Jeremy Corbyn praises ‘trailblazer’ 1916 rebel – but historian recalls her ‘other side’

Jeremy Corbyn, centre, pictured during 2018's Armistice commemoration
Jeremy Corbyn, centre, pictured during 2018's Armistice commemoration
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Many people just “do not want to hear” about the violent background of the British Isles’ first woman MP, a historical researcher has said, as Jeremy Corbyn praised her for being a “trailblazer for the Irish people”.

Many people just “do not want to hear” about the violent background of the British Isles’ first woman MP, a historical author has said, after Jeremy Corbyn praised her for being a “trailblazer for the Irish people”.

Countess Markievicz, in a picture thought to have been taken circa 1915

Countess Markievicz, in a picture thought to have been taken circa 1915

A week ago on Friday marked the 100th anniversary of the election to the House of Commons of Countess Constance Markievicz, a Sinn Fein MP.

Among those to have paid tribute to her is the Labour leader Mr Corbyn.

He was quoted in the Morning Star online, a communist newspaper, as saying : “Connie Markievicz was a trailblazer for the Irish people and for women.

“Those who stood for women’s rights were vilified by most of the media at the time – as are those today who stand for causes some of the media deem to be unpopular.

Countess Markievicz

Countess Markievicz

“In memory of all of them let us end gender inequality in Britain and worldwide and have an economic strategy that eliminates poverty and homelessness.”

Many others besides Mr Corbyn have spoken warmly about Markievicz. For example, in December, SNP MP Joanna Cherry dubbed her a “distinguished Irish nationalist”.

But besides being the first female parliamentarian, Garda officer-turned-author Jim Herlihy has said “there is the other side” to her too – namely, her leading role in the rising, in which she is believed to have personally killed a member of the Dublin Metropolitan Police, Michael Lahiff.

“She would’ve been an insurrectionist, she was prepared to use the weapons that she had,” said Mr Herlihy, a 64-year-old from Dublin who has penned books about the history of the pre-Gardai police force.

James Herlihy

James Herlihy

“She was definitely not a pacifist, anyway.

“I think people actually do not want to hear of the other side of it.

“What I mean is she was also a soldier, as such, and was prepared to use firearms.”

He told the News Letter he was not saying it is wrong to celebrate other aspects of her life, but that the simple facts do support the possibility of her not just having taken part in the rising, but having killed unarmed constable Lahiff (aged 28) directly.

An eyewitness account of the shooting from a nurse, recorded in her diary, appears to be the principal source for the claim.

It says the nurse saw the countess in uniform at St Stephen’s Green in central Dublin. The nurse also saw a policeman in the area too.

The nurse recorded that she “heard a shot then saw him fall forward on his face”, adding “the countess ran triumphantly into the green saying ‘I got him’,” while fellow rebels congratulated her.

Ultimately however history cannot be sure Markievicz was the true killer, and Mr Herlihy said it is “something we’ll probably never solve”.

However, another 16 policemen also died during the Rising. The total death toll from the whole rebellion is estimated by the Glasnevin Trust at 485.

Markievicz was sentenced to death, but clemency was shown, and on December 28, 1918 she was elected to the Commons, representing Dublin St Patrick’s constitutency.