Tony Benn – an appreciation


By Chris Mullin

During his long political career Tony Benn went through many incarnations: pillar of the Labour establishment, Cabinet minister, tabloid bogeyman, and serial dissident…national treasure.  Former Labour minister and fellow diarist, Chris Mullin, for 35 years one of one of Benn’s closest friends,offers a sympathetic but not uncritical assessment of one of the most significant politicians of the post-war era.

Tony Benn (1925-2014)

Tony Benn (1925-2014)

Tony Benn was a British MP for 47 years. He died on 14th March 2014 at the age of 88. Benn led an eventful life, he enlisted in the Royal Air force during the Second World War. He had to renounce his hereditary peerage in 1963, in order to take a seat in the House of Commons, which created huge sympathy for him as he had been denied a seat in spite of coming first in an election.

He opposed entry to the Common Market, served as Chairman of the Labour Party as well as in several cabinet posts and stood a few times for the leadership of the Labour Party. Tony Benn was a colourful politician, always in the thick of the action and controversy, very much as a leftwinger in the Labour Party and he loved to debate. As President of the “Stop the War Coalition” against the invasion of Iraq he spoke at what was probably the largest march/demonstration ever to take place in Britain in 2003.

Tony Benn has left behind a huge library of published diaries of his activities, books and texts of speeches.

Chris Mullin will speak about his friend and colleague on Saturday morning 1st August at the Maldron Hotel, Cork at 10.30am  

A Sense of Wonder- the story of Rachel Carson

Rachel Carson

Rachel Carson at work

On Saturday 1st August the Cork Mother Jones Committee is privileged to present the film A Sense ofWonder with the kind permission of Kaiulani Lee. The film showing will take place at the Maldron Hotel at 2.30pm.

When biologist and author Rachel Carson wrote Silent Spring in 1962, little did this quiet lover of the peace of the oceans and the tranquility of nature think she would be catapulted into a seething controversy which would make her name synonymous with the fight to defend the natural environment!Today she is regarded by many as the founder of the worldwide environmental movement.

Her book challenged the production by the multinational chemical industry of toxic chemicals for use in the countryside and which caused the widespread destruction of wildlife. She raised the fundamental issue of the “balance of nature” and how it had been altered by the use of fungicides, pesticides and herbicides. She asked specific questions about the DDT, which was used widely at the time, which does not break down in the environment and accumulates in the food chain.

The book was published by Houghton Mifflin in 1962, following the publication of a number of extracts in The New Yorker in June of that year, and had sold over 100,000 copies by December. There was huge controversy! The book was savagely attacked by the chemical industry and its many friends in Government and Big Science. Rachel and many of her colleagues defended her arguments and the debate convulsed America and the wider world.


The documentary A Sense of Wonder shows the private and human Rachel Carson in the autumn of 1963, portrayed by Kaiulani Lee, as she realises that the cancer she has battled so bravely cannot be beaten. She worries about her adopted son Roger and considers with a mixture of humour and resignation the many attacks on her book.

This film is heart breaking and poignant as she considers her final months, mired in controversy and yet she displays a steely determination to defend her book and the very future of the natural environment. It is shot by Oscar-winning cinematographer Haskell Wexler at Rachel Carson’s seaside cottage in Maine as she is about to depart for the final time.

Starring Kaiulani Lee, her performance has been described by Paul Brooks, Carson’s editor and biographer as “This is the Rachel I knew, brought to life with almost uncanny skill and understanding”. Ms Carson died on April 14th 1964.

Rachel Carson in later years

Rachel Carson in later years

In 1973 Rachel Carson became one of the first members of The National Women’s Hall of Fame.Mary “Mother” Harris Jones and Blues singer Bessie Smith were admitted as members in 1973.

Ms Lee will present the film A Sense of Wonder and will be available for a question and answer session afterwards.





The Birmingham Six – lessons learned

Chris Mullin - A Walk-On Part

Chris Mullin – A Walk-On Part

Chris Mullin will appear at the Spirit of Mother Jones Festival on Thursday 30th July 2015 at 7.15pm at the Firkin Crane.

The campaign to free the six innocent men convicted of the Birmingham pub bombings has been described as “one of the greatest feats ever achieved by an investigative reporter”.    Author, journalist and politician, Chris Mullin, tells the story of the campaign and reflects on lessons learned.

Chris Mullin is the author of ‘Error of Judgement – the Truth About the Birmingham Bombings” and helped research four ‘World in Action’ television documentaries about the case.

On Thursday, November 21, 1974, bombs exploded at the Mulberry Bush pub and Tavern in the Town in Birmingham killing a total of 21 innocent people. Six people were arrested, charged and convicted of the bombings, Hugh Callaghan, Patrick Hill, Gerry Hunter, Richard McIlkenny, Billy Power and Johnny Walker. They were innocent. They were finally released in 1991 having spent almost 17 years in various prisons.

Error of Judgement – The Truth About the Birmingham Bombings was first published in 1986. A paperback edition was published by Poolbeg Press in 1987 and many editions after that.

Error of Judgement

Error of Judgement 1990

Mary Holland, writing in the Irish Times stated “There is admiration for (Chris Mullin’s) dogged tenacity, which has probably been the single most important factor in the getting the case….referred to the Court of Appeal”

The book which is meticulously researched, expertly arranged to tell the story of how six Irishmen came to be convicted of a crime of the murder of 21 people which they did not commit.

Lord Denning, Master of the Rolls gave his infamous decision in 1980 during a police appeal in a civil action by the convicted men;

“If the six men win, it will mean that the police were guilty of perjury, that they were guilty of violence and threats, that the confessions were involuntary and were improperly admitted in evidence and that the convictions were erroneous. That would mean the Home Secretary would either have to recommend they be pardoned or he would have to remit the case to the Court of Appeal. This is such an appalling vista that every sensible person in the land would say: It cannot be right these actions should go any further”

Error of Judgement hardback

Error of Judgement hardback

Chris Mullin, in Errors of Judgement incisively and comprehensively exposed the appalling vista to the world……..but he questions if the lessons have been learned!






Open Day at the new Mother Jones Museum (Illinois)

Our friends at the Mother Jones Museum in Mount Olive, Illinois, USA will be holding an Open Day there on Saturday, 20th June following the rededication of the Mother Jones memorial at the Union Miner’s Cemetery in Mount Olive where Mother Jones is buried. The Open Day will be from 11 to 3pm (after the end of the rededication ceremony) at the museum which is located at 215 East Main Street, Mount Olive. All are welcome.

Open day at Mother Jones Museum, Mt.Olive, Illinois

Open day at Mother Jones Museum, Mt. Olive

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.