A funeral at Newlands Cross this morning and a hospital visit at The Coombe this afternoon, there was a temptation to walk on into the centre of Dublin, to sit in Saint Stephen’s Green in the bright sunshine of a May afternoon. To have done so would have meant an encounter with the Countess, for no walk through the Green, for me, is complete without paying respects to her and to Tom Kettle. It would have meant acknowledging that the Countess was right in her assessment of the church to which I belong.
A big house Protestant, Constance Gore-Booth, the Countess Markievicz, commanded the Irish Citizen Army in the College of Surgeons during the Easter Rising of 1916. It is said that after the rebels had surrendered, she was recognized as someone from a different social class and offered a lift in his motor car by the commander of the British soldiers. The Countess declined; preferring to walk alongside the remnant of her makeshift army. Con Markievicz now looks impassively across the ornamental gardens once garrisoned by her comrades; her fresh face and groomed hair marking her out as coming from a prosperous background in a country that was filled with the direst poverty.
Escaping the death sentence passed on her male comrades, Markievicz was imprisoned and turned her back on the tradition in which she had grown up, and was admitted to the Roman Catholic Church. She found the Church of Ireland tradition from which she came so alien to everything she believed, that she felt that she could only fully identify with the poor by being part of the religious tradition to which the majority of them belonged.
Were Con Markievicz to read the coverage of last week’s Church of Ireland General Synod, she would feel her tradition had not much progressed.
A report on the list of centenaries to be marked between 2012 and 2022 seemed selectively written; a schoolmaster stood and questioned why the Dublin Lockout of 1913, a major moment in Irish working class history, a moment that affected thousands of working class Protestants, had not been included in the list. There seemed to be no answer offered.
Hours were found to debate matters of private sexual morality, but where were the hours spent on discussing how Jesus would have seen the health cuts, on discussing Jesus’ response to the cuts in services to the elderly and the disabled? Where were the hours of debate on the Biblical injustice of the bank bailout? Where were the hours of reflection on our stewardship of God’s good earth?
Were Con Markievicz living a century later, it is hard not to think that she would find a church even less connected to the poor than it was in her time. Perhaps she would not join the ranks of the Roman Catholic church, but she would not remain in a tradition whose bishops have nothing to say to the poor.