The assault on Markievicz – as fact-free as it is malicious

Countess_MarkiewiczThe excellent piece below appears in this month’s issue of the journal Irish Political Review.  It deals with the extraordinary and malicious assault on the reputation of Countess Markievicz, an assault which has been ratcheted up in recent years by Ann Matthews.  Matthews seems to have decided to devote her twilight years to a personal vendetta against the revolutionary countess – indeed, the vendetta seems almost out-of-control now, in terms of what she says about Markievicz, making Matthews look somewhat obsessive and deranged.  She suppresses evidence, uses ‘evidence’ which is highly questionable, cherry picks evidence to suit her already decided upon line, claims to have ‘no theory’ as if she is just some impartial fact-finder, and writes books and plays which appeal to a particular type of audience (middle class, anti-republican) who lap up her fanciful ‘history’.  In reality, hatchet job as history.

I had been thinking of writing something about Matthews and her methods for a while, when I received the piece below from a friend of mine in Belfast.  What is most notable about the critiques of people like Matthews is how strongly evidence-based they are.  They show Matthews and her fellow revisionists to be short on facts and long on prejudice and not particularly scrupulous – and certainly not rigorous – when it comes to dealing with evidence.

Sometimes, however, you do just have to laugh.  For instance when Matthews refers to Markievicz as “eccentric” and “with a strong sense of her own self-importance”, I think this is what the psychologists call ‘transference’!

In a future short piece I’ll deal with Charles Townsend on Markievicz’s imaginary breakdown and with Fearghal McGarry’s complete misrepresentation of evidence from Barton & Foy’s book on 1916.  (Barton & Foy demolish the nonsense that Markievicz broke down at her court-martial and call the claim ‘scurrilous’, whereas McGarry pretends that they say the account of her breakdown was expunged from the official court-martial proceedings!) If I can summon the energy, I’ll also comment on Matthews shoddily-written Renegades, point to the shoddiness of the writing, suppression of evidence and some of her sleights-of-hand and double standards.  It’s hard to believe that her ‘work’ is taken seriously, so it’s hard for me to summon up the energy to deal with it.  She should have been taken to task for all this by her PhD superviser/s and marker/s.

Perhaps someone in Ireland or Britain doing honours papers could methodically go through Matthews’ ‘work’ and check her ‘references’ as well as her omissions and double standards.  It could be a model dissection of how a rather crude anti-republican propagandist goes about presenting their propaganda as merely truth-seeking historiography. 


Irish Political Review, May 2016:


by Manus Riordan

From April 20 to May 2 of last year a Show Trial took place in the Headquarters of the Communist Party of Ireland. A year later, during this past month of March, the Show Trial resumed in CPI HQ, with the defendant scheduled to be extradited to Paris for the final day’s Court sitting on April 23. On trial for “murder”, and undoubtedly scheduled for a death sentence, gender considerations nonetheless signaled commutation. 

But no, the CPI has not been seeking to emulate any of the Show Trials that characterised Leninist rule in Eastern Europe. Indeed, the CPI has no responsibility at all for Madame de Markievicz on Trial. For understandable commercial reasons, the CPI shares its premises with the New Theatre. But just as I found it incongruous to pass through Connolly Books en route to finding out just how nauseating the theatrical character assassination of Connolly’s comrade-in-arms would turn out to be, I am sure CPI personnel found it even more nauseating to witness, on a daily basis, those audiences en route to lap up that Show Trial authored by one-time CPI-archivist Ann Matthews. 

There is little doubt in my mind that Constance Markievicz has been the target of systematic misogyny, irrespective of whether the character assassins be male or female. Professor John A Murphy, University College Cork’s Emeritus Professor of History, had certainly been prepared to play the role of nasty little man in the Irish Times of 22 October 2004 when, under the heading of “Markievicz and the Rising”, he gave vent to the following piece of misogynistic West Brit character assassination:

“The argument in your columns about Countess Markievicz’s activities in Easter Week 1916 recalls W.E. Wylie’s interesting account of her demeanour at the courts martial. Wylie was appointed to act as prosecuting counsel. He was impressed by some of the prisoners, notably Eamon Ceannt and John MacBride, but not by Constance Markievicz. According to him, the court expected she would make a scene and throw things at the judge and counsel. ‘In fact’, said Wylie, ‘I saw the General (Blackadder, court president) getting out his revolver and putting it on the table beside him. But he needn’t have troubled, for she curled up completely. ‘I am only a woman’, she cried, ‘and you cannot shoot a woman. You must not shoot a woman.’ She never stopped moaning, the whole  time she was in the courtroom.’ Though she had been ‘full of fight’ in Stephen’s Green, ‘she crumpled up in the courtroom’. ‘I think we all felt slightly disgusted. . . She had been preaching to a lot of silly boys, death and glory, die for your country, etc., and yet she was literally crawling. I won’t say any more, it revolts me still.’ Wylie’s memoir of 1916 was written in 1939 when he was 58. But is there any reason to think he was lying about Markievicz, or that his recall was defective?”

In my then capacity as SIPTU Head of Research in Liberty Hall, I submitted the following reply, which was published that 28 October: 

‘In the 1916 Rebellion Handbook, first published in that year by the Weekly Irish Times, there is a self-revealing observation on the Irish Citizen Army from ‘The Steward of Christendom’ himself, Dublin Metropolitan Police Superintendant Thomas Dunne. (This is the title of the play penned in his memory by Dunne’s great-grandson, Sebastian Barry – MO’R). He complains that it is a serious state of affairs to have the city endangered by a gang of roughs with rifles and bayonets, at large at that time of night with a female like the Countess Markievicz in charge’. Constance Markievicz’s reputation has indeed been bedevilled by a combination of misogyny and contempt for her association with the working class that this union set out to organise, and whom Superintendent Dunne chose to christen ‘the disorderly class’. All the more reason, then, to expect professional rigour to be applied when UCC’s Emeritus Professor of History, John A. Murphy, intervenes (October 22nd) in what he calls the ‘argument in your columns’ concerning Markievicz’s role in 1916. Surprisingly, however, he has nothing to say on the actual issue in dispute: that either Markievicz had shot Constable Lahiff at Stephen’s Green, as maintained by Kevin Myers (October 14th), or that she could not possibly have done so, being at that time at the City Hall, as evidenced by Claire McGrath Guerin (October 19th).” 

“Prof Murphy has instead chosen to open up a new line of attack, by endorsing, without any qualification, the character assassination of Markievicz offered in his memoirs by the death penalty prosecutor of the 1916 leaders, W.E. Wylie. It is a pity that Prof Murphy has not kept abreast of more recent scholarship in this area, most notably Brian Barton’s From Behind a Closed Door: Secret Court Martial Records of the 1916 Easter Rising (2002). Writing of Markievicz, whose record had been kept a close secret by the British government for 85 years before they finally agreed to its release in 2001, Barton observes: ‘In fact the official record of Markievicz’s trial shows that she acted bravely and with characteristic defiance throughout. . . When speaking in her own defence, she retracted nothing, stating simply: ‘I went out to fight for Ireland’s freedom and it doesn’t matter what happens to me. I did what I thought was right and I stand by it.’ ” 

“Barton further comments: ‘Wylie’s wilful and scurrilous distortion of her response at her trial is difficult to interpret. It may reflect a personal sense of irritation at her self-assurance and boldness, which he may have considered an insult to the court. Perhaps it reflected deep-rooted sexual prejudice and rank misogyny on his part. More likely, his fictitious account sprang, above all, from a feeling that the Countess had by her actions betrayed both her religion and her class (she had been presented at court to Queen Victoria in her jubilee year, 1887). Such considerations certainly influenced the Trinity College Provost’s daughter Miss Mahaffy’s assessment of her . . . (as) ‘the one woman amongst them of high birth and therefore the most depraved … She took to politics and left our class’.” 

“She did indeed. Appointed Minister of Labour in 1919 in the democratically elected Government of the Irish Republic, Markievicz had previously been Vice-President of the Irish Women Workers’ Union. She was also made an honorary member of the ITGWU, in tribute to her outstanding work during the 1913 Lockout in organising – with Delia Larkin – the provision, here at Liberty Hall, of 3,000 meals a day to our suffering members and their families. And for that commitment the name of Constance Markievicz will always be an honoured one in the annals of the Irish trade union movement.” 

Mysogynist-in-chief Kevin Myers has been to the fore in accusing Constance Markievicz, second-in-command of the College of Surgeons garrison of the Irish Citizen Army during the 1916 Rising, of the gratuitous, triumphalist “murder” of Constable Michael Lahiff at St. Stephen’s Green. He was at it again in the Sunday Times this March 13, and yet again on April 3. But before that, over a sixteen year period, having been provided with a grip on the “Irishman’s Diary” column, Myers had been facilitated by the Irish Times in mounting a sustained campaign of character assassination against Markievicz on no fewer than twelve occasions – in October 1990, December 1991, May1995, March 1996, October 1996, May 1999, August 2003, October 2004, December 2004, October 2005, November 2005 and January 2006. 

On only two occasions did the Irish Times letters page tolerate exposure of the factual fault line in that Myers campaign. On October 19, 1996, Natasha Mac a’ Bhaird pointed out: 

“Kevin Myers shows a biased and subjective view of Irish history. That Countess Markievicz murdered an unarmed policeman in Stephen’s Green is a myth which thousands of Irish people have grown up believing… PC Lahiff, the unfortunate man in question, was shot within five minutes of the occupation of the Green, according to one of the few accounts which mentions the incident, Max Caulfield’s The Easter Rebellion, and to the Sinn Fein Rebellion Handbook. If this was the case, Constance could not have shot him. She did not march to the Green with Michael Mallin and the Citizen Army contingent. Instead, she and Dr Kathleen Lynn, after seeing the companies march from Liberty Hall, drove off in a car packed with medical supplies.

They unloaded part of the supplies at City Hall at 12 noon the time at which PC Lahiff was allegedly shot. Dr Lynn remained at City Hall, while Constance drove to Stephen’s Green with the rest of the supplies… By the time Constance arrived, the rebels had gained control of the Green, and at this stage PC Lahiff could not have tried to prevent Constance entering it.” 

On October 19, 2004, Claire McGrath Guerin restated similar logistical facts, and further argued:

“Kevin Myers recycles the allegation that Constance Markievicz murdered Constable Lahiff on Easter Monday, 1916. This story first appeared in print in Max Caulfield’s The Easter Rebellion (1963). Caulfield’s account does not state the evidence on which it is based… Diana Norman, who collected the evidence in her book Terrible Beauty – a Life of Constance Markievicz (1988), states (p. 140): ‘What is significant is how willingly the story that she shot an unarmed man has been received and the tenacity with which it has been remembered since. It may be that some flawed, unconscious logic has been going on in the male Irish mind. Two rules of gentlemanly warfare were broken at Stephen’s Green on Easter Monday: a helpless man died and a woman displayed a joy in battle; therefore the woman broke both rules; QED, Constance shot PC Lahiff.’ The former keeper of State papers, Breandán MacGiolla Chiolle, informed Ms Norman that he had come across no evidence in his research among the State papers to indicate the truth of the rumour. If Mr Myers has some compelling evidence to indicate the contrary, I will be pleased to follow it up. If not, as this is a matter of justice, I hope he will acknowledge his allegation is baseless.” 

Max Caulfield had written: “Countess Markievicz arrived in the Green (at the Grafton Street corner – MO’R) by Traitors’ Gate (the gate that had been erected as a memorial to Irishmen who had lost their lives fighting for Britain against the Boers), almost as if she owned the entire Park… Here, in these few acres of city park, in accordance with James Connolly’s ideals, women were entitled to stand shoulder to shoulder with men; and if it came to it, she herself had no scruples about shooting the enemy. She even looked forward to it and as things turned out she would not have to wait long. Within five  minutes Constable Michael Lahiff attempted to enter the Green at Traitors’ Gate. He was told to go away, but obstinately, if courageously, refused. Informed of his attitude, the Countess rushed to the railings and took aim with her Mauser rifle-pistol. As she fired two men beside her also shot. ‘I shot him!’ shouted the Countess delightedly. ‘I shot him!’” (The Easter Rebellion, 1995 edition, p 66). 

In his 2002 book, From Behind a Closed Door – Secret Court Martial Records of the 1916 Rising, Brian Barton not only nailed the private narrative of Prosecutor William Wylie as a “fictitious account” completely at variance with the Court record, and as “wilful and malicious distortion” reflecting “rank misogyny” (p 80), he found the same misogyny present in the contemporary diary entries of one particular female: “This (Wylie’s fictitious) account clearly circulated widely in Dublin at the time. Miss Mahaffy, daughter of the Provost at Trinity College … referred to ‘the evidence of a little boy … who saw her shoot a policeman … (Markievicz) could not frighten or confuse the child who remained clear.’ (Diary, 6 May 1916)… She (Miss Mahaffy) writes of Markievicz that she was ‘the one woman amongst them of high birth and therefore the most depraved… She took to politics and left our class.’ (Diary, 30 April and 1 May 1916).” The actual facts of the case, however, were that at the Markievicz Court Martial, held on 4 May, the 17 year old “little boy” witness, Walter McKay, had said nothing about her shooting any policeman at all, but of her shooting towards a building on the Green’s Northside: “Between 1 and 2 o’c that day I was standing at the University Club door (where he lived and was employed as a page boy). From there I could see Stephen’s Green, and I saw a few rebels dressed in green uniform; they were pulling the civilians out of the Green and as they were doing this the accused drove up in a motor car, blew her whistle and leaned out of the car. She gave orders to a Sinn Feiner after he had shut the gate of Stephen’s Park. She then drove up towards the Shelbourne Hotel – I saw her again about 1.15 P.M. – she was then behind one of the monuments in the Green, she had a pistol in her hand and which she pointed towards the Club and fired. I ran upstairs and saw where the bullet struck. After firing she walked up towards the Shelbourne Hotel dressed in knickers and puttees.” 

Lauren Arrington, author of a newly-published biography entitled Revolutionary Lives, Casimir and Constance Markievicz, appeared to address more updated material earlier this year in a blog on the “Irish Historians in Britain” site, entitled “Did Constance Markievicz Shoot the Policeman?”. She mused: “No one ever seems to ask whether MacDonagh and MacBride, Connolly and Pearse (never mind de Valera and Collins) happened to fire shots at an unarmed individual, policeman or otherwise. But whether Constance Markievicz shot an unarmed constable at St Stephen’s Green is the question on which the public judgment of her character hangs. By the afternoon of the first day of the Rising, six policemen had been shot, two fatally, and at least two of them were unarmed. The young Abbey actor Seán Connolly—who was the first among the rebels to die, and whose last moments have been recounted by witnesses and historians in tragic detail—shot an unarmed constable who stood guard at Dublin Castle. The righteousness of this act seems to be unquestionable. Yet, partly because she had the audacity to survive the Rising and its aftermath, Markievicz’s identical sin has plagued the public imagination.” 

Arrington went on to quote more recently-trumpeted “evidence”, attributed to the diary of a nurse, Geraldine Fitzgerald, and what she was supposed to have seen and heard from the Nurse’s Home located at the South-West (Harcourt Street) corner of St. Stephen’s Green (in contrast with previously published accounts which maintained that Constable Lahiff had been shot at the North-West (Grafton Street) corner):

“A lady in a green uniform, the same as the men were wearing (breeches, slouch hat with green feathers etc.) the feathers were the only feminine feature in her appearance, holding a revolver in one hand and a cigarette in the other, was standing on the footpath giving orders to the men. We recognized her as the Countess de Markievicz – such a specimen of womanhood. There were other women, similarly attired, inside the Park, walking about and bringing drinks of water to the men. We had only been looking out a few minutes when we saw a policeman walking down the path from Harcourt Street. He had only gone a short way when we heard a shot and then saw him fall forward on his face. The Countess ran triumphantly into the Green saying ‘I got him’ and some of the rebels shook her by the hand and seemed to congratulate her.” 

This account has now been accepted as Gospel by media cognoscenti. The RTE “docudrama” broadcast on March 20, and entitled Seven Women, featured Elsie Mahaffy, daughter of the Trinity College Provost, adding her enthusiasm for the British Army artillery shelling of Liberty Hall, from within its Trinity College base, to her incorrigible loathing of Constance Markievicz. The programme accepted, without qualification, the Geraldine Fitzgerald “eyewitness document” concerning Markievicz’s alleged killing of Lahiff, while providing a “dramatisation” at odds even with that account itself, not to mind any other. This did not deter the programme’s male historians from embracing such an account with unquestioning alacrity, with Padraig Yeates to the fore in pronouncing that “What shocked her as much as the killing itself was the FACT (my emphasis – MO’R) that Countess Markievicz then shouted ‘I got him!’, and other members of the Citizen Army contingent around her then congratulated her on the killing.”

There had been a prompt response to the Arrington blog from Dr. Ann Matthews who commented: “A robust defence of Madame de Markievicz.” Matthews must have issued a sigh of relief that it had been anything but a “robust defence”. Rather than question the Fitzgerald “evidence”, Arrington rested content with gender special pleading: “The facts of the incident and a rational explanation of Markievicz’s denial of the shooting may do little to influence public opinion, which continues to be governed by emotive and fallacious accounts. If Markievicz’s death sentence had been carried out, would historians or the general public view her actions with more sympathy? Possibly. But probably not. Her execution would not have affected the account offered by W. E. Wylie of her Court Martial, which holds so much sway. Nor would it have stymied O’Casey’s vitriol or changed Yeats’s verdicts. A clue to the reason lies in nurse Fitzgerald’s diary: “the Countess de Markievicz –such a specimen of womanhood.” 

Matthews had now been given carte-blanche to blow her own trumpet: 

“Interesting that my work Renegades (2010) is the only one not mentioned, especially as it is the first publication to use Nurse Geraldine Fitzgerald’s statement. My play Madame de Markievicz on Trial is going on a national tour of Ireland during March and April 2016. It received terrific reviews in 2015 when it was first staged. My play is interactive theatre where the audience is the actual jury, thereby removing this tale from the usual two dimensional story.” 

Under the heading of “Was Countess Markievicz a hero or a cold-blooded killer?” the Irish Sun reported: “Countess Markievicz was not Michael Mallin’s second in command during the Easter Rising, a top historian has insisted. Dr Ann Matthews said the ‘eccentric’ suffragette with a ‘strong sense of self-importance’ gave herself the job title. The NUI Maynooth lecturer said: ‘Madame de Markievicz was a chaotic person, slightly out of control, believed she was entitled to be in charge and nobody ever questioned it.’ … Dr Matthews, who has written a number of books on Irish Republican women, told the Irish Sun: ‘We are told that she was a sharp shooter but she was not. Constance de Markievicz was short-sighted from birth. At the age of 48 she couldn’t have possibly been a sharp shooter. That’s a myth.’ It is also believed that she shot and killed Dublin Metropolitan Police officer Michael Lahiff at Stephen’s Green on April 24, 1916… Dr Matthews has written a play about Markievicz’s trial for the murder of Michael Lahiff.” 

Aside from other considerations, this play is not, of course, about the trial of Markievicz that had actually taken place. It is Dr Matthews’ fictitious imagining of the trial she maintains should have taken place. Under the heading of “Markievicz – a stupid, arrogant snob”, Emer O’Kelly reviewed it for the Sunday Independent on March 6: “The piece is more drama -documentary than play: there is no action as such, and the audience is addressed throughout. The text is based on witness accounts, memoirs, and official papers from the time, and is set in 1917, after Constance’s release from prison under the amnesty for those arrested after the Rising, and during her incarceration for subsequent seditious speech-making. A fictional Queen’s Counsel conducts a ‘trial’, in which he calls various witnesses to the Countess’s life and work. They range from the aunt of the unarmed Catholic policeman she shot at point blank range on Stephen’s Green during Easter Week, to the adoring and dazzled Helena Molony (the Abbey actor who also took part in the Rising) to Dr Kathleen Lynn, the feminist and humanitarian, to the young nurse who attended the dying policeman. The picture is built up relentlessly, if in a slightly stilted form: the story of her life ‘presented’ in the form of questioning from prosecuting counsel. And Constance Markievicz emerges as what can best be described as a total cow: stupid, arrogant, snobbish, posturing, insensitive and manipulative, a far cry from Yeats’s lines about her and her sister Eva: ‘two girls in silk kimonos, both beautiful, one a gazelle’. … Constance was very much the grande dame patronising the poor and under-privileged as she flitted through Dublin, although she did found and lead Na Fianna, a boy-scout type organisation with a deadly purpose: to indoctrinate and train the youngsters to become armed revolutionaries.” 

This provoked a letter from Anne Haverty in the issue of March 13, which walked a legal fineline in her description of what exactly Dr Matthews was at: “It is sad that Emer O’Kelly …  should swallow without question the untruths currently being circulated in a play about Constance Markievicz. Nothing of what she asserts is true. In the forthcoming revised edition of my biography of Markievicz, the real facts about these issues are made plain.” And a week later, on March 20, Anne Haverty addressed these “untruths” in greater detail: 

“Who was Constance Markievicz? It’s odd that the question has to be asked about someone who had such a significant part to play in the making of the Republic. Without the Fianna for instance, the corps of well-trained erstwhile boy scouts, Easter 1916 would probably have been another of those hopelessly amateurish attempts at rebellion the Irish went in for. It might not have even happened at all. It was Markievicz who founded the Fianna … as a nationalist alternative to Baden Powell’s imperialist, and no less militaristic, boy scouts (and who ended up in Flanders fields)… So why is she not recognised as a hero of the independence movement? Why is she absent from the roll-call of the famous? Why, when she is mentioned, is it as a peripheral figure, and then often sneeringly, as little more than an attention-seeker? Why is her contribution so often reduced to the – false – charge that she shot a constable during the Rising?…” 

“But it is the matter of the constable’s death at St Stephen’s Green on Easter Monday that most commonly now excuses her vilification. There are at least three versions in circulation. I think it’s true to say that most of her detractors know next to nothing about the facts; and the few who do prefer to ignore them. The constable was Constable Lahiff, shot, according to the official report by the DMP – the Dublin Metropolitan Police – at 12pm or thereabouts, as the rebels were taking possession of the Green via the Fusiliers’ Gate. At this time Markievicz was at City Hall…” 

“The only source for the allegation is ‘testimony’ from a Miss Geraldene (sic) Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald’s account, said to be from her diary of that day, is kept in the British National Archives at Kew, marked Evidence Against Countess Markievicz and stamped July 14, 1917. That it’s from her diary, ‘kindly supplied’ by her mother who lived in Birr, can’t be verified however, as it consists only of two typewritten pages. In fact, it reads more like a deposition, taken down by someone tasked with gathering incriminating evidence. Geraldene Fitzgerald, a trainee public health nurse, tells how she was on her way back to the Nurses Home on the Green after her morning rounds. At 12.30pm she was in High Street and took a longer route home to avoid Jacob’s where the Sinn Feiners were in possession. Making her way to the south side of the Green she saw the Sinn Feiners inside, digging trenches while others ‘were ready with rifles to fire on anyone in military or police uniforms who passed that way’. She sat down to dinner in the dining room with some colleagues. It would now be approaching 1pm, if not later. From the window the nurses saw a policeman coming from Harcourt Street. ‘He had only gone a short way when we heard a shot and then saw him fall forward on his face. The ‘Countess’ ran triumphantly into the Green, saying  ‘I got him’ and some of the rebels shook her by the hand and seemed to congratulate her…’ Apart from the crucial matters of the timing and the location of the shooting, which are totally at odds with the DMP’s report, there are other extremely questionable aspects to this account. Among them are that the likelihood of a remark, as Fitzgerald relates it, carrying from the west side of the Green and across a wide stretch of road noisy with the activities of the rebels, onlookers and the traffic still going up and down, is small… It’s hard to know what to make of Fitzgerald’s account or to say what she saw or did not see – only that it seems at the very least fanciful and based more on a year’s worth of rumours than on reality. It could not stand up in a court of law, which may be why it did not appear on Markievicz’s charge-sheet when she was tried on various grounds in 1920. Only the obstinately mischievous – to put it kindly – can continue to cite it.” 

Some months back, Dr Ann Matthews had been as disingenuous as she remained “obstinately mischievous” in her response to the Arrington blog, when she boasted:

“Interesting that my work Renegades (2010) is the only one not mentioned especially as it is the first publication to use Nurse Geraldine Fitzgerald’s statement.” But I, in fact, find it far more interesting that the more recent book from Matthews, The Irish Citizen Army (2014), repeats (pp 93-96) her earlier use of Fitzgerald without, however, making any reference whatsoever to the forensic examination of such “evidence” that has occurred in the interim. The methodology employed in the latter book was criticised as follows in the November-December 2014 issue of History Ireland: “Matthews’s approach to oral testimony demonstrates a lack of consistency. A number of witness statements are rightly questioned. Much less rigour is employed, however, when it comes to the question of Constance Markievicz’s character and behaviour during her court martial in the wake of the 1916 Rising. A passage from the prosecuting counsel’s memoir is quoted in full and without question. In this Markievicz is described as having pleaded for her life – behaviour that disgusted the memoirist. Matthews does not note that the memoir was written decades later (as she does with a number of witness statements), nor does she acknowledge the existence of a transcript of the court martial proceedings that completely contradicts the memoir (p. 143).” 

With all due respects to History Ireland, its criticism of Matthews, although valid, is old hat, doing little more than repeating my own demolition twelve years ago of Emeritus Professor John A Murphy’s attempt to “Wylie” Markievicz. History Ireland failed to notice that the most glaring omission from the 2014 Matthews book is any acknowledgement of the direct 2012 challenge to the Lahiff “murder” charges against Markievicz in her earlier book. Ray Bateson is a historian of the 1916 Rising, the sheer depth and comprehensiveness of  whose research and expertise has either been scandalously neglected or left uncredited by others. The fact that he is self-published – under the imprint of Irish Graves Publications – is no excuse; his books, at the very least, are easily accessible through the public library system. His 2010 book, They Died By Pearse’s Side, was followed in 2012 by The Rising Dead: RIC & DMP, which is no less marked by the sensitivity he shows in respect of all deaths. But the failure of Dr Matthews even to mention Bateson, either in her own 2014 book or in the propaganda for the 2015 and 2016 productions of her “Show Trial”, is not merely neglectful. It is scandalously unconscionable. For, in that 2012 book, Bateson devoted no fewer than 14 pages – pp 39-52 – to a meticulous forensic examination of all the pros and cons of the real, imagined or false evidence surrounding Lahiff’s death. He noted that even before the Rising was over the character assassination machine was well in place, with Markievicz as the prime target. And so it has continued, with Bateson commenting: “Myers’s source for the killing seems to be Caulfield’s book but the problem with Caulfield is that he himself did not give any sources.”  

Bateson continued: “Markievicz’s detractors, either then or now, are not just confined to the male of the species. Ann Matthews in her book, Renegades: Irish Republican Women 1900-1922, quotes from the diary of a student nurse, Geraldine Fitzgerald… As this diary is one of the few sources for the actual shooting, it is essential to examine the diary in greater detail. But this is not possible. Despite extensive enquiries in the (British Public Records Office) archives in Kew, no diary could be found. There are however a couple of typed pages dated and stamped ’14th July 1917 Headquarters Irish Command Parkgate Dublin’. It is entitled ‘Diary of the Rising written by a Birr Lady’… In the absence of the original, its standing is questionable. Was the diary written on the actual day or afterwards and how long afterwards? Were the pages a verbatim account of what was in the diary or were they an elaboration of the entry in the diary with further memories coloured by other accounts sent in over a year later? Were there other pages or was that all she saw of value during the week? Or was it a deliberate attempt to blacken the reputation of Countess Markievicz?” 

“Even if the ‘diary’ is taken at face value, it requires further detailed reading… The general consensus about the shooting of Constable Lahiff is that it took place within five minutes of the Green being occupied around midday. The timing of the shooting according to the Fitzgerald narrative would make it some time around or after 1.00 p.m. As regards the shooting, it is surprising that Matthews omits from Fitzgerald’s account the direction in which Lahiff was walking – from Harcourt Street – for it is crucial to the understanding of the shooting, and might even support her contention that he was shot at close range… Why did he continue in that direction? Was the shooting a warning that he disobeyed? Was his devotion to duty so strong that he was prepared to die there and then? Was he gathering information to be passed on and therefore was considered a legitimate target? After all, it was an hour since the Green was occupied and most of his colleagues had vanished at the first sign of trouble.” 

Bateson highlighted another omission by Matthews from this July 1917 document that was at variance with an eyewitness account published a year earlier, in July 1916. He also quoted from the police authorities’ own Constabulary Report of August 1916 which placed the death of the policeman at the Grafton Street / Traitors’ Gate entrance to the Green. I do not know where Lahiff was killed, nor the identity of the one or more who might have shot him. But one thing I know: There is no basis for believing in the veracity of the identical words and actions ascribed to Markievicz by both Caulfield and Matthews, but supposedly occurring at two quite distant corners of the Green. Such are the contradictions of Markievicz’s character assassins. Of much greater significance is the reproduction by Bateson of a letter from the most honourable and conscientious British Army officer to have served in Dublin during the 1916 Rising, Sir Francis Vane. For it was Sir Francis who had so readily come to the assistance of Hanna Sheehy Skeffington in exposing the “execution” of her pacifist husband, Francis Sheehy Skeffington, as having been nothing less than murder most foul, and as but one of five murders committed by Captain Bowen-Colthurst in his orgy of bloodshed. But Sir Francis Vane also wrote the following in a letter published by the Irish Independent on July 31, 1916: 

“It is baby talk to complain that a few policemen were killed or a few officers or soldiers in uniform, unarmed, were shot. No soldiers should be unarmed. And how were the enemy to know they were so. Yet I wonder, thinking of those times in my native city of Dublin, if an impartial tribunal, a Royal Commission, or whatnot, to enquire into the shootings of innocent civilians by rebels and by the military was instituted, whether the opposition to such an enquiry would come from the rebels side or from that of the military?” 

Whoever – whether a he, she or they – shot Constable Lahiff, or wherever it might have happened, one thing should be beyond reasonable doubt. Murder it most certainly was not. 


Posted on May 16, 2016, in Censorship, Constance Markievicz, Corruption, Fianna, Frame-ups, General revolutionary history, Historiography and historical texts, Irish Citizen Army, Irish politics today, Political education and theory, Prisoners - past, Public events - Ireland, Reviews - books, Revolutionary figures, The road to the Easter Rising, Toadyism, Women in republican history, Women prisoners. Bookmark the permalink. 11 Comments.

  1. One of the flakiest of Ann Matthews’ increasingly bizarre claims is that Markievicz was a snob and airhead. Are we seriously supposed to believe that hardheaded proletarians like Larkin and Connolly, neither of whom suffered fools gladly, simply allowed an aristocratic airhead and snob to swan around Liberty Hall, sit on the Army Council of the ICA, march around the streets with them in uniform and armed, etc etc? Here’s what the executive of Larkin’s union said about her in the statement they released upon her death:

  2. Another hard-headed revolutionary who had no time for fools and snobs was Hannah Sheehy Skeffington. For her view of Markievicz see:

  3. One of the most ludicrous of Matthews’ many ludicrous claims is that the republican women of the era were social conservatives. It’s like she takes the truth and then just says the opposite. I think she is quite bonkers.

  4. I very much hope that people interested in Markievicz will read my new biography of her, Revolutionary Lives. There I discuss the way that Markievicz, fellow members of the ICA, and fellow Republicans viewed the DMP and RIC as imperial agents. Indeed, they acted as such in their violence against the workers in 1913 and their surveillance of revolutionary organisations. The blog post mentioned in this piece is only part of the story.

  5. Hi Lauren, really nice to hear from you. I’ve been thinking about buying your book and reviewing it on the site. The book sounds really interesting and, thankfully, free of the kind of character assassination which Markievicz has been subjected to in recent years by people who appear much more motivated by anti-republicanism than the pursuit of historical fact.

    • Lauren Arrington

      Thanks, I hope you enjoy the book! I’d like to be clear that I don’t mind healthy disagreement, so long as all parties are respectful and accurately represent each other’s arguments.

  6. Yes, healthy disagreement is fine. Unfortunately, there are people writing about Markievicz whose purposes preclude the presentation of *all* the evidence. Someone citing Wyllie and yet not even mentioning that no such thing is recorded in the official record of her court-martial would be an outstanding example of very poor scholarship and, when it is done over and over again by a writer, clearly a political act and downright dishonest. Over on another blog, I just wrote this a few minutes ago:

    “One of the things that always gets me about the revisionist historians is how, to put it kindly, they take a casual attitude to facts, evidence, quotes and so on – the base of historical research and writing.

    “The other day I happened to be flicking through a recent book on 1916 and, literally within seconds, I came across an example where the author had *totally misrepresented* what two other historians had said. He used them as the endnote reference for a claim he made, but when I checked their book (which I happen to own), not only did they say no such thing, they said *the opposite*.

    “One day someone should take on the project of methodically going through some of the key revisionists’ work and checking their references. I’d lay money that there would be quite a pile of references which didn’t say what the revisionists claim, which were ripped out of context and which failed to mention more weighty/credible counter-evidence.”

    Lauren, I hope you keep at the Irish history work. It’s a fascinating field, although it can also be very depressing at times.

  7. oconnorlysaght

    Constance Markievicz was a flamboyant and emotional revolutionary. So, too, was Jim Larkin. The misogyny in the attacks on her is shown by the way in which they were used as a smear job against all women activists in the cause of freedom. In fact, she was an excellent organiser (Fianna Eireann, Cumann na mBan, Liberty Hall soup kitchen and, often dismissed, Department of Labour), Indeed, she was arguably a better organiser than Larkin or Connolly. Though a competent propagandist author, however, she was no theoretician, and Irish socialism needed a theoretician after Connolly.
    As to the specific charges against her, it is time for Ann Mathews to argue her case. On Stephen’s Green, the points have been made that Constance could not have been in two places at once, and it seems overwhelmingly clear that she was touring the garrisons when the cop got his comeuppance. On this, the dislike of dubliners for the DMP seems to have been reflected in the fact that at the time there was more mourning for the unfortunate eejit shot while trying to remove his cart from a barricade, than there was for the uniform.
    Constance’ behaviour at the court martial has been explained several times. One publication to be read should be mentioned: James Connolly, Liberty Hall & the 1916 Rising, by Francis Devine & Manus O’Riordan, published by the ILHS. My only caveat here is that there may have been some fire to feed Wylie’s unsubstantiated smoke and that Constance may well have expressed to her captors, if not in the court martial herself the view that they would not dare shoot a woman, not as a plea for clemency, but as a jeer. it would be just like her.

  8. Yes, she wasn’t a theoretician. Her pamphlet on Connolly and Catholic Doctrine shows that. although it is still an interesting read. On the other hand, her ‘What republicans stand for’, which looks to be about 1923, is avery good little pamphlet.

    Of course, the problem was that Connolly didn’t leave an organisation behind him.

    This was a severe handicap for the women from Inghinidhe and ICA (big overlap) because they had literally nowhere to go. Since they tended to be left they were particularly adrift. They generally chose to go with Sinn Fein and try to make the best of it, but this left them coralled in a pan-nationalist movement. I deal with this here:

  9. Excellent article; well done. My own book on Markievicz – for the general reader – will be published by Merrion Press in September.

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