married a rich count, and despite all the expectations, she threw it away to fight for Ireland. And I mean fight.

She was a founding member of Cumann na mBan, an all-female paramilitary which joined with the Irish Volunteer Force in the 1916 Easter Rising. She took St Steven’s Green, although they did have to retreat to College of Surgeons, and was eventually forced to surrender. In the martial law period that followed the rising she was sentenced to death for her actions. However, unlike many of her fellow revolutionaries, she was spared because she was a woman. Yet, this was a turning point in Irish history and she was there.

After the rising she went on to become integral in the founding of the Irish Republic. Two years after the rising she was elected to the British House of Commons. The following year, 1919, she helped found the first Dail Eireann, which would not be recognised by the British government until after independence in 1921.


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She continued to be involved in Irish politics until her death in 1927. She was the second woman to ever hold a cabinet position as minister for Labour in 1919. She was even elected into the fifth Dail shortly before her death.

This are not all the details of her life, but I urge you to go and read more about her, for she is fascinating and not to be ignored. To leave her out of the narrative is not just to forget her role in British and Irish politics; it is to forget the shared history those countries have.

Yes, she didn’t take her seat, but that wasn’t an unpolitical move. She was a person who devoted her life to politics, and just because that politics does not neatly fit into the narrative, it does not mean it should go unmentioned

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