Remembering Michael O’Riordan – A Neighbour’s Child

Michael O'Riordan in uniform

Michael O’Riordan, International Brigade Volunteer (1938)

Michael O’Riordan was born on the 12th November 1917, at 37 Popes Quay in Cork City. He was the youngest of five children. His parents, Micheál O’Riordan of Inchinossig and Julia Creed of Illauninagh came from Ballingeary in Muskerry, Co Cork.  His father, Micheál, was a carter at Cork docks and later opened his own grocery shop on Adelaide Street in Cork City’s Middle Parish.

Michael attended school at the North Monastery and even though still a young teenager, Michael became politically active in the early 1930s and took part in the confrontations with the Blueshirts (Ireland’s fascist organisation) on the streets of Cork. He joined the IRA and supported the Republican Congress under Peadar O’Donnell and Frank Ryan, which sought to establish an Irish Socialist Republic. Later he joined the Communist Party of Ireland.

The Cork City of Michael O’Riordan in the mid-thirties was in ferment, there was an atmosphere of intimidation and hysteria fuelled by reports of attacks on the Catholic Church in Spain by Spanish Republican forces. An example was on 20th September 1936, some 40,000 people attended an Irish Christian Front meeting in the City. This Front was a reincarnation of the old Blueshirts organisation, although with wider appeal.

Founded in 1936, it was led in Cork by Liam De Róiste, former Sinn Fein T.D.,  and on that evening in September, Professor Alfred O’Rahilly former T.D., Registrar and future President of University College Cork warned the huge crowd of the dangers of communism and lashed out at the trade union movement for their support of Republican Spain. Later that same night, Gardai had to baton charge Christian Front demonstrators outside the Bridewell as they had attacked a number of people, who they claimed were communists.

Christy Moore, centre, whose song “Viva La Quince Brigada” was composed while reading “Connolly Column” by veteran Micheal O’Riordan, is pictured with four Irish International Brigade veterans. Left to right: Peter O’Connor (Waterford), Micheal O’Riordan (Cork), Bob Doyle (Dublin) and Maurice Levitas (Dublin).

In was in this hostile political and social climate that O’Riordan bravely volunteered to go to Spain in April 1938 to join up with the International Brigades. He became one of about 250 Irishmen who fought on the Republican side, around 15 of them were Cork born. Some 600 other Irishmen went to Spain under Eoin O’Duffy to support Franco’s army with over 50 from Cork city and county. This “Irish Brigade” saw little action.

Having joined the XVth International Brigade, O’Riordan saw action immediately and fought in several of the engagements. He was wounded by shrapnel on the Ebro front on the 1st August 1938, having earlier carried the Catalan flag across the river Ebro in what was to prove the final Republican attack mounted by the International Brigades. Following the demobilisation of the International Brigades, O’Riordan arrived back in Dublin on December 10th 1938.

Of the contribution of Irishmen to Spain: Michael O’Riordan in his book Connolly Column stated,

“Compared numerically with the other national contributions to the International Brigades, that of Ireland was a small one. What it lacked in numbers was made up for in quality, integrity and battle-courage. The contribution was made under the most difficult of internal political circumstances”

Later in 1939 he began training IRA units in Cork and was arrested and imprisoned in the Curragh Internment Camp from February 1940 to August 1943. He learned Irish under Mairtìn O Cadhain at the language classes and was one of dozens of IRA men from Cork interned in the camp.

Michael O’Riordan (left) with Maurice Levitas (Dublin) and Peter O’Connor (Waterford) at the Jarama memorial site in Spain

On his release he became very active in labour politics and on 14th June 1946 he stood as a Cork Socialist candidate in the bye-election in Cork and polled a very creditable 3184 votes.  Michael and Kay Keohane from Clonakilty, Co. Cork were married in November 1946. They had three children. Both Kay and her sister, Máire Keohane-Sheehan were and remained committed activists in the labour and trade union movement.

He worked as a bus conductor in Cork and later in Dublin and remained active all his life in the ITGWU. Michael campaigned on many social issues such as housing, he stood in a further five general elections in Dublin and served as General Secretary of the Communist Party of Ireland from 1970 to 1983. Later he served as Chairman of the Party until 1988. He also campaigned on behalf of the Birmingham Six.

Very active in the International Brigade reunions, Michael helped to ensure the return of the remains of his old commander, Frank Ryan, from Germany in 1979. The same year he published “Connolly Column, the story of the Irishmen who fought for the Spanish Republic 1936-1939” which is the most influential and informative history of the Irishmen who went to fight and of the 60 or so Irishmen who died in the International Brigades. Honoured by the Cuban government in 2005, he was presented with the Medal of Friendship.

Manus O'Riordan

Manus O’Riordan with the International Brigades banner

Michael dedicated the book “To the memory of my Father who, because of the propaganda against the Spanish Republic in Ireland did not agree with my going to Spain, but who disagreed more with our “coming back and leaving your commander, Frank Ryan behind”. Christy Moore credited the book, which he read while on holiday in Spain, with inspiring his song “Viva La Quinta Brigada”.

Michael O’Riordan died on the 18th May 2006 aged 88. Kay had passed away in December 1991.

 

 

To celebrate the 100th anniversary of Michael O’Riordan’s birth at nearby Popes Quay, Manus O’ Riordan, his son, will give a talk “Remembering Michael O’Riordan – A Neighbour’s Child” on Friday afternoon 4th August 2017 at the Spirit of Mother Jones summer school. It will form part of a wider examination that day of the events and lessons of the Spanish Civil War. Manus worked as SIPTU Head of Research for many years, retiring in 2010 after 39 years with the One Big Union. He is a noted historian and writer. For full details of the day’s events please consult the final Spirit of Mother Jones summer school programme which will be published in early June.  

 

The Revolutionary Women of Cork’s Northside 1916-1923

On Wednesday evening, the 3rd August, Anne Twomey of the Shandon Area History Group will speak on the above topic at the 2017 Spirit of Mother Jones summer school.

Anne Twomey

Anne Twomey of Shandon Area History Group speaking at last year’s Spirit of Mother Jones Festival

The recent celebrations of the 1916 Rising were marked by an examination of the central role played by many women during the period of the Irish Revolution. In contrast to 1966, when little mention was made, publications such as “No Ordinary Women: Irish Females Activists in the Revolutionary Years 1900-1923” by Sinead McCoole and John Borgonovo in his “Dynamics of War and Revolution: Cork City, 1916-1918” made determined attempt to reveal the story of the contribution of women during this period.

The landmark exhibition by the Shandon Area History Group “Ordinary Women in Extraordinary times” at the St Peters Vision Centre in Cork in June 2016, concentrated on the activities of ten women in Cork whose roles lay largely hidden.

badge

Cumann na mBan lapel badge

Through their efforts and others the full extent of the invisible yet essential infrastructure provided by women which supported the ongoing revolution from 1916 all over Ireland is being unveiled.

With Cork becoming the cockpit of the revolution from 1917 onwards, a number of extremely determined yet forgotten (or ignored) women constructed an impenetrable yet vital support network to the struggle for independence then taking place. Their pivotal and defiant actions, deemed almost irrelevant by history more concerned with the glory of the battle is slowly emerging into the consciousness of their communities.

Anne Twomey at a recent lecture where she detailed the tireless and heroic work of those revolutionary women remarked how “those that knew…..knew!” Now we need to know!

Memorial Window

Stained glass window at Our Lady of Lourdes church, Ballinlough, Cork in memory of Birdie Conway.

The Shandon Cumann Na mBan group after 1916 provides a touchstone for many of the women. At the centre of this group was Lil Conlon and her sisters. Lil was an indefatigable worker who performed many tasks during the troubled period and later penned a book Cumann Na mBan and the Women of Ireland 1913-1925 in which she posed the question “What did the women of Ireland do anyway?”

Lil Conlon book

Lil Conlon’s book on Cumann na mBan (published 1969)

Kate “Birdie” Conway, whose early career was as a professional operatic singer, later became a founder member in Cork of Cumann Na mBan and afterwards Shandon Branch president, played a huge role from 1914 to 1922. Her fundraising, her organising and support activities for prisoners’ dependents and in the cultural area were legendary. She arranged concerts, and often sang at them herself. “Birdie” Conway passed away on 21st February 1936. Today she is remembered by a magnificent stain glass window in the entrance portal at the Ballinlough Church in Cork city.

In Clogheen, on the northern ridge of the city, Mary Bowles was arrested in January 1921 as she tried to hide a Lewis gun while local men escaped from an attempted ambush. She suffered dreadfully at the hands of her captors, and was imprisoned although just a very young teenage girl. She is remembered in a ballad “Mary Bowles… the Pride of Sweet Clogheen

Across in Blackpool, Peg Duggan and her sisters Sarah and Annie, living at 49 Thomas Davis Street, operated an escape network for those on the run for years. Her flower shop on Parliament Street was a centre of Volunteer/IRA activity until closed by order of the British authorities. She was among the first on the scene of the murder of Lord Mayor Tomas MacCurtain in Blackpool on 20th March 1920 and she rendered first aid and comfort for his widow, children and the extended Walsh family throughout that terrifying night.

Emma Hourigan who lived nearby at 45 Maddens Buildings was very active, running intelligence, putting up posters, campaigning and organising. Yet six of her neighbours from Maddens Buildings consisting of just 76 houses were killed during World War 1. Historian Mark Cronin (Blackpool to the Front: A Cork Suburb and Ireland’s Great War 1914-1918) details how hundreds of young men from Blackpool and surrounds had fought in the British Army during the Great War and almost 70 never came home.

Emma Hourigan

Emma Hourigan

From this small Blackpool community one begins to appreciate the complexity of Irish life and history in a small urban village and the difficulties faced by Emma Hourigan and others who bravely took the republican road to freedom. By a sad irony the contributions of the women in the War of Independence and the men who went to fight for John Redmond to achieve Home Rule were virtually written out of Irish history.

In the very heart of Cork City in St Augustine Street stood the innocuous paper shop run by the Wallace sisters who were members of the Irish Citizen Army. This unpretentious premises was effectively the intelligence post office for the volunteers and the IRA for 5/6 years. Nora and Sheila Wallace’s heroic and invisible contribution to the revolution is only now surfacing from the shadows.

Wallace Sisters

Sheila and Julia Wallace

Margaret Lucey typed drafts of Principles of Freedom by Terence MacSwiney, while MacSwiney’s sisters Mary and Annie spent their entire lives working for the achievement of a Republic.

Young Kitty Daly was very active, she took part in the burning of Macroom Railway Station and was involved in the ambush of a British officer near the present St. John’s School.

Geraldine Sullivan (Neeson), was Muriel Murphy’s bridesmaid at her marriage to Terence MacSwiney on 9th June 1917. She transported explosives on her person around the city. The transport of arms and explosives from place to place became normal for the more active women in 1920-1921.

In 5 Devonshire Street, Nora O’Sullivan was actively involved and bravely hid and carried weapons for volunteers, who were subject to constant searches. Sinead McCoole’s book contains a curious self-prophetic note made by Nora to her friend Kitty Coyle, while a prisoner in Kilmainham Gaol during the Civil War….

“Remember me is all I ask,

and if remembrance proves a task,

forget”

 

Their unique stories will be told on Wednesday evening 3rd August by Anne Twomey of the Shandon Area History Group. The Group has made a major contribution to public history by researching and continuing to tell the story of these extraordinary women and others during the Irish Revolutionary period. The Cork Mother Jones Committee wishes to thank Anne Twomey and Maeve Higgins for their research on which this article is based. Photos courtesy of the Shandon Area History Group except where stated.

“A Plastic Ocean” at the Spirit of Mother Jones Festival and Summer School 2017.

plastic pollution at sea

Plastic Ocean – floating plastic

The Cork Mother Jones Committee will screen the stunning environmental film “A Plastic Ocean” at the sixth Spirit of Mother Jones festival on Thursday afternoon 3rd August 2017 at the Firkin Theatre in Shandon. While many regard tackling climate change as being vital to the survival of the planet, other threats are also accumulating in the environment.

This film investigates how the world’s increasing addiction to plastic is impacting the food chain and how that is effecting every one of us through new and developing human health problems. The results will astound viewers as the film captures never-before-seen images of marine life under threat from plastics.

A Plastic Ocean – film poster

A Plastic Ocean is filmed in 20 locations around the world and documents in chilling detail the effects of the some 8 million tons of plastic which we dump in the world’s oceans annually. Each year some 300 million tons of plastic are manufactured in the world, half of which we use just once before we dump it, making it one of mankind’s most destructive inventions.

The film follows documentary film maker Craig Leeson and a free diver Tanya Streeter, who while filming the blue whale, discover huge quantities of plastic floating in the waters off Sri Lanka. What follows is a global odyssey to discover what is happening in the oceans around the world.

Taking four years to film, and costing some $3.5 million the results should force people to question the plastic pathway and urge industry and all of us users to seek safe alternative solutions.

The evidence of plastic pollution which the film makers found shocked them and made them question a world where plastic is everywhere, yet few question why we produce so much, use so much and where it goes when discarded. The build-up of micro plastics and the creation of ocean garbage patches places the viability of the world’s oceans to sustain life under huge pressure.

Tanya Streeter

Tanya Streeter on the island of Tuvalu

The ratio of plastic to plankton in the Mediterranean Sea is 1:2, in some places the small plastic particles outnumber plankton by a ratio of 26:1.  A large amount of discarded plastic carries toxic chemicals such as BPA, phthalates, pesticides and PCBs. Over 90% of seabirds worldwide have plastic pieces in their stomachs. If this trend continues, and with studies showing that plastic is entering the food chains, then what is the future for human health and our very planet?

Plastics are created from the oil hydrocarbons and one solution would be to return plastics to oil. The search for bacteria to break plastic molecules down continues but the oceans or indeed the earth are not able to do so.  Some proposed solutions such as incineration create many toxic and poisonous emissions to the environment. Have the plastic manufacturers any real answers to safeguarding the environment from their products?

Oil Rigs

Oil – leaves lasting damage

Plastic Oceans is a global network of independent not for profits and charitable organisations, united in their aim to change the world’s attitude towards plastic within a generation.

“A Plastic Ocean” will be screened on Thursday afternoon 3rd August at the Firkin Theatre in Shandon as a contribution to an “Environment Day” at the Spirit of Mother Jones festival. Discussion to follow. All are welcome. Further lectures on environmental issues will be announced shortly.

Durham Miners’ Gala 2017 details

new NUM Banner

New banner featuring former Durham Miners’ Association General Secretaries Dave Hopper and Dave Guy. Photo courtesy of Durham Miners’ Association.

For a number of years there has been a close relationship between the Cork Mother Jones Festival and the Durham Miners Association.  We were delighted to be visited by a delegation from the DMA, led by their late General Secretary, Davy Hopper, on a number of occasions.  Sadly Davy passed away suddenly  in July 2016, just weeks before he was due to return to Cork for last year’s Spirit of Mother Jones Festival.  Dave played a key role in revitalising the Durham Miners’ Gala which has been taking place annually in the North of England town since 1871.  The Annual Durham Miners’ Gala 2017 will take place on Saturday 8th July. In addition to the colourful parade of miners’ banners through Durham and the Big Meeting and other ceremonies, the Gala will also feature a weekend music festival with bands and artists.

Dave Hopper & Mother Jones in Cork

Dave Hopper (1943-2016) with the Mother Jones banner at the 2014 Spirit of Mother Jones Festival in Cork.

 

The Marras Festival is a big music festival coinciding with the Durham Miners’ Gala and will take place on the 7th and 8th July at the Houghall Campus in Durham University. All are welcome. For further information visit www.marrasfestival.co.uk

Become a friend of the Durham Gala…email… admin@friendsdmg.org 

New film “Blood on the Mountain” will feature at the Spirit of Mother Jones Festival 2017

Blood on the Mountain

Blood on the Mountain movie poster

Blood on the Mountain is a newly released award-winning documentary.  It  is a fearless look at the 150 year history of the US coal industry. It has been endorsed by both the United Mine Workers of America and Sierra Club.   This is a story of human struggles endured at the mercy of unregulated industries and corrupt politicians.
The film’s director is Mari-lynn Evans who is “a life-long fan of Mother Jones.” She faced terrific obstacles and efforts to stop the film from the coal industry, which “reminded me of what Mother Jones and activists 100 years ago had to face.”
The film, she notes, “is a story of human struggles endured at the mercy of unregulated industries and corrupt politicians,” that should interest people far beyond West Virginia: “The injustices to the workers, environment and communities in the coalfields of Appalachia are the “canary in a coal mine” illustrating to all Americans what happens when corporations are allowed absolute control to inflict atrocities and politicians abdicate responsibility for those they are elected to protect.”

The film is showing at the Mother Jones Museum & Heritage Project Newsletter

May Day Special at the Mother Jones Museum at Mount Olive, Illinois on 29th April.  We are delighted to announce that we will also be showing the film for the first time in Ireland at the 2017 Spirit of Mother Jones in Cork which runs from 1st to 5th August in the Shandon area of the city – further information coming soon when the 2017 Festival Programme is available.
For further information on the Mother Jones events in Illinois visit it the Mother Jones Lives! page on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/MotherJonesLives/

Mother Jones featured on Irish Times series on Irish diaspora

Today’s Irish Times (Saturday, 25th March 2017), includes a features an interesting article on Mary Harris / Mother Jones.  The feature, which is part of an ongoing series of diaspora related articles under the heading “Irish Connections”, covers Mother Jones ‘ personal journey and her campaigning across North America for the rights of working people and their families, especially those consigned to the margins of society and without a voice.

The full article can be read here: http://www.irishtimes.com/life-and-style/abroad/mary-harris-who-became-mother-jones-the-united-states-fiercest-union-organiser-1.3017717