Content can be downloaded for non-commercial purposes, such as for personal use or in educational resources.
For commercial purposes please contact the copyright holder directly.
Read more about the The Creative Archive Licence.


'Dress suitably in short skirts and sitting boots, leave your jewels and gold wands in the bank, and buy a revolver.'
Countess Markievicz, Member of Parliament and Irish revolutionary.

In the decade 1912-1923, continuous waves of events impacted Irish society, including the 1913 lockout, the First World War, the 1916 Easter Rising, the Spanish flu, the War of Independence, Anglo-Irish treaty, partition, Civil War and finally the withdrawal of the majority of British forces from Ireland. The need for politicians to commute between Dublin and London intensified, and other related movements of people and resources took place mainly through the ports on the Irish Sea, especially Dublin and Holyhead (Caergybi).

Irish leaders emerged; some lost their lives in the struggle, while many secured their places in history. Countess Constance Georgine Markievicz (née Gore-Booth) played her part throughout and her activities were closely followed in the press. During the Easter Rising, Markievicz fought in Dublin City Centre, especially St. Stephen’s Green. She was subsequently arrested, and she pleaded guilty to attempting 'to cause disaffection among the civil population of His Majesty'. She was sentenced to death, but it was commuted to life in prison 'solely and only on account of her sex'. She famously responded, 'I do wish your lot had the decency to shoot me'. Markievicz served her sentence in Mountjoy (Dublin) and the English prisons of Holloway and Aylesbury; she was released in a general amnesty for 1916 Rising rebels in 1917. She was arrested and jailed again in 1918 for protesting against the possibility of implementing conscription in Ireland. It was decided to imprison her in Holloway, which required her to be taken via boat and train from Dublin to London.

We caught up with Markievicz's journey in a report in the North Wales Chronicle, May 24 1918. She was the only woman in a party of 46 Sinn Féin prisoners being transported under cover of darkness in a Royal Navy vessel, and she was separated from the men when they landed in Holyhead. The Countess was quietly taken to the local police station where she was handed over to the custody of Deputy Chief Constable Prothero. Amazingly she was her in the cell.

But do not believe all you read in the newspapers. The military authorities and the Holyhead police were clearly impressed by the fact that Constance Markievicz was titled and allowed to call herself a Countess, because she was given preferential treatment by Mr. Prothero and his fellow officers. Propriety meant that she could not be housed overnight in the army camp with the men and Mr. Prothero was loath to lock her up in a damp, unhygienic and cold cell in the police station. On the clear understanding that she would not try to abscond, she was given a bed and full hospitality in the Superintendent’s own apartment situated on the upper floor of the station. Evidence from Mr. Prothero’s own grand-daughter, states clearly that this unique arrangement did in fact take place and that the formidable revolutionary was treated both honourably and with respect.

The following quiet Sunday morning, Countess Markievicz walked to the railway station with her dog and Mr. Prothero. Social standards were maintained as she was put in a first-class train compartment with Miss Annie Thomas (a matron of the local Soldiers and Sailors Rest Home) and an officer. An armed guard of four was in the compartment next door. She was surprised to be asked to pay for a ticket for her dog, but parted with six shillings to Mr. Taylor, the station superintendent. At this stage, word had leaked out in Holyhead and a large crowd had gathered at the station to get a glimpse of the Countess, but they were disappointed because the blinds were closed in the carriage compartments. One is left to wonder if she pushed back the curtains to see the green fields of Anglesey after the train left the station.

Countess Markievicz was welcomed at Euston Station, London, by a contingent of her relatives, friends and well-wishers who brought her gifts and greetings, and who accompanied her to the waiting police vehicle to start her journey to Holloway Prison. In 1918, she was elected as the first woman MP in the UK House of Commons, but she never took her seat. She did serve in Dáil Éireann and became Minister for Labour (1919-1922). She remains one of the most stylish and fascinating women in Irish History, and she is still remembered in Holyhead.

Catherine Duigan (@c_duigan), is an Irish writer and researcher, Professor (Hon.) of Environmental Science at Aberystwyth University and she has a keen interest in history and heritage issues.

Dr. Gareth Huws is a historian with a special interest in urban growth and migration during the nineteenth century and their effects on movement across the Irish Sea.

Barry Hillier is an energetic historical researcher and a trustee of the very special Holyhead Maritime Museum:

The authors are indebted to Nora (Mr. Prothero’s granddaughter) and Simon Richards for sharing their family history and supplying the photograph of Mr. Prothero.

Do you have information to add to this item? Please leave a comment

Comments (0)

You must be logged in to leave a comment