Manchester Histories Festival

Con and Eva: Gendering Revolution

Tuesday 25 April 2017

A major new exhibition about the lives of two sisters, Constance Markievicz and Eva Gore-Booth, has opened at the Irish World Heritage Centre in Cheetham Hill.

10 March to 30 June

Con & EvaCon and Eva: Gendering Revolution examines the lives of two women who played significant roles in the development of revolutionary politics in Ireland and the campaigns for women’s suffrage in Manchester in the early years of the last century. As daughters of the aristocratic Gore-Booth family, Constance and Eva were born into a world of privilege that centred initially on their home at Lissadell House in the North-West of Ireland. With Laura McAtackney (Aarhus University Denmark) and Katherine O’Donnell (University College Dublin), I was part of a team who curated Con and Eva drawing mainly on rarely seen archival material from the Lissadell Collection at the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland in Belfast – this is the first occasion that it has been shown in England.

Both sisters rejected the privileged world of their upbringing for a life of political activism, although often in very different spheres. Constance married an impoverished Polish count, Casimir Markievicz in 1900 and went on to become one of the leaders of the Easter Rising in Dublin in 1916. Two years later she was the first woman to be elected to the British House of Commons although, as a member of Sinn Féin and opposed to British rule in Ireland, she refused to take her seat. In 1919, however, she became Minister for Labour in the Dáil Eireann, the Irish revolutionary parliament in Dublin, only the second woman in Europe to hold ministerial status.

In 1896 Eva met her lifelong partner Esther Roper, a working-class political activist from Manchester who was also of Irish descent. She subsequently moved to Manchester to live with Esther in Moss Side: the two became active campaigners for women’s suffrage and the unionisation of women workers in the North West, before moving to London in 1913 where they continued to be politically active in a range of different causes.

Our exhibition Con and Eva focuses on how aspects of the relationship between the sisters supported their very different political careers: Con promoted armed revolution while Eva was a lifelong pacifist. An important aspect of this relationship that also fed into their politics was their different creative activities. Eva was an acclaimed poet and playwright, while Con was a professionally trained artist and an actor. Her talent for visual spectacle was put to great effect when she drove a coach and four white horses into Stevenson Square in the Northern Quarter in support of Eva’s campaign against Winston Churchill’s attempts to restrict the employability of barmaids in 1908. The campaign was successful, and this was also a moment at which Con’s own politics began a radical shift towards the possibilities of mass action.

Con & Eva LaunchThe launch event on 10 March also emphasised the significance of history in the lives of Irish people in Britain today, with an address by the Irish Embassy’s First Secretary for Irish Community and Culture Ruadhri Dowling followed by a lively symposium chaired by Kate Cook, Director of the Sylvia Pankhurst Gender Research Centre at Manchester Metropolitan University. Among other things the symposium made connections between Eva and contemporary Irish queer activism and Constance and the Artists’ Campaign to Repeal the Eighth Amendment (that makes abortion illegal in Ireland).

#ConandEva

Con & Eva Symposium

This symposium and launch was part of Wonder Women, Manchester’s annual feminist festival and was supported by the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs & Trade through their Emigrant Support Funding Programme and the Sylvia Pankhurst Gender Research Centre.

Find out more at www.iwhc.com

Exhibition venue: Irish World Heritage Centre, 1 Irish Town Way, Cheetham Hill, Manchester M8 0RY


Guest blog for Manchester Histories by Fiona Barber; Reader in Art History and Art Research Hub Leader at Manchester School of Art, Manchester Metropolitan University.

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