The Harp Without the Crown – Constance Markievicz


Hello, this is John Conlan, host of The Rocky Road to Dublin here on KBMF and welcome to this episode of the Harp Without the Crown where I will be discussing the Butte visit of Irish social reformer and activist Constance Markievicz on April 28, 1922.

Markievicz was a revolutionary, socialist, and feminist, as well as an artist and writer. She did not become active in social causes until later in her life when she first became involved in the Irish Woman’s Suffrage movement. She is probably most known for her role in the 1916 Easter Rising where she was promoted to the second highest position in the Irish Army for action in the 1916 Easter Rising, which eventually led to her imprisonment and scheduled execution, that was eventually commuted. She was a member of the radical Cumann na mBan, which was an Irish paramilitary organization and served a total of three years in various jails in England for actions taken for the cause of Irish freedom. Later in life, she became Minister of Labour under President Eamon De Valera and was the first woman to be elected to the British Parliament but refused to serve or take the seat because she would not pledge allegiance to the British crown.

She was chosen by President De Valera for a tour of America in the spring of 1922 to directly reach out to Irish America about the negative impacts of the Irish Free State Treaty being proposed by England. The Treaty was a divisive issue in Ireland and opponents of the Treaty such as Markievicz rejected the treaty for several reasons. It required an oath to the King of England in order for elected Irish officials to sit in the British Parliament, (it)recognized the partition of Ireland, which eventually led to the northern six counties in Ireland becoming part of the United Kingdom, and (it) established local governance that kept Ireland as part of the English Commonwealth. The treaty was seen by many as a gross violation of Irish voting rights and continuation of Ireland’s colonial status.

Constance came to Butte that eventful weekend in April 1922, just six years after she had been sentenced to death for her participation in the 1916 Easter Rising. She brought to Butte her passion for Irish independence and Women’s Suffrage. She noted that,” Butte was one of the places that stand out for its reception for they met us at the train station with a band (Pearse Connolly Drum and Fife Corp) and an army…all Sligo(her home) seemed to be there.

During her Montana stay, she spoke in Anaconda on Friday at the AOH Hall, toured the Anaconda mine on Saturday, and delivered an address on Sunday at the Butte High School Auditorium.

At the Anaconda AOH Hall every chair was occupied in anticipation of her address and people stood in the aisles and the back of the Hall. Upon entering the hall, she received a standing ovation from the 1,000 attendees until she reached the stage. The event began with the singing of the Star Spangled Banner. An introduction was given by Mayor McCavitt where he described Markievicz,”as one of the most remarkable women in the world.” Her speech in Anaconda stressed two main points: (1) anything less than complete Irish independence would diminish the sacrifice of lives in the struggle for independence and (2) the proposed Irish Free Treaty violated the civil rights of the Irish people. Newspaper accounts noted that the Anaconda audience listened intently as she described the week of the 1916 Easter Rising battle plans and encounters in Dublin, “where we hunted the English around Dublin and we knew how it felt to be a man, how to look down the barrel of a gun at an Englishmans’s heart.”

The following Saturday afternoon she addressed Butte’s Sarsfield Social Club and the Cumann na mBan Women’s Auxiliary at St. Mary’s Hall where she gave a historical and cultural update concerning present conditions in Ireland. Afterwards she toured the Anaconda mine and spent several hours underground escorted by Father Hannan of St. Mary’s Church. Of the mines she stated, “I saw a man drilling the copper dust eight mortal hours each day”….”They told us few men live to be old in Butte, Montana.”

Hundreds packed the Butte High School Auditorium the night of April 30,1922 to listen to Markievicz and was one of the largest crowds in the history of the auditorium. Her Butte address strongly emphasized that the Irish Free State Treaty was a violation of the constitutional rights of the Irish people. Under that Treaty… “Ireland was not Irish, not free, and not a state.”… “People of Butte and the United States of America, we have come to ask that you remain with us until our purpose is accomplished and support the Republican cause so the lives of those lost in the Easter Rising were not in vain.” Her Butte speech graphically described the present political and economic conditions in Ireland, the progress of the guerilla war against the English army, the evils of English propaganda devaluing Irish independence, and the necessity of breaking ties with England.

President De Valera sent Markievicz to America because she had an impeccable reputation as a respected Irish hero with direct ties to the 1916 Easter Rising. Having someone such as Markievicz arguing against the Free State Treaty and requesting continued support for complete Irish independence would be persuasive and credible. The Butte Irish community responded with an extremely generous contribution of $5,000 for the Irish Relief Fund. Butte’s Father Hannan contributed $100 and Mrs. Dan Donohue, who resided at 617 ½ E. Mercury Street in Butte, gave $200 in cash which was considered at that time to be what her husband made in a monthly salary as a supervisor in the Butte mines.

In addition to the financial support shown by the Butte Irish community it is important to note that Butte’s acceptance of Markievicz indicates that the Butte Irish continued to be emotionally tied to Ireland and Irish independence,despite years of immigration to America and physical separation from Ireland Her presence in Butte kept the movement for independence alive in the city and served as an important and effective tool for Ireland’s progressive leaders to use in solidifying Irish America’s support for an independent Ireland.

This has been John Conlan, host of the Rocky Road to Dublin here on KBMF with this episode of the Harp Without the Crown. Thanks for listening