Sunday, 27 March 2016

Countess Markievicz and Dublin Mean Time

Among the many things I did not know about the Easter Rising 100 years ago in Ireland – until today – was that Ireland had its own standard time until 1916. It was an effective symbol of London scorn to abolish the subject country’s time – one that duly caused anger in Ireland.

According to an article from a couple of years ago in the Irish Times, ‘the House of Commons in London introduced Greenwich Mean Time in Ireland and abolished Dublin Mean Time, which was 25 minutes behind.’

Countess Markievicz, one of the rebel leaders in the 1916 Rising and the leading woman in the Irish struggle for independence, complained bitterly about the measure in a letter which only came to light in 2014.

Until the late 19th century, time in Ireland and Britain was defined locally according to sunrise and sunset. But the development of railway timetables and telegraphy required time to be standardised. In 1880, the House of Commons introduced legislation to enforce Greenwich Mean Time, but Ireland – where the sun rose 25 minutes and 21 seconds later than at Greenwich – had Dublin Mean Time. That ended with the Time (Ireland) Act 1916.

Countess Markievicz was born Constance Gore-Booth. She was sentenced to death by the British for her role in the Rising but the sentence was commuted to life in prison. She was released a year later, in 1917, under a general amnesty. A few months after writing her letter about oppressive time, she became the first woman elected to the House of Commons.

She had acquired her name upon marrying a Polish émigré, Count Casimir Markievicz, in 1900. She was one of the first women in the world to hold a cabinet position (Minister for Labour of the Irish Republic, 1919–1922).