Eva Gore-Booth (1870-1926) and her sister Constance (later Markievicz, 1868-1927) were the daughters of baronet and Arctic explorer Sir Henry Gore-Booth and his wife Georgina (née Hill). They were brought up in Lissadell, Co. Sligo; the Gore-Booths were considered good landlords and opened their house to poets and artists. The sisters were given a wide-ranging education, which included classical languages, music, poetry and art. They were presented to Queen Victoria at Buckingham Palace in 1887, yet despite their respectable upbringing, both sisters became prominent social activists, supporters of women’s suffrage and the Irish republican movement, as well as talented artists.
The Manuscripts & Archives Research Library in Trinity College Dublin owns two slim volumes written by Eva Gore-Booth, The One and the Many and The Death of Fionavar from The Triumph of Maeve. The One and the Many is a collection of poems published by Longman, Greens and Co. in 1904, and illustrated in pen, ink and watercolour by the hand of Constance Markievicz. The poems are full of symbolic references to classical antiquity, Egyptian lore and Christian mysticism. The style of the illustrations reveals influences ranging from J. M. W. Turner’s watercolours, Aubrey Beardsley’s pen and ink illustrations, Japanese prints, the Pre-Raphaelites, and French Symbolist artists such as Gustave Moreau. Constance Markievicz’s work in The One and the Many places her in the same artistic milieu as other contemporaries of the Celtic Revival, including George AE Russell, Kathleen Fox and P. Oswald Reeves.
The Death of Fionavar from The Triumph of Maeve was published in 1916 and dedicated ‘To the Memory of the Dead, The Many who died for Freedom and the One who died for Peace.’ (The latter was a reference to the murdered suffragist and pacifist Francis Sheehy Skeffington). The book is a recasting of Irish mythology to aid the pacifist cause. Some of the prints illustrating this volume are based on the drawings Constance Markievicz made for The One and the Many, particularly the winged horses which decorate the end papers.
Constance attended the Slade School of Art in London and later studied art in Paris, where she met her husband-to-be Count Casimir Dunin-Markievicz. Countess Markievicz returned to Ireland with her husband and child in 1903. Constance dedicated her life to nationalist politics and was a commander in the Rising of 1916, for which she was sentenced to death (later commuted). Upon release she became the first woman elected to Parliament and held Cabinet rank throughout the War of Independence. She died in 1927.
The political prominence of Constance Markievicz has somewhat obscured the cultural influence of her quieter sister Eva Gore-Booth, and overshadows the involvement of both sisters in the revival of the arts in Ireland during the turn of the century. Both were members of George [AE] Russell’s intellectual circle. Eva was a poet and playwright, whose poems were included in Russell’s 1903 anthology New poems: a lyric selection with A.E. From 1897 Eva lived in Manchester with her life partner the suffragist Esther Roper and became active in the women’s trade union movement. After the 1916 Rising, she campaigned for her sister’s sentence to be commuted, and also lobbied to stop Roger Casement’s execution. She was a pacifist, a sexual radical, a campaigner against the death penalty, and in her later years she became interested in theosophy. Eva died in 1926, and her Collected Poems were published posthumously in 1929.
In his 1933 poem In memory of Eva Gore-Booth and Con Markievicz W. B. Yeats described the sisters as ‘two girls in silk kimonos.’
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