The evidence versus yet more Ann Matthews’ smears of Constance Markievicz

imagesI’ve stuck up several pieces so far which indicate how Ann Matthews is pursuing a vendetta against Constance Markievicz, one which plays fast and loose with facts.

Here’s yet another place where what Matthews dishes up is at best highly questionable and, in fact to put it bluntly, most likely untrue.

For instance, Matthews’ Renegades asserts that Markievicz did very little in Liberty Hall during the lockout other than flounce around making a show of herself.

Well, here is some testimony from Louie Bennett, a leading figure in the Irish labour movement for many years.  Bennett was a suffragist wh0 got involved with the radical end of the labour movement at the time of the 1913 lockout and subsequently played a leading role in the militant Irish Women Workers Union.  Here she is talking about how she secretly started going to Liberty Hall during the lockout:

“At that time I belonged to the respectable middle class and I did not dare admit to my home circle that I had run with the crowd to hear Jim Larkin, and crept like a culprit into Liberty Hall to see Madame Markievicz in a big overall, with sleeves rolled up, presiding over a cauldron of stew, surrounded by a crowd of gaunt women and children carrying bowls and cans.”  (Bennett talked to R.M. Fox about her life and this provided the basis for his 1958 book on her, Louie Bennett: her life and times, p42).

This suggests Markievicz worked hard in the soup kitchen and was not some dilettante who only appeared when photos were being taken, as suggested by O’Casey and picked up by Matthews.

Moreover, Matthews is highly selective about providing context.  If she wants to use someone but knows she will then be attacking them she provides some (albeit distorted) context, as in her clumsy use of Helena Molony against Markievicz.  However, if she is simply using something nasty someone has said about Markievicz she avoids context, as in the O’Casey case.  What Matthews omits is, of course, rather important.  O’Casey attempted to have Markievicz expelled from the Citizen Army because of her relationship with the Irish Volunteers – a relationship which actually prefigured the coming together of the two for the Rising!  When the vote went against O’Casey, he departed the Citizen Army and the whole Irish revolutionary scene, absenting himself from the major struggles to come over the next decade.  He went off in a huff and subsequently attacked Markievicz, and also Larkin and Connolly.  Having lost the vote, his attack on Markievicz’s role in the soup kitchen is hardly surprising.

By not introducing the framework in which O’Casey made this particular attack and by ignoring counter-evidence entirely, Matthews reveals, yet again, that she is on a political mission that has little to do with actual historical evidence.

In addition to the context of O’Casey’s comments and the evidence from Louie Bennett, we have some more compelling evidence that counters O’Casey and Matthews.  Larkin and Connolly were hard-headed proletarians who had no time for fools and dilettantes.  Are we really supposed to believe that either of them would have entertained Markievicz for a minute if she was a publicity-seeking, fatuous upper class dilettante, fluttering around the fringes of the transport workers’ union and Citizen Army, awaiting opportunities to have her picture taken in the soup kitchen?  That they would have entertained her for a minute on the seven-person Army Council (ie central leadership) of the workers’ militia?

And while we’re on O’Casey, here’s another case of Matthews’ misuse of evidence – well, more accurately, ignoring of evidence.  In Dissidents, she claims that Markievicz was a coward for taking off to Scotland during the civil war.  But Sean O’Casey, much as he disliked Markievicz, wrote, “One thing she had in abundance—physical courage; with that she was clothed as with a garment” (Sean O’Casey, Mirror in My House: The Autobiographies, London: Macmillan, 1956, 316).

Matthews increasingly appears not so much as a seeker of historical truth as an especially crude example of a professional anti-republican propagandist.  One with a particular axe to grind against republican women, who she robs of agency, intelligence, integrity and courage.  Are they everything that Ms Matthews is not?


Posted on September 22, 2016, in 1913 lockout, Civil War period, Constance Markievicz, Counter-revolution/civil war period, Free State in 1920s, 1930s and 1940s, General revolutionary history, Historiography and historical texts, Irish Citizen Army, James Connolly, Jim Larkin, Prisoners - past, Republicanism post-1900, Reviews - books, The road to the Easter Rising, War for Independence period, Women, Women in republican history, Women prisoners. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Grma for this piece. I wrote a review of “Dissidents” in which I came to the same conclusions about Matthews. And I would broadly agree with the view of O’Casey, who parted company with every organisation in which he enrolled himself and who also, incidentally, fabricated his working class background (not that I care one way or the other) and probably also the extent of his poverty.

    There were Citizen Army women testimonies to Markievicz’s application to the kitchen work in the recent publication about Richmond Barracks and the women who were held there. There were also many other testimonies to Markievicz’s courage too, certainly during 1916 and also later, when her health was precarious. Kathleen Clarke, widow of Tom, a hard-enough-headed woman, who found Markievicz very hard to get along with, never once questioned her application or courage.

    One thing however must be said for O’Casey’s dispute with the ICA over Markievicz. His position was, as you stated, that she was in the Irish Volunteers (possibly also that she was not a union member, I am not sure about that). As I understand the rules of the ICA at the time, correct me if I am wrong, to become a member you had to be
    a) a member of a trade union and
    b) not a member of any other organisation.

    If that is so, O’Casey was technically correct and Markievicz should have resigned from Cumann na mBan or from the ICA. Of course, whether the way that O’Casey went about addressing the issue was correct is another question and my opinion would be that it was not helpful to the cause

  2. A number of ICA women were probably not members of a union – for instance, Kathleen Lynn. I assume that condition was waived as some people were simply not in occupations where they would be union members. Or they had honorary union memberships – didn’t Markievciz get made a member of the ITGWU for her role during the lockout.

    O’Casey’s position seems to have combined a bit of misogyny and jealousy with sectarian politics. In fact, Markievicz’s membership of Cumann na mBan prefigured the 1916 alliance, where Connolly combined with the most radical republican elements. I think O’Casey’s charge was that she kind of consorted with the Volunteers rather than being an actual member (the Volunteers did not allow women to join as far as I know). Also, Markievicz was not a key player in Cumann na mBan before the Rising, whereas she was on the Army Council of the ICA right from the start. She became Cumann na mBan president after the Rising, during the reorganisation of the Movement. And she quickly moved Cumann na mBan away from being an organisation which did traditional women’s work, like sewing buttons on their men’s uniforms, and made it a much more active, militant organisation, attracting thousands of young women.

    It also must have been hard for O’Casey to swallow that Larkin sided with Markievicz.

  3. I should add that Matthews’ claim that Markievicz shot and killed an unarmed DMP cop has been shown to be rubbish as well. I’m not a BICO fan, but Manus O Riordan has demolished that and Anne Haverty’s updated bio of Markievicz, released earlier this year, really nails it. Currently winging its way to me is another Markievicz bio, by Lindie McNaughton, which I think also challenges this accusation – a key accusation in Matthews’ ridiculous play about Markievicz.

    On a slightly different note, I found ‘Renegades’ to be extremely poorly written. In fact, in her section dealing with (ie character assassinating) Maud Gonne she actually repeats almost a whole page, in only slightly different words, a few pages from where she has first made the same points. The whole thing is shoddy. How Mercier came to publish it is a bit of a mystery to me.

    Matthews is also so unreliable that, even when she tells the truth, I find it very difficult to believe her. Someone needs to methodically go through all her references.

    I reblogged the Manus O Riordan piece here:

%d bloggers like this: