Archive for the ‘IRA’ Category

countessmarkieviczandchildrenConstance Gore-Booth (1868-1927) daughter of the famous Arctic explorer Sir Henry Gore-Booth, made a name for herself by jigging her way out of her father’s shadow and becoming the Matriarch of Irish female insurrectionists.

Constance was born in London to a famous father who owned a large estate in County Sligo Ireland. Sir Henry was an odd-duck for his time as he was compassionate to the plight of the Irish during the worst of the Potato Famine. Sir Henry’s ideology deeply affected Constance and her sister Eva. Eva later became a leader in the labor and suffrage movements in England, while Constance eventually took up the cause of Irish freedom.

What led Constance to forward her regard for the Irish poor to the need for Irish freedom might have something to do with the company she kept. Constance fancied herself an artist and had many artistic friends, most notably, William Butler Yeats, who later wrote a poem dedicated to the Gore-Booth sisters.

What many may not realize is the nationalistic ideas and movements were long fostered in the Irish arts community. The arts were a means of keeping the culture alive and be it poetry, song, or plays, it was one of the few venues the Irish had to voice their outrage over the conditions in which they were subjected to.

po13_t01Constance joined this community with dreams of becoming a painter. She studied in Dublin for a time before moving on to France. All the while becoming involved in political movements regarding labor, suffrage, and equal rights. I was during her time in France in 1901 that Constance met and married Count Kazimierz Dunin-Markiewicz, a Polish Aristocrat who conveniently was also a painter and playwright. This was obviously a shot-gun marriage as Constance gave birth to a daughter shortly thereafter.

The Markieviczs moved to Dublin in 1903 becoming one of the mainstays in artistic circles. Through these circles, Constance became involved with the Gaelic League, an organization devoted to preserving Irish culture and language and served as incubator to the future leaders of Ireland, such as Douglas Hyde, future first president of a free Ireland.

By 1908, Constance had all but left a life of art behind and led a life devoted to Irish politics and attaining Irish freedom. And proving that you can take the girl out of the royal carriage but you can not take the royalty out of the girl, Constance turned up for her meeting of women’s revolutionary movement in a ballgown and tiara. True story.

The fun stuff really begins when Constance set her tiara towards taking down Winston Churchill in a parliamentary election. She showed up to Parliament in a carriage drawn by four white horses just to make a spectacle of it. She lost of course, but the effect was powerful. The suffragists were able to split the Churchill vote and thus give the election to another opposition candidate.

Mugshot of Countess Markievicz

Mugshot of Countess Markievicz

The deeper Constance embroiled herself into the cause, the more radical she became. In 1909, she founded Fianna Eireann, a paramilitary training corps for Irish teenage boys.  Constance also was arrested for speaking in favor of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, and for protesting the visit of King George V in 1911. When workers suffered a lock-out for protesting against police brutality, Constance paid for food to feed families out of her own pocket and started local soup kitchens. In fact, Constance eventually sacrificed nearly all of her own wealth in support of the cause.

The long strain of Republicanism on Constance’s marriage took its toll by 1913 when her husband moved to the Ukraine never to return to Ireland. By 1916, Constance was fully immersed in planning and execution of the Easter Rising. Constance put down her tiara, picked a gun and served as second in command at the St. Stephen’s barricade, one of many encampments through the six-day long siege of the city.

Constance dug trenches, set up barricades, actually shot a British solider, and refused surrender until she received a copy of surrender orders from the the top command.

Of the 70 women arrested during the uprising and serving as “guests” at the Kilmainham Gaol, Constance was the only to be placed in solitary confinement. She further sassed her captors at her court-martial and when her sentence of death was commuted on account of her gender, she replied to the court: “I wish your lot had the decency to shoot me.”

Politics being what they are and the swell of support that arose from Irish Catholics to the government response of the Eater Rising, Constance was released in 1917. Shortly after, Constance renounce her Anglican faith and converted to Catholicism.

In 1918, Constance was jailed again for anti-conscription shananigans. While in jail, however, Constance was voted into the British House of Commons under the Sinn Fein party. The first women ever elected. As a part of general protest, she refused to take her seat.The first Dail Eireann convened in 1918 declaring Ireland a free republic and generally kicking off the Irish War for Independence.


Constance served in government, most notably as labor secretary, until 1922 when Eamon de Valera, Constance and other followers resigned in protest over the passage of the Anglo-Irish Treaty which formally separated North and South Ireland.

A major turn-about occurs in 1923, when Constance, re-elected to government yet again, refused to take her seat and participated in other activities considered detrimental to the new Irish state. She was jailed, again, and led 92 other women in a hunger strike.

Constance kept her foot in the door of Irish politics until her death in 1927 at the age of 59. Years of working in Dublin poorhouses more than likely exposed her to tuberculosis listed as the official cause of death. Her estranged husband returned from abroad and was at her side when she died.

Eamon de Valera provided her eulogy. Sean O’Casey, the famous Irish playwright, provides the most memorable quote about Constance:

“One thing she had in abundance—-physical courage; with that she was clothed as with a garment”.


burnnotice-s1Because we’ve now got two seasons of Burn Notice under our belts and because, also, I am devoting this month’s entries to ladies of the trade of Irish descent, I think it’s time to re-visit our old friend Fiona Glenanne.

As I mentioned before, I like this character because there is a focus on trade-craft, but there’s an aspect to Fiona the show does not capitalize on and that is her past in the IRA. Americans in general are pretty forgiving of the IRA, but St. Patty’s Day and rebel drinking songs aside, there’s a pretty serious background to Fiona that isn’t explored on the show.

The character of Fiona is in her late 30s. This would well place her into some of the nastiness of “The Troubles” of the late 1980s and early 1990s in Northern Ireland. As a “Provo” (Provisional IRA, the truer name of the organization Fiona worked under), she would have been well-versed in weaponry, gunrunning, and bomb making, all of which has carried over into the show. She also wouldn’t be averse to the well planned execution from time to time. Sure, we laugh when Fiona talks about shooting the FBI men trailing Michael simply because they annoy her, but believe me, the Fiona of real life would be pretty darn serious.

The story of modern Ireland is vastly complicated. This isn’t simply a matter of reunification as much as it is fear, institutional prejudice, and classism. There are many reasons Northern Ireland was such a mess for so long.

But if you are up on your modern history, great inroads were made in the Anglo-Irish peace process under President Clinton and the real nail in the coffin of domestic terrorism on the Old Sod really came after 9/11. Gun money dried up like you wouldn’t believe and popular support seriously declined as people re-thought the idea of terrorism.

The reality is that since 2001, the IRA has devolved into a criminal organization. We’re talking Godfather type mob action. Not to say that there aren’t some die-hards in the IRA who still believe in armed insurrection as a means to reunifying Ireland. However, as history has taught us, insurgency is a profitable business. Many people stay in long after The Cause ceases to matter for no other reason than the person knows of no other life.

We’ve seen elements of this in Fiona as she continues to deal in illegal gun sales (particularly in the season 2 finale). Whether this is because Fee is a thug at heart or because being an ex-IRA operative isn’t exactly great resume material we don’t know. But the question itself certainly brings a whole new element to the character of trigger-happy-make-things-go-boom Fiona.

If the show is smart, a little back story on our buddy Fee would be in order for next season. I for one would be terribly curious to know what exactly Fiona is: True Believer or Irish Gangster?

March is a month near and dear to this Agent’s heart. Hailing from a hard-core Mick family (and not of the Only-On-St.-Patrick’s-Day varietal), March is a month of cultural celebration and a sort of history month of relatives past.

You’re going to be reading a lot about the Irish ladies of the Spy-Dame variety in the next 30 days, so I suggest you hunker down with a good Shamrock Shake and brace yourself.

Cumann Na mBan Constitution

Cumann Na mBan Constitution

The Cumman Na mBan (Irish Gaelic for Women’s League) was formed in April 1914 as an organizational off-shoot of the Irish Volunteer force in the early days of the Irish War for Independence. Though the men would condescendingly refer to it as a “ladies auxiliary” they forgot to read the fine print of the group’s constitution which supported the brandishing of arms (read: guns) and the encouragement of armed insurrection, which is exactly what came to be.

Recruitment was fairly democratic and members of the Cumann Na mBan hailed from white collar professions, well-to-do families and working class backgrounds.  Women were trained in medical care, what we would today refer to as signals intelligence, and performed drills with weaponry as it was available.

Of Cumann Na mBan’s exploits, the most famous is the participation of no less than 40 members in the infamous Easter Rising of April 1916. Skirts armed with guns entered the General Post Office in Dublin alongside the men and can be counted among most of the strongholds the rebels took throughout the city by the end of the day. I write “most” because Eamon de Valera, rebel leader and future President of Ireland, refused to allow women to fight alongside his own self out of the some misguided attempt of chivalry…or chauvinism…take your pick.

(I think de Valera had a highly mistaken notion that the oppression of the English over last 800 years had only affected the Irish men-folk)

Woman wearing Cumann Na mBan uniform

Woman wearing Cumann Na mBan uniform

And the ladies didn’t just sit along on the sidelines feeding the men. Women acted as scouts, gathering intelligence of British troop movements, and couriers, transferring messages and arms across town to various encampments. More than a few of the dames also acted as snipers at locations such as St. Stephen’s Green and Dublin Castle.

And of course, many women of Cumann Na mBan also died during the fighting.

Of the 70 women arrested for the Easter Rising, more than half were of Cumann Na mBan. They served as “guests” of the British government at the notorious Kilmainham Jail for their efforts.

Following the Easter Rising, Cumann Na mBan was a galvanizing force in the community raising relief funds for families of the Easter Rising participants. They also entered the political process as they campaigned fr the Sinn Fein in the 1918 elections in which Countess Markiewicz, one of their most esteemed members, was elected Teachta Dala. Countess Markiewicz, a captured Easter Rising participant, was in prison during this time.

For the duration of the war, members ran safe-houses, collected arms, served in local government, and ran the Irish Bulletin, the official newspaper of the Irish Republic.

Following the end of the war, Cumann Na mBan members were highly vocal in the vote against the 1922 Anglo-Irish Treaty with Britain that resulted in the separation of Northern and Southern Ireland. 419 of 482 voting members passed ballots to negate the treaty which, unfortunately came to pass regardless.

Members on the march in 1916

Members on the march in 1916

The group continued the cause for Irish freedom and associated with other groups such as Sinn Fein, the Irish Republican Army and the Fianna Eireann that sought the unification of Ireland. However, the government had other ideas and banned the organization in 1923, imprisoning suspected members in Kilmainham Jail.

The Cumann Na mBan still exists. Over the last 20 years or so, the group aligned or dis-aligned itself with various Irish paramilitary organizations that sought to “continue to the cause”. Numerous leaders have been caught and jailed for gunrunning amongst its more common activities. In 2000, the British Government officially listed the group as a terrorist organization, as of 2008, the US government has yet to follow suit.

If you’re not watching “Burn Notice” you best get to it. Gabrielle Anwar as a former IRA guerilla who specializes in bomb making and selling light weaponry on the side makes me all weepy for The Old Sod.

Season 1, Episode 3: Fiona is guarding a witness to a crime when she receives a phone call that a hit squad is on the way over. While her man friend on the other end of the line is all fretful, Fiona calmly cuts him off, asks her hostess for the location of the liquor cabinet, and then proceeds to rain Hell-Fire (of the Molotov-Cocktail variety) down upon the would-be assassins. Ah…good times.

So what if her Irish accent floats in and out with the breeze? Aside from Killer-Fembottery, the girl’s got tradecraft. She can pick a pocket and perform a brush pass like Ginger Rogers performs a waltz. Of course, who wouldn’t notice her on a stake out, but whatever, she knows her weapons and can cook up a tasty bomb in under 20 minutes.

What keeps Fiona fresh is the tight rope the character walks. In one scene, she’s headbutting the local drug dealer, in the another, she’s cooking up Grandma’s secret recipe for pseudo-C4. But to me, Fiona is never more interesting than when she’s performing what most people assume is the drudge work of spying.

Word of warning though, this is one feisty Irish woman (is there any other kind?), best stay on her good side.