The Irish Citizen Army and the Road to the 1916 Rising

Members of the Irish Citizen Army outside Liberty Hall, Dublin

Members of the Irish Citizen Army outside Liberty Hall, Dublin

The Spirit of Mother Jones festival will include a series of lectures exploring the  origins and role of the Irish Citizen Army, a workers army, in the Easter 1916 rebellion.   The venue for the lectures will be the Firkin Crane, Shandon, Cork.  Date and Time: Friday, 31st July 2015 at 3.30pm. 

The 1916 Proclamation of the Irish Republic refers to just three organisations, one of which is The Irish Citizen Army (ICA). On Easter Monday morning 1916, over 200 members of the ICA, men, women and boys marched into a revolution in Dublin led by James Connolly.

The Irish Citizen Army comprised almost 30% of those who actually turned up for the Rising on that Monday morning and represented an internal mobilisation of almost 80% of the available and active membership. Some 50 including Connolly, who had played a central role in planning the actual military attacks,occupied the General Post Office. The remainder of the ICA played an active part in some of the fiercest fighting witnessed during the week in places such as St Stephen’s Green, College of Surgeons, City Hall and Dublin Castle.

James Connolly

James Connolly

Copies of the 1916 Proclamation itself was printed by the ICA at the Co-Op Stores at No 31 Eden Quay, alongside Liberty Hall, the headquarters of the Irish Transport and General Workers Union. Considerable quantities of the weapons, bombs and explosives used later in the Rising were stored in Liberty Hall, even the flag which flew over the GPO was created there.

Many of the active participants in the Rising had spent the Easter weekend in and around Liberty Hall, and marched from there to seize various buildings. Liberty Hall itself was bombed by the British initially as they immediately understood that the rebellion had been organised from there, the building was wrecked during the attack.

Sean Connolly of the ICA fired the first shot of the Rising, which killed Sergeant James O’Brien at the gates of Dublin Castle. In a strange twist of faith, Connolly himself was the first casualty on the rebel side when he was killed by a sniper an hour later. At the very end, Elizabeth O’Farrell of the ICA was with Padraig Pearse at the formal surrender of the rebels near the GPO, while she also carried the orders and dispatches which confirmed the cease fire and surrender elsewhere in Dublin.

Dr. Leo Keohane's book on Jack White

Dr. Leo Keohane’s book on Jack White

Yet they were pushed to the margins of history soon afterwards and virtually disappeared from the narrative of Irish history for a considerable time, even during the 1966 commemorations. Who were these working class men and women, so many of whom were killed or injured in the Rising or imprisoned or impoverished in its aftermath?

By any standards The Irish Citizen Army was central to the 1916 Rising itself. It provided thecatalyst which set off the explosion leading to eventual Independence. Its origins among workers in the 1913 Lockout, its first Commandant ….. a Boer War hero, its voice unique and its participants brave, its discipline and ideological stance which set it apart in Ireland even in a period of dissent and conflict.

The Irish Citizen Army by Ann Matthews

The Irish Citizen Army by Ann Matthews


The Army was led by one of the greatest socialist agitators and thinkers of the 20th Century. Yet why is its legacy so uncertain, why is its central contribution considered a curiosity of history and why were its beliefs swamped by the conservative ideology which followed?

Earlier on the 1st August 1915, by order of James Connolly, the Irish Citizen Army had also gathered initially at Liberty Hall to participate alongside the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union in the funeral procession for the Fenian leader Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa, (born in West Cork and a “Freeman of Cork City” who had died on 29th June 1915 in America) to Glasnevin Cemetery.


Led by the James Fintan Lawlor Band, The Citizen Army and the Irish Volunteers marching side by side put on a hugely impressive show of force accompanied by the trade union movement, the Irish Republican Brotherhood and Cumann na mBan as they marched north to the Cemetery.

Liberty Hall in ruins after the 1916 Rising

Liberty Hall in ruins after the 1916 Rising

In the climax to his oration at the grave, Padraig Pearse threw back his head sharply…..….”but the fools, the fools, the fools! — they have left us our Fenian dead, and while Ireland holds these graves, Ireland unfree shall never be at peace.”

Standing nearby, Connolly could see the Rising as a reality.


Almost 100 years to the day, on Friday evening 31st July 2015 at 3.30pm, the Cork Mother Jones Committee will hold a series of lectures at the Firkin Crane entitled “The Irish Citizen Army and theRoad to the 1916 Rising”.The lectures and discussion will explore the origins, the progress and the eventual participation of this workers’ army in the 1916 rebellion. How important was its contribution, the role of James Connolly, what caused its subsequent political isolation and relative obscurity in Irish history?

Under the chairmanship of Theo Dorgan, poet and author, those participating include;

Dr Ann Matthews, author “The Irish Citizen Army” Mercier Press 2014.

Dr Leo Keohane, author “Captain Jack White, Imperialism, Anarchism &The Irish Citizen Army” Merrion Press 2014.

Scott Millar, author and journalist with Liberty, the newspaper of SIPTU (formerly the Irish Transport and General Workers Union, founded by Jim Larkin)




Mother Jones & her Children to be screened at film festivals



The documentary Mother Jones and Her Children, produced by Cork based Frameworks Films will be screened on Friday 12th June at 12pm in Cork County Hall as part of the Community TV Festival taking place there on 12th/13th June 2015. 

The documentary, which explores the life of Cork trade union activist Mary Harris, known as Mother Jones, will also be screened at this year’s Galway Film Fleadh and is scheduled to be shown on Friday 10th July at the Cinemobile in Galway.
Full details about the Community TV Festival at Cork County Hall can be obtained at

John Dowling – Cobh’s forgotten revolutionary


John Dowling in 1919

John Dowling in 1919

John (Jack) Dowling was a significant trade union and socialist activist in Ireland in the early 20th century who deserves to be better known.   Born in Cobh (then called Queenstown) in the mid 1880s, Dowling, a fitter at Haulbowline naval dockyard,  became an active trade unionist and got involved in socialist politics at an early age.

He was already in contact with James Connolly before 1910 and was one of those who welcomed Connolly home from the United States, introducing him to a huge crowd at Daunt’s Square, Cork in July of that year.  He toured with Connolly and helped promote the new Socialist Party of Ireland and the Irish Transport and General Workers Union.

It was in an effort to establish a branch of the former that Connolly visited Cobh in March 1911. On that occasion Connolly was attacked by a mob of conservative nationalists and despite the best efforts of Dowling and a number of others to defend him, Connolly had to beat a hasty retreat from the town under a hail of bricks, bottles and stones.   The group returned on a later occasion and successfully established an ITGWU branch in the town but the Socialist Party of Ireland continued to struggle.

In 1915 Dowling was forced to leave his native Cobh as a result of a police exclusion order under the Defence of the Realm Act.   He moved to Limerick where he later became a fulltime organiser with the ITGWU in 1918.   A year later Dowling, better known by his Irish name Seán in Limerick,  played an important role in the organisation of what was to become known as the Limerick Soviet. He was in the leadership of the “soviet” movement which saw the direct takeover of numerous industries by the workers in response to wage cuts or employer intransigence.

Bruree Workers Soviet mills

Bruree Workers Soviet mills with its slogan “we make bread, not profits”

In particular Dowling played a key role in the worker takeover of Knocklong creamery and Bruree flour mills in County Limerick, in addition to numerous other businesses, mostly in Munster and South Leinster where employers had cut workers’ pay.  The soviet movement even extended to Dowling’s native Cobh where there was a short-lived “railway soviet” in 1921.

Dowling clashed with large farmers who refused to supply milk to worker-run creameries. He also came into conflict with the IRA (both pro and anti-treaty) which in many cases sided with the employers and physically removed the worker-installed management from soviet run factories.

Dowling and his two militant colleagues Sean McGrath and Jack Hedley were subsequently sacked as union organisers by the more conservative ITGWU leadership of William O’Brien who had succeeded Connolly after the 1916 Rising.  Dowling and his comrades were seen as too hard-line and political as Ireland returned to conservatism in the wake of the Civil War.

In 1924 John Dowling returned to Cobh and would have been unhappy with the conservative turn the country took.  He retained his left-wing outlook and had several clashes with the Blueshirts in the early to mid 1930s.  He died in November 1948 and is buried in his native Cobh.


John Jefferies will speak about the activism of John Dowling at the Spirit of Mother Jones Festival at the Maldron Hotel on Friday, 31st July at 12 Noon.

Festival programme for 2015 released

2015 Festival Progamme - click image to view full size or download

2015 Festival Progamme (front) – click image to view or download

The full brochure for the Spirit of Mother Jones Festival 2015 is now available on this website.  The festival takes place from Wednesday 29th July to Saturday 1st August 2015 in the Shandon area of Cork city.  This year’s programme is jam-packed with an exciting range of lectures, performance, films and music.

You can view or download the brochure by clicking on the image at the top of this article or by navigating to the Festival Programme 2015 page and following the links.  The brochure is laid out in print format and appears as two pages on screen – scroll down the pdf for the 2nd page.


Spirit of Mother Jones Festival 2015 – Music




The music programme for the Spirit of Mother Jones Festival 2015 has been released.  The above poster features the full list of musical performances during the festival which will be held from Wednesday, 29th July to Saturday, 1st August.  The two venues will be the Firkin Crane and the Maldron Hotel, Shandon.

A host of talent, new and old, will be on display at the festival over the four days.   A downloadable version of the music poster in PDF format will be added here after the weekend.

Jimmy Crowley to appear at The Spirit of Mother Jones Festival.

Jimmy Crowly at the Maldron Hotel during the 2014 Spirit of Mother Jones Festival

Jimmy Crowley at the Maldron Hotel during the 2014 Spirit of Mother Jones Festival

Jimmy Crowley was born in Douglas in Cork and took up singing in the late 1960s. He formed Stokers Lodge called after a landmark in Douglas where local huntsmen met for a day’s sport. The group comprised Jimmy himself, Mick Murphy, Johnny Murphy and the late Chris Twomey.

Jimmy Crowley with Mick Moloney

Jimmy Crowley with Mick Moloney (The Johnsons)

He began writing songs in 1971 and he also encouraged, sang and promoted older working class ballads and long lost songs from all over Cork as well as running the legendary folk club at Douglas GAA club for many years. Jimmy likes to talk and sing songs of hunters and drag hunting, of harriers and the Shandon foot beagles and sportsmen such as bowler Mick Barry, and hurler Christy Ring, of stupendous deeds of valour, local rivalries and personalities, great and little events, and the real topics of conversation of the people. In this way he reveals just a little insight into the inner sanctum of that frustratingly (to a non Cork person) complex and contradictory Cork vision of humour and life and the locals somewhat detached engagement with the everyday world outside of Cork itself. His first album “The Boys of Fairhill” released in 1997, contained such classics as The Pool Song, Johnny Jump Up, Salonika, and of course The Boys of Fairhill. These songs live on now in the soul of Cork regardless of cultural globalisation. Where else in the world would you get a famous song about Connie Doyle’s legendary harrier known as The Armoured Car?

Jimmy Crowley at Cork City Library

Jimmy Crowley at Cork City Library

This was followed by a second album “Camphouse Ballads” and “Some Things Never Change”. Later still “Uncorked” was released in 1998, while “The Coast of Malabar” appeared in 2000. Jimmy is a versatile performer as his recent American albums show, he is also an ethnographer and loves the Irish language and fun. Jimmy’s song about the sailing ship, the Asgard, “My Love is a Tall Ship” is well known among the sailing fraternity, as is his classic “The Queen of the White Star Line”. Jimmy has played all over Ireland, Europe and America and is a familiar face on the streets of Cork. He is known as the Bard of Cork as his unique style of singing and his love of his native City especially the Shandon area is central to his musical imagination.

Jimmy with Richard T.Cooke

Jimmy Crowley with fellow troubadour and Cork Mother Jones Committee member Richard T. Cooke

Jimmy Crowley recently launched what many consider to be his finest work, when his book and songs “Songs From The Beautiful City… The Cork Urban Ballads” was unveiled. After many hard years of research, much ferreting out of local traditional ballads, song writers and characters, collecting of lost words which portray a lively and earthy narrative of our history and bealoideas, Jimmy has delivered his masterpiece!

The Spirit of Mother Jones Festival 2015 proudly presents the Bard of Cork, Jimmy Crowley: “Songs from the Beautiful City: The Cork Urban Ballads”   Jimmy appears at the Maldron Hotel on Friday July 31st from 1pm to 2pm.   Admission is free.    

Anne Feeney update

Anne Feeney group 2014

Anne Feeney group 2014 

The Cork Mother Jones Committee is delighted that singer songwriter and activist Anne Feeney has been enjoying good health. In her recent newsletter she has recalled the terrific time she had in Ireland in 2014 when she brought her tour to Shandon for the Spirit of Mother Jones Festival for the first time. She has just announced that she is planning “another one for the summer of 2016″. Anne introduced a fabulous group of people to the festival and to the local community and all played their part in making the festival a great success. We look forward to meeting up again in 2016, where they will be most welcome in Shandon.
So to Maya, Anne, Paddy, Mark, Jane, Julien, Melodi,Jeff, Joan, Laura 1, Dori, Nina, Marjie, Dan, Dorrie, Sue, Bonnie, Laura 2, Vickie, Leah, Ray and Martha we send our best wishes and thank you all for coming to Cork and making a difference. Hope to see you all back soon again.