Spirit of Mother Jones Festival Programme.

The formal Launch of the Spirit of Mother Jones Festival 2022 will take place at the Shandon Butter Market Garden on Friday 1st July at 1pm.

Our eleventh annual festival takes place from Thursday 28th July until Saturday 30th July and contains a full programme of events, both indoors and outdoors.

Spirit of Mother Jones Festival 2022 Poster.

According to Jim Nolan of the Cork Mother Jones Committee

“We will have over 20 events ranging from talks and lively discussions, to walks and exhibitions, to presentations of awards and toasts as well as singing, poetry and music.

We wish to thank our sponsors in particular the Cork City Council, the SIPTU trade union, the ASTI Trade union and IFUT. With their assistance, it is possible to maintain the festival free and open to all.

Highlights will include the screening of the Shandon Area History Group/Frameworks Films documentary ‘Ordinary Women in Extraordinary Times’ at the Dance Cork Firkin Crane Theatre on Friday night. 

Of special interest this year will be the visit of Antoinette Keegan, whose two sisters Mary and Martina died in the Stardust Fire tragedy in 1981.  Christine her mother and John her father were instrumental in establishing the campaign of the Stardust Victims to seek justice for their loved ones over the past 40 years.  Antoinette was will be presented with the 2020 Spirit of Mother Jones Award in person on Friday afternoon 29th July at 3pm.

We hope the people of Cork will come along and show their support to the victims and survivors of the Stardust tragedy in their efforts to attain justice.

After two years in which the festival went online, we are very much looking forward to meeting people again, whether they are regulars or dropping in for the first time to the festival, all will be welcome at Shandon.”

All events are free and all are welcome. (But come along early)

Liam Cahill R.I.P.

It is with very great sadness that we learned of the sudden death of Liam Cahill, journalist, author, civil servant and trade unionist.

Liam attended the Spirit of Mother Jones Festival in 2019 and spoke on the 100th anniversary celebrating the Limerick Soviet. 

Liam Cahill and Mike McNamara at the Spirit of Mother Jones Festival 2019.

He appeared on Thursday Aug 1st  along with his great friend Limerick Union man Mike McNamara, following a screening of the 2015 documentary, The Limerick Soviet  in which he had participated. 

His 2019 publication “Forgotten Revolution: The Limerick Soviet 1919, a threat to British Power in Ireland”, which was an updated, revised and enlarged edition of his original 1990 book on the soviet, formed the basis of Liam’s talk. 

Photo of Liam Cahill with the President of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins in 2019. Photo: Barry Cronin, courtesy of Liam Cahill.

This important book unearthed the  incredible story of revolutionary events in Limerick which lay almost undisturbed for almost 70 years and it quickly sold out its print run.

Limerick Soviet 1919.

Liam claimed he wrote it originally to try to answer an important and still relevant question, “why were our grandmothers and grandfathers – even our great grandparents – more radical in their politics than my generation?”  It is unclear if he found the answer but the Limerick Soviet is no longer forgotten.

President Michael D. Higgins with Liam Cahill. Photo: Barry Cronin, courtesy of Liam Cahill.

Liam was extremely generous with his time and his advice to members of our committee and during his Cork talk he praised the role of Cobhman and trade union leader Jack Dowling, (long championed by Cork Mother Jones Committee member John Jefferies) who played a key role in the organisation of the Limerick Soviet.  

Liam was a political correspondent with RTE and during 1990 worked in Brussels as Government press spokesperson for the Irish Presidency of the European Union. However his contribution to the Irish Trade Union movement was enormous. Apart from being a full-time official of the Federated Workers Union of Ireland, he spent time on the executive councils of the NUJ and the PSEU as well as chairperson of the RTE Trade Union Group. He wrote widely on Irish Labour history. He had a huge interest in sport, especially the Gaelic Athletic Association. His internet forum, An Fear Rua was legendary and original in the early 2000s before twitter and WhatsApp with wide ranging and often heated discussions taking place on the many issues around Gaelic games under the paternal hand of Liam. The trade union and Labour movement has lost a great friend in Liam.

The Cork Mother Jones Committee and friends wish to extend our deepest sympathy to Liam’s children, Susan and Eoin.

Songs of Woody Guthrie for the 2022 festival.

Woody Guthrie (1912-1967)  highlighted the suffering of the rural poor and dispossessed in depression and dust storm America of the 1930s.

His many songs provide the backdrop for many of the reality of ordinary American life outside of the glamour of Hollywood and big City dreams.

Guthrie openly supported the trade union movement and promoted left-wing causes for several decades and campaigned on social justice issues while his battered guitar proudly displayed the message “This Machine Kills Fascists”. 

During the 50s he along with thousands of others experienced the cancelation culture of the communist witch hunts of Joe McCarthy. (McCarthy of Tipperary and Galway heritage was publicly praised by some Catholic bishops in Ireland.) 

Travelling incessantly when younger, his songs chart the daily lives of a hidden class of drifting migrant labourers and poor farmers driven from their lands and jobs by exploitation and natural disasters and faced with poverty, hunger and death. 

His autobiography,  ‘Bound For Glory’ published in 1943, which has sold millions of copies, brought his life’s work and ideas to a wide audience.  

Woody played and sang with many of the great artists such as Sonny Terry, Cisco Houston, Leadbelly and Pete Seeger. 

The song collector Alan Lomax also recorded Woody for the Library of Congress. 

Many regard his composition ‘This Land Is Your Land’  as the alternative anthem of North America. 

There is some debate about the words of two of the original seven verses which were critical of the political situation and are rarely sung these days but may still be just as relevant.

As I went walking I saw a sign there  And on the sign it said “No Trespassing”. But on the other side it didn’t say nothing, That side was made for you and me.

In the squares of the City, In the shadow of a steeple;
Near the relief office, I’ve seen my people.
As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking,
Is this land made for you and me?

His many songs include ‘Ye Shall Be Free”, ‘John Henry’, ‘Tom Joad’, ‘Pastures of Plenty’,  ‘So Long It’s been Good to Know Yah’, ‘Vigilante Man’, ‘ I Ain’t Got No Home’, while the Dust Bowl Ballads contains some of his finest work. He died after contracting Huntington’s Chorea, a degenerative disease. 

His son Arlo Guthrie with Marjorie Greenblatt (Mazia), is a well known folk singer and has visited and played gigs in Ireland and in Cork many times.

Johnny Nyhan

The story and songs of Woody Gurthrie  will be told by John Nyhan, Mick Treacy and friends at the Maldron Hotel, Shandon on Friday night 29th July from 9.30, all welcome. Not to be missed.   

Mick Treacy

“What would our health system be like now had Dr Noël Browne’s Mother and Child Scheme been successfully implemented?”

Angela Flynn

FREE IMAGE- NO REPRO FEE. Photo By Tomas Tyner, UCC.

Dr Angela Flynn is a lecturer in the School of Nursing and Midwifery in UCC. Having worked as a nurse in the NHS in London, she returned to Ireland in 1999. She was shocked at just how unfair and inequitable the Irish health system was and was taken aback by the stark two-tiered system. Over half the population of Ireland pay for private health insurance because they know that should they need to see a consultant or have scheduled surgery they will languish on waiting lists if they stay as public patients. Angela decided to examine the history of the Irish health care system that led to this inequity for her PhD, and she used Noel Browne’s Mother and Child Scheme as one of the case studies. She has published a number of papers from this research. Now in 2022, on the 25th anniversary of the death of Noel Browne, Angela will discuss an imagined world where his scheme had been successful and explore the potential health system we could have had.

Noël Browne was born in Waterford on 20th December 1915. He died in Connemara on the 21st May 1997.

A quarter of a century has passed since the death of Noël Browne, the most controversial Minister for Health in Ireland’s history. His courageous account of early life and a political career of over 40 years can be found in his autobiography ‘Against The Tide’ published in 1986. Written with a rare honesty and integrity, it portrays an often heartbreaking account of the ‘precarious survival’ of early family life against the backdrop of the deathly poverty, illness and the sheer awfulness of daily experience for many poor people in the new Irish State. His earliest memories of witnessing the savagery of the Irish Civil war ensured his abhorrence of violence.

Both parents, Joseph (1923) and Mary Therese (1929) died of tuberculosis (TB) and many of his seven siblings contracted the killer disease, Noel who also had TB was one of three to survive, while his sisters Annie, Eileen, Una and Jody, his brother all eventually succumbed.  

Official figures show that from 1921 to 1950, 114,000 Irish people died of the disease. Scarcely an Irish family remained untouched and many families were completely wiped out.

Browne was fortunate to be “adopted” by the Dublin surgeon Neville Chance and his family who ensured Noel gained entry to Trinity College and eventually became a doctor.

He realised quickly that the only way to change Ireland’s disastrous health system was to become directly involved in political action. Browne, by now a committed socialist was elected to Dail Eireann in 1948 as a Clann na Poblachta TD. The Clann, led by Sean McBride with ten TDs joined a Coalition government. To the surprise of many he was appointed Minister for Health on his first day in the Irish parliament.

He commenced a massive hospital construction project, free X-ray screening for tuberculosis patients and set in motion systems to eliminate tuberculosis with the aid of Streptomycin. The blood transfusion service was set up.

Browne set a frenetic pace within the department, he was indeed a man in a hurry witnessing the immediate and positive impact of the National Health Service (NHS) introduced by the UK Health Minister Aneurin Bevan in July 1948.

Unprecedently and uniquely for a politician, he decided to actually implement the health reforms contained in the Irish 1947 Health Act, fully aware that he would “only have one crack at it”. However his proposal to introduce free medical care for children under 16 and their mothers in order to reduce child mortality which became known as the Mother and Child Scheme was vigorously opposed by the Catholic Hierarchy which it described as ‘the free-for-all Mother And Child Scheme’ and Irish Medical Association (I.M.A) which condemned it as ‘the socialisation of medicine’.  

Browne refused to concede to the concessions demanded by the Church and the establishment and once he lost the support of his leader in Clann na Poblachta, Sean MacBride who requested his resignation he was eventually forced to resign on 11th April 1951.

Now a political outsider, he never regained access to political power again to drive positive structural change in the health system.

Later many of the changes Browne had helped to introduce made a real difference to ordinary people and the arrival of vaccines and new drug treatments helped to reduce significantly the death rate. This fell by half within a few years and was down to 15% of the 1940 levels by 1960. The death sentence of  a TB diagnosis was no more.  

While aspects of his health scheme were eventually put in place, his initial opportunity to construct a NHS type universal health care system for Ireland was lost and the two tier private and public health system remains in place.

Noël Browne. Source: Houses of the Oireachtas.

Noel Browne remained in politics, moving in and out of various political parties, marginalised by those in the political power, ignored by others, always controversial, passionate from the back benches, sometimes caught up in roundabout arguments of the Left yet adored by many radicals as an uncompromising advocate for the social justice and a universal free health system.

John Horgan’s book Noël Browne, Passionate Outsider portrays this complex man in a warts and all analysis with empathy, understanding and some criticism.

Browne’s love story with Phyllis Harrison, was told by Phyllis in her publication Thanks For The Tea, Mrs. Browne – My life with Noel.

Written with love and affection, sadness and struggle, courage and quiet passion, Phyllis describes their life together as “a stormy passage” and the difficulties they faced through over fifty years of married life. The couple even tried farming, an episode described with some humour in an Amateur Farmer’s Journal. Browne was originally informed that he had six months to live when they married back in 1944, he again suffered a relapse after his appointment as Minister and occasionally ran his department from his sick bed.   

Noël Browne retired from politics in the early 80s, daughters Ruth and Sue raised,  he and Phyllis moved to an isolated cottage in Connemara on the west coast of Ireland where he wrote his memoirs Against The Tide, which became a best seller. Some former political colleagues received blunt assessments of their actions and when coupled with a gripping narrative, the book remains a very rare and raw account of Irish life and politics.

His successful efforts to end the scourge of TB and his exposure to a new generation of Church control of the State remain his major achievements.

But his passionate dream of providing access to a decent health service for all citizens of the Republic of Ireland based on need remains to be achieved.

‘He lies in the clean sandy soil by the Atlantic shore, where he liked to sit every afternoon, seagulls and screaming curlews flying above him’

Phyllis Browne.

On Saturday afternoon 30th July at 2.30 Angela Flynn will discuss the Mother & Child Scheme, imagine if it had been successful and explore the potential health system we could have had.

Venue is the Maldron Hotel Shandon. All Welcome.

Jimmy Crowley and Eve Telford To Appear at the Spirit of Mother Jones Festival 2022.

Eve Telford is a singer of traditional folk songs as well as her original compositions. She sings traditional Irish songs, and also Welsh, Scottish and English songs.

Eve Telford

In her singing of traditional songs, one can sense her deep-seated connection with the old folk singers who have passed on. 

She is currently recording an album of Child ballads learnt from the singing of Irish Travellers, with her partner, the singer and musician Jimmy Crowley. She has been booked for folk festivals in Ireland and Britain, such as Cork Folk Festival and Whitby Folk Week, both solo, and as a duo with Jimmy Crowley.

Her original songs are inspired by the wellsprings of world mythologies, indigenous rights, a proximity to the natural world, and a commitment to political protest.

Eve was born in Adelaide, Australia, and grew up in Japan, Tasmania, England and Wales, before finding her home in Co. Cork, Ireland. She believes that her early exposure to different cultures, as well as the absence of television and screen-culture in her childhood contributed vastly to the development of her folk psyche.

Jimmy Crowley has been a regular at the Spirit of Mother Jones Festival since the very beginning of the event.

His collection of ballads and his singing style has appealed to generations of people everywhere but especially on Cork’s North side. Many of his songs represent working class traditions and gatherings.

Jimmy began singing in the late 60s and he formed Stokers Lodge. The group became regulars in the folk clubs around Cork city.

By the early 70s he had begun to write his own material and revived the art of the ballad maker.

His songs feature local Cork customs, sports and drinking. Draghunting, road bowling and hurling appear as well as local features such as Quinlans Pub in Blackpool, the Lee Road and The Boys of Fairhill. 

The Boys of Fairhill Album and Songs from a Beautiful City.

While serving his time to a cabinet-maker he learned a popular song in 1920s Cork called simply Boozing. In Johnny Jump Up he sings of a cider so strong from being stored in old whiskey casks that it represented a passport to heaven.  Jimmy sings of Katty Barry, Mother Jones, Mick Barry the bowler, Father Mathew and Jack Doyle.

The words of many of over 140 of these ballads are contained in his great work Songs From The Beautiful City, published by the Freestate Press in 2014. Jimmy has made an inestimable contribution to the preservation of traditional Cork ballads.

Jimmy loves playing at the Spirit of Mother Jones Festival and one should not miss his performance with Eve Telford on Friday 29th July at the Shandon Maldron Hotel.

Jimmy and Eve will sing at the Shandon Maldron Hotel from 1 to 2pm for a lunchtime concert on Friday 29th July.

All are welcome, but please come in good time to guarantee a seat.

Historian Luke Dineen to speak at the Spirit of Mother Jones Festival 2022.

As 2022 signals a return to real festival events, we are happy to announce that Luke Dineen will once again speak at this year’s Spirit of Mother Jones Festival. 

Labour and trade union historian Luke has appeared at many of our festivals and is one of the most popular contributors. 

He brings to life the often forgotten history of the trade union movement in Cork and its proud contribution to bettering the lives of ordinary people.

Luke, who was awarded a PhD in labour history from UCC will speak on the “Cork General Lockout of 1923”.

The end of the Civil War in May 1923 encouraged the Cork Employers’ Federation (CEF) to demand wage reductions across a wide range of workplaces in the city. Discussions and negotiations with the unions failed to resolve the issues and by July 1923, the ITGWU dockers were on strike. The employers insisted on wage reductions of  up to 25% and further reductions in workers allowances which the unions refused to accept.

On 20th August 1923, most businesses in Cork closed, the Cork Lockout had begun, over 6000 workers were on strike. 

It was part of a wider effort by employers in other cities and towns across Ireland to bring about wage cuts.

Despite large marches, sackings, mass unemployment and growing signs of serious shortages of food and coal stocks, John Rearden, a solicitor and secretary of the CEF refused to compromise and the impasse dragged on in the city. 

Recently elected TD and UCC Registrar Alfred O’Rahilly acted as arbitrator in the dispute and agreed a resolution with Trade Union leader Jim Hickey.

Most workers went back on reduced wages by mid November and while at  the end of the day, both sides accepted compromises, the trade unions suffered most as the lockout used up much of their financial resources in strike pay, Payments to strikers by the ITGWU were almost 24,000 pounds representing 15% of all the union’s expenditure for 1923. (1919 was under 1%). Membership fell to a third of its 1923 level by 1928. Employers still retained the right to hire and fire at will. 

Most employees were back at work by early November. 1923 was an annus horribilis for the Irish Trade union movement.

The new Free State government had signalled that they no longer needed to encourage the acquiescence and support of organised Labour in the struggle for independence.

The government instead aligned with the new State’s established business class, whose pragmatic rapprochement with the new political order reflected the inherent conservatism of the real victors in the Irish Civil War. 

Luke Dineen will speak at the Shandon Maldron Hotel at 11.30 am on Saturday 30th July. All are welcome. 

Sources: 

Article by Luke Dineen ‘Class War in Cork’: The Cork General Lockout of 1923′ in Saothar 46.  (Journal of the Irish Labour History Society 2021).

Article by Francis Devine, The Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union in Cork City and County 1918-1930. (Journal of the Cork Historical and Archaeological Society Volume 124, 2019).

May Day Mother Jones Birthday Party in Chicago.

The May Day Party for Mother Jones will take place at the Irish American Heritage Centre at 4626 North Knox Avenue in Chicago from 4:00 pm to 6:00 pm.

Among those participating are: 

  • Kevin Byrne, Ireland’s Consul General to Chicago and the Midwest.
  • Sara Nelson President of the Association of Flight Attendants CWA, AFLCIO.
  • Don Villar, Secretary Treasurer Chicago Federation of Labour.
  • Also participating are singers and artists such as Paddy Homan, Kathy Cowan and the SAG-AFTRA singers while artist Lindsay Hand will sign posters.

All proceeds will go towards the Chicago Statue Campaign.

There are very few monuments which commemorate women in Chicago and as with most cities everywhere none of working class women.

Statue of Mother Jones.

Why not  assist the Chicago campaign to ensure that a beautiful statue is erected to honour Cork born Mary Harris who as Mother Jones worked ceaselessly to help immigrants of many nationalities to organise for decent wages and safe working conditions by joining the American trade union movement!. 

A broad based fundraising committee in the City has been active in fundraising to bring the dream of the Mother Jones statue to reality. 

Image of Proposed Statue of Mother Jones in Wacker, near Michigan Ave, Chicago.

With the help of the American trade unions and many others, the committee is close to achieving this ambition.  Let’s put this iconic Irish immigrant refugee and a founder of the American Labour Movement–the Mother of the working class–on a statue in the city she called home.

Go to the website www.motherjonesmuseum.org to see how you can help.   

https://www.motherjonesmuseum.org/event-details/mother-jones-may-day-birthday-party-may-1-2022-4-6-pm-chicago are hardly any sculptures of women historical figures in the city of Chicago.

https://conta.cc/3DzmU9T

Mount Olive Cemetery to honour the family of Mother Jones.

A commemorative bench honouring the memory of the family of Mother Jones will be unveiled on May Day 2022 at the Union Miners Cemetery in Mount Olive.

The grave of Mary Harris/Mother Jones lies in this unique cemetery, her memory forever immortalised in the large grave monument erected in 1936 to her memory.

Loretta Williams at the Mother Jones Monument.

During the forthcoming Mt. Olive International Mother Jones Festival 2022, the Union Miners Cemetery Perpetual Care Association along with the Illinois AFL-CIO and the UMWA Local 1613 will dedicate a memorial bench to her often forgotten husband George Jones and her children, Elizabeth, Mary, Catherine and Terence who died in Memphis during the Yellow Fever epidemic of September 1867.

Entrance to Mt. Olive Cemetery courtesy of Pat Schmeder.

To hear directly from the Mayor of Mt Olive John Skertich and Nelson Grman, a member of the Union Miners Cemetery Perpetual Care Committee, long-time union activist and promoter of Mother Jones please click on the following link. 

https://youtu.be/6wGmP2e5ZGk

Honouring Their Fighting Spirit.

The decision by Cork City councillors on 15th March 2022 to rezone the Bessborough area marked Children’s Burial Ground to a landscape preservation zone, was as a result of the sustained campaign fought by members of the Cork Survivors and Supporters Alliance (CSSA) over many years. This zoning should help to enhance the protection afforded the burial grounds on the site of the former Bessborough Mother and Child Institution. The location of the remains of up to 859 babies who died is still uncertain. 

Following the successful appeal by the CSSA in 2021 to the An Bord Pleanala (the Irish Planning Board), which led to the refusal of planning permission for the construction of blocks of apartments on the site, this Cork City Council decision represented further vindication for the survivors of Bessborough Mother and Child institution in their efforts to protect this burial site. 

Members of the CSSA, who were present in the Council Chamber received a huge round of applause from Cork City councillors at the meeting.

Front Row L to R: Catherine Coffey O’Brien, Ann O’Gorman with the Spirit of Mother Jones Award 2021, Maureen Considine.  Back Row: Maureen Sullivan, Mary Dunlevy, Phil Kinsella and Sheila O’Byrne of the CSSA outside Cork City Hall.

The CSSA was nominated to receive the 2021 Spirit of Mother Jones Award for their outstanding efforts to protect the site. 

Earlier in the evening at City Hall the 2021 Spirit of Mother Jones Award was presented personally to CSSA’s Ann O’Gorman by Gerard O’Mahony on behalf of the Cork Mother Jones Committee. 

Ann’s daughter Evelyn, born almost 50 years ago in Bessborough, was buried in an unmarked grave there.

Ann O’Gorman with the Spirit of Mother Jones Award

Ann was described by Maureen Considine of the CSSA as ” an amazing campaigner and an inspirational hero to all of us”. 

She has demanded for many decades that this site should be “marked, protected and blessed”.

This Cork City Council decision will  contribute to the preservation of the burial site and the realisation of Ann O’Gorman’s dream.

St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Chicago 2022 with Mother Jones.

Congratulations to all involved with bringing Mother Jones to the St. Patrick’s Day Parade. The Mother Jones inflatable was paraded through the streets of Chicago, on Saturday 12th March and received a great reception from the thousands lining the streets. Brigid Duffy also appeared as the Chicago Mother Jones.

The parade honoured Chicago’s essential workers. After a two year break due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the parade returned to Columbus Drive on Saturday, where the Chicago River was dyed green, a 60 year tradition. This event is believed to be the largest neighbourhood based St. Patrick’s Day parade outside of Dublin, drawing as many as 150,000 people.