Presentation of Spirit of Mother Jones 2022 to Don O’Leary of the Cork Life Centre.

Don O’Leary, director of Cork Life Centre is presented with the 2022 Spirit of Mother Jones award in an emotional ceremony during the Spirit of Mother Jones Festival.

The award was presented by James Nolan and was followed by a sustained standing ovation from the large number of people present. 

Don O’Leary receives the award from James Nolan.

Don is the first Cork man to receive the award and he commented afterwards that it meant so much to him as Mother Jones was one of his heroes for seeking to prevent the exploitation of children in the mines and mills of America and ensure they received an education and also that he and the Cork Life Centre had been selected by the ordinary people of Cork. This represents the ultimate recognition for his efforts and the wonderful work of the staff and volunteers of the Cork Life Centre.

Don O’Leary and Rachel of the Cork Life Centre with the Cork Mother Jones Committee
Left to Right: Rachel Lucey, Don O’Leary and Sharon O’Neill of the Cork Life Centre.

The Spirit of Mother Jones citation for Don O’Leary and the Cork Life Centre was read. 

For his courage and determination to ensure that children and young people are not left behind by the Irish education system.

For his Trojan efforts and that of the volunteers and staff at the Cork Life Centre to create a positive and practical community of learning which is welcoming, supportive and encouraging of young people.

For his advocacy of human rights and social justice especially in relation to children’s rights and their opportunities to progress to the best of their creative abilities and individual talents which contribute so much to a better community and world.

For his refusal to accept that one size fits all in the Irish education system and for his refusal to compromise in relation to this fundamental student centred approach focused on authentic inquiry and experiential learning and measures success in a radically different way to the standard competitive exam system.

For his practical approach to providing a structured base and a supportive network which has established an educational home for the young people to use their talents and visualize opportunities to fulfil their dreams in life and become productive members of society.

For his encouragement of young people to walk the road of life using their own unique abilities, independence of spirit, critical observation and an appreciation of their own self-worth.  

CORK MOTHER JONES COMMITTEE 2022
Don O’Leary being congratulated by Caitriona Twomey of Cork Penny Dinners.
Left to Right: Don O’Leary, James Nolan and Antoinette Keegan.

A Message from Charlie Bird to Antoinette Keegan for the Spirit of Mother Jones Award 2020

Antoinette Keegan received the following goodwill message from Charlie Bird on the occasion of her visit to the Spirit of Mother Jones Festival 2022 in Cork.

Charlie Bird message to Antoinette Keegan (by permission of Antoinette).

The Award for 2020 which was to have been presented to Christine Keegan of the Stardust Justice Campaign  was presented to her daughter Antoinette  on Friday 29th July 2022 at the Firkin Crane, by James Nolan on behalf of the Cork Mother Jones Committee..

James Nolan presents the Spirit of Mother Jones Award 2020 to Antoinette Keegan.

Sadly Christine passed away in July 2020. Antoinette was accompanied by her sisters Lorraine and Suzanne and uncle Frank and Phyllis and Maurice McHugh who lost their only daughter Caroline in the Stardust Fire on Valentine Day 1981. 

Suzanne, Antoinette and Lorraine Keegan.

The Citation reads as follows:

“The Spirit of Mother Jones Award is awarded this year to Ms. Antoinette Keegan of the Stardust Victims Committee for her determination, resilience and longstanding efforts to pursue truth, accountability and justice for the Stardust victims and their families over almost 40 years.   

Antoinette and her late mother Christine and father John have pursued answers to what happened at the Stardust fire on 14th February 1981, where 48 young people lost their lives, including Antoinette’s sisters Mary and Martina. 

In spite of her own injuries, the loss of her sisters, and the failure of the Public Authorities to provide answers, Antoinette has continued to actively campaign to uncover the full truth of the events of that night. She is an inspiration to so many! 

For her bravery, courage and commitment, Antoinette Keegan is a very worthy recipient of the 2020 Spirit of Mother Jones Award.”

CORK mOTHER jONES committee for antoinette keegan.

Don O’Leary of the Cork Life Centre to receive the 2022 Spirit of Mother Jones Award.

The Cork Mother Jones Committee is proud to announce that the 2022 Spirit of Mother Jones Award will be presented to Don O’Leary, director of the Cork Life Centre. This is the tenth annual award which the committee has made and Mr O’Leary is the first Cork man to receive it. The award will be presented later this week to Mr O’Leary at the Spirit of Mother Jones Festival on Saturday 30th July at 1pm at the Maldron Hotel, Shandon.

Don O’Leary.

Jim Nolan on behalf of the Cork Mother Jones Committee stated;

“We are really pleased to announce that the Spirit of Mother Jones Award for 2022 has been awarded to Don O’Leary, director of the Cork Life Centre for his work and commitment to providing an alternative learning environment to many young people who are outside the mainstream education system.

Specifically Don has shown by his example and dedication to the young people how they can make progress within a different system which places them at the very core attempts to meet their unique needs and requirements.”

Cork Life Centre at Sunday’s Well.

The Committee’s citation for Don O’Leary and the Cork Life Centre includes the following; 

‘For his courage and determination to ensure that children and young people are not left behind by the Irish education system.

For his Trojan efforts and that of the volunteers and staff at the Cork Life Centre to create a positive and practical community of learning which is welcoming, supportive and encouraging of young people.

For his advocacy of human rights and social justice especially in relation to children’s rights and their opportunities to progress to the best of their creative abilities and individual talents which contribute so much to a better community and world.

For his refusal to accept that one size fits all in the Irish education system and for his refusal to compromise in relation to this fundamental student centred approach focused on authentic inquiry and experiential learning and measures success in a radically different way to the standard competitive exam system.’

 

On behalf of the Cork Mother Jones, we congratulate Don O’Leary and the Cork Life Centre. 

They Never Came Home!

Antoinette Keegan will be formally presented by the Cork Mother Jones Committee with the 2020 Spirit of Mother Jones Award on Friday 29th July at 3pm at the Dance Cork Firkin Crane theatre.

Antoinette and her late parents Christine and John along with other families and survivors have campaigned for justice and answers as to why 48 young people including Antoinette’s sisters Mary (19) and Martina (16),lost their lives at the Stardust Fire in the northside of Dublin on Valentine’s Day 14th February 1981. Over 200 people were treated in hospital for injuries sustained in the fire.

Christine and Antoinette Keegan (Sam Boal)

In spite of her own injuries, the loss of two of her sisters and the failure of the State Authorities to provide answers, Antoinette has campaigned to uncover the full truth of the events of that night.  What caused this fire and who was responsible?

Her resilience and commitment to pursuing justice for the 48 children who never came home to their families remains an inspiration to many people. 

In 2019, the Attorney General approved the holding of new inquests to establish the full facts. After 41 years of the campaign for justice, the inquests should finally begin this year.

We wish to express our thanks to Antoinette and members of her family for coming to Cork and speaking about the long standing efforts of the survivors to seek the facts. 

All are welcome to the presentation and discussion. 

The Stardust Complex after the fire.

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.

Spirit of Mother Jones Award Presented to the Cork Survivors and Supporters Alliance.

Congratulations to the Cork Survivors and Supporters Alliance (CSSA) on being the recipients of the Spirit of Mother Jones Award for 2021.

CSSA members, Catherine Coffey O’Brien, and Maureen Considine, accompanied by Sheila O’Byrne, and Phil Kinsella received the award from James Nolan of the Cork Mother Jones Committee during the recent festival. The award itself is based on the story of the Children of Lir in Irish folklore.

From Left: Sheila O’Byrne, Catherine Coffey O’Brien, Phil Kinsella, and Maureen Considine.

Catherine expressed her delight for the recognition and community support which this award represents and stated that the CSSA felt honoured to have been nominated to receive it as it meant so much to the group. 

The official citation from the Cork Mother Jones Committee is as follows. 

“The Spirit of Mother Jones Award for 2021 is presented to members of the Cork Survivors and Supporters Alliance for:

·         Their bravery and determination to ensure that development does not take place on sensitive burial areas of the former Mother & Baby ‘Home’ at Bessborough in Cork.

·         Their efforts to organise a voice for the mothers of deceased children, and to publicly question where the remains of hundreds of babies are buried, and why the records of burials have not been produced to date.

·         Their work in locating the OSI 1950 Map which has a marked location of a Childrens’ Burial Ground in Bessborough clearly displayed.

·         Their resilience in defending and verifying the accuracy of this map at the oral hearing of An Bord Pleanala during April 2021 and for convincing the planning Board to reject the proposed development.

·         Their continuing campaign to seek the right with the common tradition for a dignified burial place for those who died, for the preservation of the burial grounds, for access to the grounds and for the creation of an appropriate memorialisation garden for the mothers and children at Bessborough.

The members of the CSSA are the second Cork-based recipients of this International Award which is named in honour of Cork born Mary Harris known around the world as Mother Jones.

The Cork Mother Jones Committee is honoured that the CSSA has accepted the 2021 award which indeed is an acknowledgement of our admiration for their determination to honour the dead, and continue to fight for the living.