Lissadell House and Gardens, Sligo, Ireland

 

info@lissadellhouse.com


Eva Gore Booth

EVA GORE BOOTH

Poet & Suffragist

1870 - 1926

Eva in old age

Born at Lissadell on 22nd May 1870, EVA GORE BOOTH, suffragist, artist and poet, was steadfastly devoted to her elder sister Constance Markievicz all her life, although she spent many years in Manchester working to alleviate the condition of working women. Letters to Eva from Constance were preserved by Eva’s long time companion and biographer, Esther Roper. Eva died some months before Constance, who was heartbroken.

Eva made this promise to her sister:

 

"We meet beyond earth's barred gate

where all the world's wild Rebels are"

(recited in the film

Song for a Raggy Boy).

wild atlantic

A Biography of Eva, written by Sonja Tiernan, published by Manchester University Press in April 2012, entitled:

Sonja Tiernan, Eva Gore-Booth: An Image of Such Politics

is the first dedicated biography of the radical Irish writer and political activist, Eva Gore-Booth. A vast body of material from private collections and state archives has been used to uncover this remarkable life history.

In this book Ms Tiernan explores and recounts the fascinating by-election in Manchester of April 1908, two years after the1906 General Election in which Winston Churchill had been returned by a majority as the Liberal candidate for Manchester North-West. In April 1908 the young Churchill was offered the position of President of the Board of Trade, a cabinet appointment which required him to seek re-election. It should have been a shoe-in but Churchill had supported the Licensing Bill which proposed restrictions on the working hours of bar maids. The women's movement was up in arms, and Eva saw her chance, quickly becoming involved in a campaign to defeat Churchill because of his support for the Licensing Bill. She asked Constance to help - the sisters were great friends and supporters of each other all their lives - and the flamboyant Constance arrived in the centre of Mancester driving a coach with four white horses; Eva spoke from the roof. Constance also spoke, urging voters to support the Conservative candidate Joynson-HIcks because he supported women's suffrage. Churchill was defeated. It was a great victory for the women's movement, and most probably excited Constance's interest in politics, as it was in this year that she first became involved in politics in Ireland.

Within 10 years Eva's campaigning had led to two crucial changes in the law: first, women were allowed to stand for parliament, and second women over 30 were allowed to vote. Ironically although Constance Markievicz was the first to benefit from these changes in the law, she declined to take her seat at Westminster (following the absenteeism policy advocated by Arthur Griffith), much to the disapointment of the women's movement in England.

Comments on Ms Tiernan's book:

"This book illuminates the fascinating life of Eva Gore-Booth. Often lost in the shadow of her more famous sister, Constance, Eva finally emerges as a key figure. Historian Sonja Tiernan has written an exciting and vibrant life of this extraordinary woman, at once an intrepid feminist, pacifist and advocate for social justice." Professor Maria Luddy, University of Warwick

"Born into West of Ireland Anglo-Irish landed gentry, Gore-Booth dramatically rejected her aristocratic heritage, choosing to live and work amongst the poorest classes in industrial Manchester. Her pioneering work on behalf of barmaids, circus performers, flower sellers and pit-brow lasses is traced here with clarity and enthusiasm. The story of Gore-Booth's life is captivating and provides new insights into key political issues of early twentieth century Ireland and Britain. A prolific author who enjoyed a place within W.B. Yeats' literary circle, Gore-Booth also fostered a well-deserved reputation as a determined and successful political activist, at one stage defeating no less an adversary than Winston Churchill. This ground-breaking book reveals Gore-Booth’s experiences of militant pacifism during the Great War, her campaign to reprieve Roger Casement's death sentence, her instrumental role in the fight for sexual equality in the English workplace and her unwavering struggle for Irish independence. Her close bond with her sister, Countess Markievicz, an iconic and sometimes divisive Irish nationalist, offers the reader a new dimension into Markievicz's personal life.

"Comprehensive and engaging, this book establishes Eva Gore-Booth as a significant player in Irish and British politics and as a major figure in literary, women’s and trade union history.

"Sonja Tiernan lectures in History at Liverpool Hope University and is Secretary of the Women’s History Association of Ireland".

 

Eva Gore Booth painted by Constance Markievicz

Eva Gore Booth, painted by her sister Constance, Countess Markievicz

A gentle, spiritual and sympathetic person, Eva was always interested in expressing herself in poetry and drawing. The poet William Butler Yeats responded to her sympathetic nature by confiding in her his (unrequited) love for the beautiful Maud Gonne. He also encouraged her poetic aspirations, advising her that ‘whenever the feeling is weightiest you are at your best’.

Yeats was editing the works of English Poet William Blake at the time, and clearly influenced Eva’s reading. Her three volume copy of the work is now in the Yeats’ study at Lissadell. Eva’s first book of poetry was published in 1898. Many of Eva’s drawings, and beautiful editions of her poetry, are now on display in Lissadell.

Although by 1927 Constance Markievicz was the more famous sister, it was Eva who came first with Yeats, as shown by the title of his poem rembering both sisters, and their youth at Lissadell:

"In memory of Eva Gore Booth and Constance Markiewicz" (Constance herself always spelled her name wtih a v, not a w, unlike Yeats). This is the first part of this poem:

 

The light of evening, Lissadell,
Great windows open to the south,
Two girls in silk kimonos, both
Beautiful, one a gazelle.

But a raving autumn shears
Blossom from the summer's wreath;
The older is condemned to death,
Pardoned, drags out lonely years
Conspiring among the ignorant.
I know not what the younger dreams -
Some vague Utopia - and she seems,
When withered old and skeleton-gaunt,
An image of such politics.

Many a time I think to seek
One or the other out and speak
Of that old Georgian mansion, mix
pictures of the mind, recall
That table and the talk of youth,
Two girls in silk kimonos, both
Beautiful, one a gazelle.

 

Eva’s most beautiful poetry is of her childhood memories of Sligo:

Lissadell in winter

The little waves of Breffny


The grand road from the mountain goes shining to the sea
And there is traffic on it and many a horse and cart,
But the little roads of Cloonagh are dearer far to me
And the little roads of Cloonagh go rambling through my heart.


A great storm from the ocean goes shouting o’er the hill,
And there is glory in it; and terror on the wind:
But the haunted air of twilight is very strange and still,
And the little winds of twilight are dearer to my mind.


The great waves of the Atlantic sweep storming on their way,
Shining green and silver with the hidden herring shoal;
But the little waves of Breffny have drenched my heart in spray,
And the little waves of Breffny go stumbling through my soul.