The seventh Spirit of Mother Jones Festival floated away gently to the sweet sounds of ukulele music and songs at the sunny Shandon Plaza on Saturday evening. Earlier a large crowd had assembled at the Mother Jones plaque to serenade and toast in the traditional manner “the most dangerous woman in America”……………not really an inaccurate description for Cork woman, Mary Harris!
A proud accolade for a Cork woman!
Events began on Wednesday afternoon when the Lord Mayor, Cllr Mick Finn had declared the festival open. Style was the order of the day when Joan Goggin, Eadaoin and Aoife along with Loretta Williams (America’s Mother Jones) attended along with the glamourous Cobh Animation team and the singing Shandon Shawlies under the direction of Richard T Cooke.
The annual American connections remain strong as two perceptive speakers, John Barimo and Emily LB Twarog discussed the rise and reasons for Trumpism. Their solid work, sensible comments and statistics ensured a better understanding of the current political situation in the USA.
A packed attendance viewed the Irish premiere of Fords – Memories of the Line. A theatre thronged with ex Ford workers reverberated with talk, tales and fun. Ninty four year old Gus who was present summed up his views “Henry Ford might have owned our hands………but he never owned our minds”. Frameworks Films, Bill Daly and the ex-Ford workers have made a classic documentary by simply allowing the workers to tell their own story! A rare gem!
Cork’s gentle giant and Irish Citizen Army hero, Thomas Corkie Walsh was brought to life by Luke Dineen, whose work reveals his all too short life. Corkie has recently been remembered by fellow Cork stone masons, spearheaded by Jim Fahy, who have erected a permanent headstone.
Another full house at the Firkin heard Anne Twomey tell the complicated story of Cork’s MacSwiney sisters and their sister-in-law Muriel Murphy. Following a sensitive and empathic presentation, Anne opened the pages on their lives and with every page they became all the more extraordinary. In a room with several people who had known the women, layers of history were peeled away. Is Muriel MacSwiney forever to remain like Mother Jones once was…… another forgotten Cork woman?
More recent Irish history was unveiled by investigative journalist Frank Connolly in his review of some of the activities of the National Asset Management Agency.
The ongoing revelations of the huge role played by women in the early 20th Century continued with Micheline Sheehy Skeffington outlining the role of her grandparents Hanna and Francis in the events of those turbulent days. Louise Ryan further revealed the workings of Ireland’s suffrage movement through the priceless historical treasure trove of the Irish Citizen newspaper.
The documentary Up to the last Drop – The Secret Water Wars of Europe also attracted another capacity crowd, the Cork and Irish elements in this disturbing story aroused huge interest. Pride on the final evening led to many tears as the unique act of solidarity between members of the London LGBT community and the Welsh striking miners was celebrated. The wondrous dynamism of the late Mark Ashton left one feeling a sense of loss even at a 30 year remove.
Cork Singers Club under bean a tí Helen O’Donovan provided a unique traditional opening to the festival. Their pure singing voices are in stark contrast to the ubiquitous background music now permeating our very existence. John Nyhan and Mitchelstown man Mick Treacy unearthed many of Ewan MacColl’s songs, while the tender rendering of his 1958 classic The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face by Sean Roche, returned from Australia, will live long in the memory of those attending. Jimmy Crowley was in mighty form on Friday afternoon, while the duo of William Hammond and Linda Quinlan added traditional Irish music and songs.
A highlight of this year’s summer school was the stunning personal account of her long fight for justice by Louise O’Keeffe. Her emotional description of her difficult and lonely journey through the inhumane and soulless Irish Court system left many listeners angry. A callous Government immediately demanded full costs amounting to many hundreds of thousands of euro from this brave woman and this attitude continues today with others in the same boat. Ministers hide behind legal jargon, replicated in scandal after scandal. In an absorbing account, devoid of bitterness, Louise’s riveting talk illuminated our souls by her painful honesty and her wondrous strength of character.
Louise O’Keeffe is an exceptional West Cork woman!
Mary Manning told her story of the Dunnes Stores Strikers. It is a magnificent story, the account of how ten union shop workers changed a whole country’s perception of Apartheid, and how they changed Irish Government policy. These young women and Tommy Davis and their union official Brendan Archbold gave the future South African President, then locked in prison, hope and inspiration and ensured that the African people knew they were not on their own. They are all worthy recipients of the Spirit of Mother Jones Award 2018.
We salute Mary Manning and the Dunnes Stores Strikers!
And so the curtain falls on the 2018 festival. The Cork Mother Jones Committee thank all who helped. Thanks to all associated with our venues, the new Cathedral Visitor Centre, the Firkin Crane and the Maldron Hotel. To our many sponsors and the Trade Union movement, to our participants, regulars and visitors, we say thanks and we will announce the dates of the 2019 festival shortly.
Any ideas for speakers or topics, email your suggestions, meanwhile please continue to………..
”Pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living.”