Political and corporate corruption – have we learned the lessons from past?

 

Tom Gilmartin

Tom Gilmartin (Photo via the Irish Post)

On Friday 22nd November 2013, Tom Gilmartin passed away at the Cork University Hospital. He was 78 years old and died of kidney failure due to heart complications. Following his removal from the Wilton funeral home, his body was taken on its last journey, initially to his own place at Grange, Co Sligo and finally to Urris on the Inishowen Peninsula, where his wife Vera is from and where he was  laid to rest. Trevor McBride’s classic photo of Tom’s funeral in the cemetery at Urris, with the bleak November landscape as its backdrop remains an enduring image.

No political figures attended his funeral, Official Ireland was absent. Yet the story of Tom Gilmartin and his treatment by a corrupt planning and political system is literally a parable for modern Ireland. His experiences at the hands of some planners and some politicians is told with great humanity and forensic skill by investigative journalist Frank Connolly in his classic bestselling book “Tom Gilmartin – The Man who brought down a Taoiseach and exposed the greed and corruption at the heart of Irish politics” (Gill and Macmillan 2014).

While he co-operated with the author and read the final manuscript, Tom Gilmartin, the man who did the State some service, did not live to see this book published but he would surely have been proud of the telling of the story which lies within.

Fintan O’Toole has commented that “Tom Gilmartin did all Irish people an immense service by telling the truth about the corruption and cynicism he encountered at the very top of the political system”.

From the car crash Late Late Show of Friday night 15th January 1999 where E.U. Commissioner Padraig Flynn made derogatory comments about him and Vera… to his straightforward, candid and forthright honesty at the Mahon Tribunal, Tom Gilmartin told a story of a hidden Ireland and made a memorable mark on Irish politics. His revelations revealed a corrupt system of planning in Dublin and in the politics of planning which was at the very root of the property and banking crash of 2008 and which ruined the lives of hundreds of thousands of people.

The emigrant, the family man, the businessman, the patriot, he was many things and he told the truth. Tom Gilmartin deserved better from Ireland!

Gilmartin Book

Cover of Frank Connolly’s book on Tom Gilmartin

Frank Connolly first met Tom Gilmartin in 1998, began work on the book in 2004 and over almost the next decade talked to him and his family and then awaited the Mahon Tribunal findings which largely vindicated many of Gilmartin’s allegations.

Frank Connolly

15.7.08. Dublin. FRANK CONNOLLY Writer/Journalist. ©Photo by Derek Speirs

In a lecture entitled “Political and corporate corruption – have we learned the lessons from past?” Frank Connolly will discuss the Tom Gilmartin story, the Mahon tribunal findings and the subsequent Irish financial and banking collapse. He will go on to examine what has happened since in the light of the recent sell-off of Irish property assets to global vulture funds.

Frank Connolly will present his lecture at the Spirit of Mother Jones summer school at the Maldron Hotel, Shandon, Cork, on Saturday 5th August at 11am. All are welcome.

 

 

 

Shandon area spruced up, flowers for Mother Jones

Plaque

The Mother Jones plaque with fresh flowers

The Shandon area has been freshly spruced up thanks to the work of Shandon Tidy Towns, Shandon Area Renewal Association (S.A.R.A) and the local community.  Weeds and overgrowth have been removed and fresh flowers are up at the Mother Jones plaque on John Redmond Street.

Looking good folks!

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.