17 Sept 2019

A fantastic photographic find: Countess de Markievicz

Third place post in the Conul Training and Development Library Assistant Blog Award 2019. This post is by Saoirse Reynolds, working as a Library Assistant at the National Library of Ireland.

“Dress suitably in short skirts and strong boots, leave your jewels in the bank and buy a revolver.” Countess de Markievicz

Late last year I joined the Special Collections team in the National Library of Ireland. The team is responsible for developing and managing the library’s collections of manuscripts, photographs, ephemera, maps, prints and rare and antiquarian books. It is also responsible for onsite access to special collections via the reading rooms in Manuscripts in 2/3 Kildare Street and the National Photographic Archive (NPA) in Meeting House Square, Temple Bar. Luckily for me I was placed to work between the Manuscripts department and Photographic Archive so I have exposure to a wide range of interesting material.

One of my favourite parts of being a library assistant is the hands-on experience working with collections. There is often some mystery to solve or special find to make. One such instance happened to me a few weeks ago.
Among my other duties, I am working on a project rehousing and listing a recent donation to the National Library. This collection is vast, and it includes glass plate negatives and positives, prints, albums and lantern slides.

After an initial appraisal of the collection and report, it was decided to rehouse and list the glass plate negatives and positives. While carefully rehousing the glass plates, I came across three glass plate negatives of Countess de Markievicz and her dog Poppet: two 17 x 22 cm and one 17 x 12 cm. They were housed in original envelopes from the Poole Collection. See images below:

Original Poole envelopes: ‘2732 Countess de Markievicz’, ‘2733 Countess de Markievicz’, ‘D 4843 Countess de Markievicz’
I thought it was unusual that they were in their original envelopes and felt that I had never seen the images before. So, in consultation with the NPA team, I checked the catalogue to find that the plates had been recorded on the NLI catalogue but were designated as not currently available.

Digitally produced positive image (on the left) from glass plate negative (right) using a smartphone. Countess Markievicz with dog Poppet - standing
So far I have only been able to find a full match online for one of the glass plates which is unattributed. For the other two I have only found partial matches sitting down and standing.

Digitally produced positive image (on the left) from glass plate negative (right) using a smartphone. Countess Markievicz with dog Poppet - sitting
My research into the Poole Index Books shows that the photos were commissioned around the 3rd of November 1917. You can see in the images below ‘Countess de Markievicz’ written into the book on the top right hand page along with the date.

Creation date based on date photographic order was placed; recorded in Index Book of the A. H. Poole Studio as: 3 November 1917.

Countess Markievicz was born Constance Georgine Gore Booth and was a revolutionary and a politician. She was famous for her role in the Easter Rising in 1916, and was involved in the planning of the rising. She became a commissioned officer in the Irish Citizen’s Army and was a founding member of Fianna Eireann and Cumann na mBan. Markievicz commanded Irish Citizen Army volunteers in St. Stephens Green along with Michael Mallin during the rising.

Upon surrender, Markievicz was arrested and sentenced to death but instead got life in prison because of her sex. She was first brought to Mountjoy Prison and then to Aylesbury Prison in England in July 1916. She was released from prison in June 1917.

Markievicz was a trained visual artist and was very aware of the impact of the visual on political discourse. Her earlier portraits captured her privileged upbringing and lifestyle. In later portraits she presented herself as Joan of Arc, an icon of the suffrage movement and as a militant republican. These images created her identity in the public eye.

“Countess Markievicz, her dog ‘Poppett’, Theo Fitzgerald and Thomas McDonald, members of Na Fianna Eireann, photographed at Waterford in 1917.”
In these photographs Markievicz is wearing military style clothes but not the Irish Citizens Army uniform she has worn in previous photographs. She is in a long skirt and military top - it may have been her uniform for training na Fianna.

My background and interest in Irish history was essential in initially identifying the glass plate negatives and bringing them to the attention of the NPA team. Finding them was also very exciting and reminded me that the work I do as a library assistant is a great privilege. I hope I go on to make many more discoveries!

It has been established that these were part of the Poole Photographic Collection and can now be made available and digitised. They will fill in gaps in the collection and in the life of one of Ireland’s most iconic women.

The images will be available in the coming weeks at:

  • Catalogue.nli.ie. (2019). Holdings: Countess de Markievicz. [online] Available at: http://catalogue.nli.ie/Record/vtls000593241 [Accessed 13 May 2019].
  • Catalogue.nli.ie. (2019). Holdings: Countess de Markievicz. [online] Available at: http://catalogue.nli.ie/Record/vtls000593242 [Accessed 13 May 2019].
  • Catalogue.nli.ie. (2019). Holdings: Cabinet commissioned by Countess, 143 Leinster Rd,.... [online] Available at: http://catalogue.nli.ie/Record/vtls000684094 [Accessed 13 May 2019].
  • Lissadellhouse.com. (2019). Countess Markievicz | Lissadell House Online. [online] Available at: http://lissadellhouse.com/countess-markievicz/ [Accessed 13 May 2019].
  • Poole, A.H. (n.d.). Index Books.
Images taken by myself, all images reproduced with permission from the NLI.


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