Kazimierz and Constance — a tale of two Markieviczs

Both Ireland and Poland turned to culture, especially literature, in search of answers to fundamental questions

On a warm, spring Friday evening at the United Arts Club in Dublin, there was an exceptional buzz. Although this club had been renowned for its extraordinary atmosphere for decades, March 15th, 2024, was a special day. The club’s members, writers, painters, masters of words, actors, musicians – basically, artistic souls– gathered in large numbers to celebrate the 150th birthday of Kazimierz Markiewicz, one of the club’s founders. —

The name Markiewicz, or rather Markievicz, is known in almost every Irish household. Constance Georgine Markievicz, often called Countess Markievicz, was an extraordinary woman. She was the first woman minister in the history of western democracy, the first woman elected to the Westminster parliament, a politician, and a social activist deeply involved in the fight for Ireland’s freedom and independence. Throughout Ireland, one can find monuments, plaques, photos, and murals dedicated to the brave countess. Similarly, in Poland, one can find a school named after the beautiful and courageous Constance.

Meanwhile, her husband, who became the love of her life, was also an extraordinary figure with a strong personality. On the walls of the United Arts Club, adorned with caricatures, we see the founders and members of the club. Among them, Kazimierz (Casimir) always stood out in height, portrayed as a person almost twice as tall as the others and clearly being the centre of attention. He stood out not only in stature but also in activity and was evidently the life of the party. He fit perfectly into the artistic bohemia of early 20th-century Dublin. Primarily a painter himself, his works can be found not only in the United Arts Club but also in many places throughout Ireland and Poland, including Dublin Castle. His famous large-scale portrait of Constance can be admired both in the Irish parliament and in the National Gallery of Ireland. In Poland, his most famous portrait is that of Marshal Józef Pilsudski, the father of Poland’s independence. However, Kazimierz was a versatile artist; he also wrote plays and was a theatre director.

The love and mutual fascination between Constance and Kazimierz blossomed in Paris, but the couple also spent much time together not only in Ireland but also in Polish and Ukrainian circles in Ukraine, where the Markiewicz family estate was located. Both Polish and Irish people did not have their own state or institutions at that time. In Poland, as well as in Belarus, Lithuania, and Ukraine, Constance met people deeply involved in the January Uprising of 1863-1865 against Imperial Russia. The commitment, belief in the justice of the cause, the necessity of armed struggle against tyrannical rule, and the immense involvement of not only men but also women made a big impression on Constance.

Patrick Quigley writes convincingly about the influence of Polish independence and insurgent thinking on Constance. He is the author of three books dedicated to the Markiewicz family. Patrick is not only an outstanding author but also an excellent promoter of knowledge about Polish-Irish relations, exemplified by the Markiewicz marriage.

The Markiewicz marriage continues to inspire, demonstrating the close ties between the two nations and highlighting the importance of civic engagement in national and political life, as well as the importance of art and culture. It shows that in national and civic revival, each of these elements is crucial. Without culture and artistic revival, there is no possibility of answering the question of who we are, of our own identity.

What does Irishness mean at the dawn of the 20th century, for centuries deprived of its own institutions and even language? What does Polishness mean, what is the heritage of the commonwealth of many nations, what should modern Polishness be in the 20th century?

Both nations turned to culture, especially literature, in search of answers to fundamental questions. But alongside culture emerged the necessity of social activity, engagement, which would turn subjects into aware citizens, members of the national and political community. Citizens who would take responsibility for the independent state on their shoulders. All of this was connected and radiated by both Constance and Kazimierz.

Kazimierz’s figure, for years overshadowed by his outstanding and splendid wife, is slowly being recalled thanks to the efforts of the aforementioned Patrick Quigley, as well as the Irish Polish Society, Dr Jaroslaw Plachecki, and Polish-Irish journals along with the highly esteemed Polish House (POSK), which is actually located on the same notable Fitzwilliam Street as the United Arts Club. This fact adds even more symbolic significance to both places. Moreover, the mutual influence of the Markiewicz marriage, their extraordinary personalities, and activities were woven into a vast amount of groundbreaking historical events: the first World War, the Easter Rising, the Bolshevik Revolution, the end of the second World War and the regaining of independence first by Poland, then by Ireland, and finally the Polish-Soviet war and defence against communism of the freshly regained freedom, indirectly affecting Europe as well.

Next year, among other initiatives, an exhibition of Kazimierz Markiewicz’s works is planned at Dublin Castle, thanks to the efforts of the Embassy of the Republic of Poland, where his painting already hangs in the beautiful St Patrick’s Hall. It’s worth examining the details of the painting and among the many painted figures find Constance painted in a symbolic green dress.

On the 150th anniversary of his birth, Kazimierz Markiewicz is remembered, among others, at the National Gallery of Ireland and the National Library of Ireland. I am convinced that it is worth remembering and promoting knowledge about the remarkable marriage and outstanding achievements of both Constance and Kazimierz Markiewicz, both in Poland and in Ireland. They are the embodiment of the close Polish-Irish relations and mutual inspiration.

Arkady Rzegocki is Poland’s Ambassador to Ireland

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