Civil Rights and the Troubles

“The Troubles” in Ireland was a period of time in which a civil rights movement for those of the Catholic faith resulted in a sustained system of violence. Both the state and people who formed alliances against the state used war tactics in a cycle against one another. As Catholic people continued to lack basic constitutional rights such as equal representation in government, Protestants and the British government periodically ignored requests for such rights. This occurred particularly in Northern Ireland, as John Conroy made evident in Belfast Diary, when he lived in a Catholic neighborhood for a number of years to gain an “unbiased” perspective on the issue. The escalation of the situation from 1969, when it was a civil rights movement, to 1979, when “war was the way of life” according to John Conroy, can be attributed to the fact that, when treated as criminal, inferior people, eventually the group will become just that.

Civil rights groups formed to raise awareness of the situation Irish Catholics were facing in the 1960s in Ireland. They introduced pamphlets detailing the discrepancies between rights afforded to Irish Protestants and Catholics. Issues such as job discrimination, police brutality, the establishment of ghettoes for Catholics, and separation for education were outlined and described. However, similar to the situation with the hunger strikes, the British government continued to ignore the Catholics’ pleas for basic rights. As the situation continued, police brutality worsened, and violence became the way of life in Northern Ireland.

Catholic and Protestant children did not always want to throw stones at one another for fun. Teenagers do not typically wish to have their kneecaps shot to simultaneously make money and prove oneself to one’s friends. During The Troubles, that was the way of life. People like John Conroy’s landlady, Mrs. Barber, who were born into the situation, did not wish to move out of it because it was all they had ever known. Because they were forced into ghettoes, jobless, and without hope of governmental help without adequate representation, groups like the IRA formed. Suddenly, the oppressed had a means of fighting back, in equally horrific ways as their oppressors. It was terrorism as a means of the “powerless gaining power” according to the romantic sublime.

The campaign for social justice pamphlet and Belfast Diary describe two consecutive decades in Northern Ireland throughout which a civil rights movement turned into much more than that. The movement became a condition in which open violence was normal and continuous, from beatings to bombings in order to sustain the oppression of the Catholic people and the Catholic attempt to fight back. Terrorism, in its definition as a social problem, erupted as the powerless Catholics struggled to gain any power from their intimidators. The Troubles marked a time in which the state openly tortured and intimidated and the provos terrorized them in return, all as their way of life. What began as an attempt to gain basic human rights for those of the Catholic faith became a decades long war, one in which people were born into and died within. The Irish people, like so many others, have created a perpetual cycle for themselves in which Protestants treat Catholics like criminals, and so Catholics respond that way.


Lissadell House

Lissadell House

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County Sligo, Ireland


The Gore-Booths

Lissadell House is a “Big House” built by the Ascendancy in the 1830s after a mysterious demolition of the old property on the Lissadell land. At this time,  Sir Robert Gore-Booth (4th Bt) commissioned Francis Goodwin as architect to build the Georgian mansion on the 30,000 acres of estate. For an equivalent of approximately one hundred million euros today, Gore-Booth had one of the most impressive estates in Ireland and England of the time. According to records held by the United Kingdom (not Ireland, which is interesting) the neoclassical style, which could be viewed as imposing, was a welcome addition to the view matching the scenery nicely.

Considering their ownership of so much land, the Gore-Booths were responsible for multitudes of tenants during the Great Famine. While on the tours the guides will tell you how very kindly the owners handled their tenants, Sir Robert Gore-Booth did have a reputation for hiring his own “coffin ship” for his tenants. According to the archives from the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland, he has over three volumes of records of tenants, and numerous miscellaneous letters on sending “dispossessed tenants of Gore-Booth farms of Ballygilgan” to America. There are also numerous volumes on the relief programs the house held, including the soup kitchen where Caroline Gore-Booth set up and, according to the modern owners, often served “up to 200 gallons per day”.

Sir Robert’s son Henry gave birth to four children, two of which were Constance and Eva, who are mentioned in Yeats’ poem. Constance, the oldest, was largely notable for her political involvement. Married to Count Markievicz of Ukraine, she was able to rise in politics from painter and an Irish nationalist. Constance became a leader in the 1916 Rising, the first female minister in the world (in the first Dail), and a founding member of Fianna Fail.

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Writings on the Irish Republic from the Provisional Government on Display at Lissadell House
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“The Irish Rebellion, 1916” Photographs of the leaders of the 1916 rising with Constance Markievicz in the middle of the second row On display in the Lissadell Tea Rooms


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The entrance to the Con Markievicz exhibit in Lissadell


Eva Gore-Booth, the other subject of Yeats’ poem “In Memory of Eva Gore-Booth and Con Markievicz” was a renowned suffragette. Her extreme involvement in a cause that sought to increase women’s rights in matters outside of the aesthetic realm did not particularly please her friend W.B. Yeats as he demonstrated in his poem.

Their third sibling, Josslyn, was the next heir to the estate. Under his rule, he maintained even better relations with tenants, even selling 28,000 acres of the land fairly (according to sources now) under the 1903 Whyndam Land Act. Josslyn’s generation marked the last before the decline of the house that lasted through the 1990s, in which only three rooms and the kitchen were occupied. The rest of the home and grounds remained in disarray until the present owners bought the estate in 2003.

Yeats in Lissadell

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W.B. Yeats, who spent much of his childhood in Sligo, had attended horse racing and cricket matches at Lissadell House. Later on, an established poet and fervent admirer of the aristocracy, Yeats visited Lissadell House when Eva Gore-Booth and Con Markievicz resided there in 1894 and 1895. Dr. Joseph Valente, a lecturer at the Yeats Summer School, pointed out following the tour that Yeats slept above the portico when he visited the home. This means that although Yeats revered the aristocracy, and had moved up enough in the social classes to visit Lissadell House, he was still not high enough to stay within the actual house.

In 1927, he published the poem “In Memory of Eva Gore-Booth and Con Markievicz” which is displayed in numerous locations on the Lissadell property currently. However, to those who are familiar with the poem, as were the Yeats scholars with whom I toured the home, this is a bit puzzling. The poem does not portray either woman in a way in which one would think the owners would be proud of them.

“In Memory of Eva Gore-Booth and Con Markievicz” 


The light of evening, Lissadell,
Great windows open to the south,
Two girls in silk kimonos, both
Beautiful, one a gazelle.
But a raving autumn shears
Blossom from the summer’s wreath;
The older is condemned to death,
Pardoned, drags out lonely years
Conspiring among the ignorant.
I know not what the younger dreams –
Some vague Utopia – and she seems,
When withered old and skeleton-gaunt,
An image of such politics.

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The poem on display in the “backyard” of Lissadell
Many a time I think to seek
One or the other out and speak
Of that old Georgian mansion, mix
Pictures of the mind, recall
That table and the talk of youth,
Two girls in silk kimonos, both
Beautiful, one a gazelle.
Dear shadows, now you know it all,
All the folly of a fight
With a common wrong or right.
The innocent and the beautiful
Have no enemy but time
Arise and bid me strike a match
And strike another till time catch;
Should the conflagration climb,
Run till all the sages know.
We the great gazebo built
They convicted us of guilt;
Bid me strike a match and blow.

W. B. Yeats, “In Memory of Eva Gore-Booth and Con Markievicz” from The Winding Stair and Other Poems. Copyright © 1933 by W. B. Yeats.


While many aspects of this poem can be interpreted differently, the fact that Eva Gore-Booth and Con Markievicz are portrayed as beautiful aristocrats who did something wrong by placing value in something other than their wealth and beauty, is widely accepted.

In this poem, Yeats aestheticizes both Lissadell House and the girls, but in this he makes the point that the women grow older and politicized, thus losing their beauty. However, the house, as art maintained its aesthetic value which he portrayed both in the first two lines, when he did not use a verb with tense, giving an eternal image of the house. The speaker also says in lines 14-16 in the present tense, that “many a time I think to seek one or the other out and speak of that old Georgian mansion” despite the fact that at the present time the girls were dead. This emphasizes the fact that the girls could not last, but the house, as art–a purely aesthetic object–is eternal. Furthermore, in lines 12 and 13, it is made clear that Eva was made “old and skeleton-gaunt” because of her politics. That is, if she had only placed value in herself aesthetically, she would still be beautiful. In this case, the speaker works against himself. As he himself states, “the innocent and the beautiful have no enemy but time” (24-25). Time would go by whether Eva only dressed for tea and walked the garden, or fought for political causes she believed in, and lose her beauty in either process if time were indeed her only enemy.

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The WB Yeats exhibit in the stables of the house
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The entrance to the Muses of Yeats museum included the works of Oscar Wilde, Ezra Pound, and others











Modern Controversy

In 2003 Constance Cassidy and Eddie Walsh purchased the estate from Josslyn Gore-Booth reportedly for 3.75 million euros and have spent over 9 million euro since they purchased the home for their family of nine. The private purchase was news in itself, as Josslyn spoke on the record about how he would be “interested in the state buying it” and using it as a museum to its rich history. However, Cassidy and Walsh have restored it beautifully and have opened the basement and ground floor as a museum for the public while they live in the upper floors as a family.

However, there have been issues with litigation between the Cassidy/Walsh’s and Sligo County since 2008 over right of way through the property. There are four roadways that run through the property which, according to Sligo townspeople were used as public roads when the Gore-Booths owned the estate. However, according to the Cassidy/Walsh’s land agreement, they believed they owned the land and shut the gates, blocking the path of the public. They did so, reportedly, to protect the safety of their seven children who live in the home with them.

The situation resulted in litigation that resulted in a court ruling that the four access roads should remain public.In 2013 the Supreme Court ruled that “rights of way claimed by the local authority do not exist, in particular parking and right of way in front of the house” (“Family tell of relief after winning battle of Lissadell House rights of way”).

In 2014 however the home was able to reopen the basement and ground floors as museum space.  The grounds are now open to visitors, yet pictures remain all over the museum portion of the home of the Cassidy/Walsh children.It also stands as a testament of Irish history, with the last Gore-Booths expressing that they wished the state would buy the home. However, as a Big House of Irish history the house stood for the wealth and oppression of the British in Ireland. Fittingly, there are pictures of the homeowners with multiple members of the British Royal family on display throughout the museum of Lissadell.

It is evident this is home to a family in certain regards, however. The backyard facing the lake has two football nets, and the pictures of the family throughout are simultaneously welcoming and also a  bit of a threatening reminder. Nonetheless, the family is reported to have spent over nine million euro on renovation of the estate, and must bring in a good deal of revenue for the surrounding area of County Sligo.

Despite the controversy of the home, it undoubtedly provided inspiration for artists like both WB and Jack Yeats. Other extraordinary political leaders like Constance and Eva grew up there and were able to flourish to impact thecountry of Ireland in numerous ways.


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Lissadell House view from backyard

Works Cited

Cassidy, Constance, and Eddie Walsh. “LISSADELL HOUSE & GARDENS.” Lissadell House and Gardens Sligo. Lissadell House, n.d. Web. 21 Aug. 2015.

“Introduction Lissadell Papers.” (n.d.): 3-46. Public Record Office of Northern Ireland. Crown Copyright, Nov. 2007. Web. 20 Aug. 2015.

“Family Tell of Relief after Winning Battle over Lissadell House Rights of Way.” (Irish) Independent [Dublin] 11 Nov. 2013: n. pag.

McGowan, Joe. “Lissadell House, Coffin Ships…” Joe McGowan, 2008. Web. 21 Aug. 2015. <>.

Siggins, Lorna. “Lissadell House in Sligo Set to Reopen to Public.” Editorial. The Irish Times [Dublin] 15 June 2014: n. pag. The Irish Times. 15 June 2014. Web. 18 Aug. 2015.

Reflection 7/16

One of the reasons I chose a program in Ireland is my lack of background knowledge on the area and its history. I feel in my education, at least, I was taught a relatively loose history of the world through high school, but much of Ireland’s history-aside from the famine-was left out. The history I learned from the lectures and reading Belfast Diary was quite eye opening. I had no idea of the severity and longevity of the tense relations in Ireland, and could not have entered the country knowing as little as I did. This makes me excited to go and gain a much better understanding of the country that can only be acquired by living there, even for a short time. I have traveled western Europe with a much greater knowledge going into it, of course, but went to Turkey last summer and realized, similarly to Ireland, I was largely ignorant of the nation and its history. The time we spend in Ireland I am sure can only increase my knowledge on the people and history and I am excited to immerse myself in the culture.