His topic was “Two Important Women in Irish History” and the women chosen were Countess Constance Markievicz and Saidie Patterson, two people from completely contrasting backgrounds the former having been born into the Anglo Irish titled family of Sir Henry and Lady Georgina Gore-Booth at Lissadell, Co.Sligo and the latter into a poor working class family in the Woodvale Road, Belfast.
Constance Markievicz trained as an artist in London and Paris, married Count Casimir Markievicz and became involved in nationalist politics from 1908 onwards, founding the Nationalist Boy Scouts and joining the Irish Volunteers and the Irish Citizen Army. She took part in the Easter Rising of 1916 and although sentenced to death she was reprieved simply because of her sex and spent three of the last ten years of her life in prison.
She became the first ever woman MP to Westminster although she did not take her seat and was the first female Cabinet Minister (of Labour) in de Valera’s first Dail. She spent most of her last years helping the poor people in the slums of Dublin and in 1927, aged 59 she died surrounded by her family from whom she had been estranged for many years. She had one daughter, Maeve Markievicz of whom Clive Scoular has written a short biography.
By contrast, Saidie Patterson grew up in impoverished circumstances and her life was made more difficult by the early death of her mother when she had to look after her younger siblings. She worked in Ewart’s Textile Industry and early on started to fight for Womens’ rights to try to improve their pay and conditions.
As a shop steward she went fearlessly to the top men in Government amd Industry and in 1940 brought out the Ewart’s women workers on strike and won most of their demands. During the Troubles she was the backbone of the “Women Together” organisation and later on a leading light in the Peace Women”.
Her work was recognised by the Open University which conferred an honorary degree on her and she won the World Methodist Peace Prize. She remained a staunch Methodist and died at the age of 79 in 1985 having been named one of the world’s top 50 women in 1975.
Mr Clive Scoular from Downpatrick, author and historian, was the guest speaker at the April meeting of the Bellaghy Historical Society.