Speech by the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Heather Humphreys TD, at the unveiling of a commemorative plaque to mark the centenary of the visit of Countess Markievicz to Carnaross, on Sunday 6 August, 2017
St Kieran’s feast day has, of course, been celebrated for centuries, attracting pilgrims and visitors from across the north east and further afield.
It is a fantastic opportunity to celebrate our rich cultural heritage and traditions and to showcase the talents, energy and creativity of the community here.
One hundred years ago, Carnaross Cumann na mBan welcomed Countess Markievicz to Carnaross on Kieran Sunday in 1917 and, today, we mark the centenary of that significant visit.
The Countess lived through and influenced some of the most transformative and turbulent events that shaped the history of modern Ireland.
It was a period of immense political, social and cultural change.
The Easter Rising of 1916 and its aftermath changed public opinion and the political landscape forever.
John Redmond’s continued support for the British war effort and the perceived severe response of the British Government to those who took part in the Rising saw public sympathies shift from Redmond and the Irish Parliamentary Party to the new revolutionary movement.
It was against this background that Countess Markievicz visited Carnaross and people came from far and wide to hear her speak.
As we know, during the events of Easter Week in 1916, Countess Markievicz was Second in Command at St Stephen’s Green and later at the College of Surgeons.
She was sentenced to death for her participation in the Rising and her sentence was commuted to life in prison because she was a woman, until her release in June 1917.
After her return to Ireland from Aylesbury Prison, Constance Markievicz travelled around the country, often with Eamon de Valera, who was leader of the Garrison at Boland’s Mill and Bakery during the Rising and who also had his sentence commuted.
They attracted thousands of people, unifying nationalists in a common cause.
Two months later, the Countess arrived in Carnaross and the presence of such a dynamic and accomplished speaker, who was probably the most famous woman in Ireland at the time, naturally attracted huge crowds.
She urged those present that “they must sacrifice their time and energies to the sacred cause of making Ireland a nation”.
I understand that local research has uncovered reports of 10,000 people attending the gathering and, indeed, many of you may have had family members present at that historic occasion.
The Countess was re-arrested in 1918 and was in prison when she became the first female elected to the House of Commons later that year.
As we know, she did not take her seat.
The first meeting of Dáil Éireann took place in the Mansion House on 21st January 1919 and this two hour session was one of the most momentous afternoons in Ireland’s history.
Countess de Markievicz took her seat in the first Dáil and was appointed Minister for Labour.
The Countess made great sacrifices to take her place in politics and public life – dying in poverty at the age of only 59 on 15 July 1927, in St Patrick Dun’s Hospital in Dublin.
As one of the 114 women who have been elected to the Dáil since 1918 and as a Cabinet Minister, her story and her legacy remains important.
Many of the issues of justice and fairness that concerned Countess de Markievicz have resonances for those of us that hold public office today.
One of my priorities in leading the 1916 centenary commemorations last year was to highlight the role and lives of the 300 remarkable and capable women who participated in the 1916 Easter Rising.
Indeed, one of the very interesting local artefacts from that time is on display here at the Field Museum – Alice Dunne Tevlin’s Notebook.
As Secretary of Carnaross Cumann na mBan, Alice kept a notebook recording instructions she received in first aid and gun maintenance, as well as records of expenditure incurred supporting imprisoned volunteers.
These women were defiant, strong and united in their belief for a better Ireland that would accept male and female as equal.
Upon their release, the women of 1916 continued the journey towards equality and empowerment – they paved the way for all future generations of women to take on the world as equal partners.
Next year, the State will mark the centenary of the introduction of universal suffrage, when, for the first time, women were allowed to vote in the General Election of 1918.
2018 also marks 100 years of women in Irish political life and Sinéad McCoole, who previously curated the Women of 1916 Exhibition, is working with my Department to develop a special exhibition to mark this occasion.
I would like to sincerely thank John Tevlin, St Kieran’s Festival Committee and everyone who has worked so hard to make this wonderful festival such a great occasion.
It is a testament to what can be achieved when communities come together with a sense of purpose and pride.
I wish you all the best with your plans for the future.
It is now my great honour to unveil this commemorative plaque to commemorate Countess de Markievicz and her visit to Carnaross 100 years ago.