Memories of the Spirit of Mother Jones Festival 2022

Yes! We did it again!

Mother Jones returned to sprinkle her unique magic over this our eleventh festival gathering in and around Shandon from 28th July till Saturday evening 30th July. Following two years of Covid-19 where the events were mainly pre-recorded for television which allowed our festivals to continue and be enjoyed although human contact was at a minimum, it was a great relief to meet up with people again and witness the interaction and discussions at a real event. Our heartfelt thanks to Cork Community Television for covering both the festivals for 2020 and 2021.

Prior to this festival, an extremely worried committee wondered would people come along, would they attend, did they remain apprehensive, how would they react to the real-life presentations by speakers, enjoy music and songs by musicians and singers?

The answer was definite and yes, they did! People came in huge numbers and participated actively and eagerly.

Each year there is something very special about the recipients of the Spirit of Mother Jones awards, their endless efforts to demand justice or to seek a better and fairer society create such a positive energy field at the festival.  

Antoinette Keegan with Don O’Leary.

The sheer dignity, passion and joy of Antoinette Keegan and her family, who lost her sisters Mary and Martina is humbling. Year after year since the 1981 Stardust tragedy, the Keegan family and many other families bereaved by the fire that Valentine’s night continue to seek the truth for the loss of their 48 children who never came home. The Spirit of Mother Jones Award for 2020 was to have been presented to Christine Keegan however Christine (Antoinette’s Mam) sadly passed away on 14th July 2020 and Covid-19 had prevented the presentation to Antoinette since then.  

Phyllis and Maurice McHugh, whose beautiful daughter Caroline died in the fire also attended and it was a privilege for everyone to listen to and hear their heart-breaking stories. Their resilience and quest for the truth is awesome.

Likewise, the Spirit of Mother Jones Award for 2022 went to Don O’Leary and all at the Cork Life Centre. Their vision and practical support for young people who fall through the education system and the cracks in society has been shown to work and work effectively. Yet the support of the educational establishment for this vision often fails to provide the resources necessary to ensure the continuation of the extraordinary work being done for the young people who enter its protective doors. 

A theme of many of the festivals has been the failure to acknowledge the role of women in history, something Mother Jones would have been familiar with. The role of five Cork women during the revolutionary period was examined in the latest Shandon Area History Group/Frameworks Films production Ordinary Women in Extraordinary Times documentary was examined. Sisters Nora and Sheila Wallace and Mary and Annie MacSwiney along with their sister-in-law Muriel Murphy. One day soon Cork will surely acknowledge properly all of them and so many others. The Cork City Council documentary Endurance and Engagement introduced us all to four other Cork women who made a huge contribution to the city.

Professor Maggie O’Neill in collaboration with Traveller Pride launched the Feminism Walking Tour of Cork which as it expands and develops will highlight the huge role of women in history and society and will become a highlight of a visit to Cork city. Rain on the evening proved no obstacle to the inaugural walkabout.

Cork Feminist Walk

As the Decade of Centenaries reaches a close, the work of a few historians continues to explore with a critical eye the experiences of many women during the period. Anne Twomey certainly did not hold back as she detailed the shocking treatment meted out to some women by all sides during the War of Independence and Civil War. The idea that Irish wars are different and that women were treated with a civility and respect by all sides in those wars certainly needs to be examined and discussed. The violence perpetrated on women remains unspoken about as the accounts remain untold or hidden away in the silence and omerta of the participants and the files. The truth needs to be told before the Decade of Centenaries fades away, otherwise it may never be! 

Looking to impacts on Irish society from earlier years, Angela Flynn in a presentation in which past events influenced current failures, gave a forensic analysis of what our health service might look like had Dr Noel Browne’s Mother and Child Scheme been successfully implemented in the 1950s. Her forensic presentation was a perfect way to honour the efforts of this visionary doctor and politician on the 25th Anniversary of his death.

Angela Flynn with Mary Crilly, Freewoman of Cork City.

Cork’s own Mother Jones, Joan Goggin had earlier honoured her own father’s friend, labour leader James Larkin for the 75th anniversary of his passing. Historian Luke Dineen delivered a fascinating account of the General Strike in Cork in 1923, another forgotten labour battle lost in the midst of the Civil War and its aftermath, although the outcome of the strike had a hugely negative impact on thousands of Cork workers and their families.

We learned about Red Tom Hickey from Westmeath, we visited the magnificent North Cathedral and in the company of Anne Twomey, we examined the Baptism register for 1837 and the baptism font where Mary Harris was baptised on August 1st of that year.

Baptism Font in the North Cathedral, Cork
Cllr. John Sheehan, acting Lord Mayor with speaker Peter Buckingham.
Denis Wilson, Shandon Area History Group, Liam O’hUigin, with Ann Piggott.

Visions of what a united Ireland might look like were debated with trade union representatives from TUNUI and later with author Frank Connolly. Liam O hUigín took us out on an early morning tour of Shandon.

What a wonderful night we had with the legendary Cork Singers’ Club and to hear again singers such as Therese MacCarthaigh and her husband Sean from Blarney Street and so many others was a special treat, our thanks to everyone especially Jim Walsh and William Hammond.

Therese and Sean McCarthaigh

Eve Telford and Jimmy Crowley showed just how good they can be for the traditional Friday festival lunchtime gig, while the legendary John Nyhan and his son Gearoid provided further practical evidence as to just how relevant the songs of Woody Guthrie still remain after more than eight decades.

Eve Telford with Jimmy Crowley

The traditional final toast at the Mother Jones Plaque allowed us all the opportunity to remember absent friends. We honoured committee member John Jefferies (RIP) and so pleased that his sister Monica was on hand to receive a special presentation from everyone who worked with John on the Cork Mother Jones Committee. We remembered Manus O’ Riordan, Liam Cahill and Helen O’Donovan and other absent friends also. 

Monica Jefferies with Joan Goggin.

So many people and organisations helped to bring the eleventh Spirit of Mother Jones Festival to fruition. Frameworks Films, Cork Community Tv, the Shandon Area Renewal Association, Shandon Area History Group along with the Shandon Maldron Hotel and Dance Cork Firkin Theatre.

Cork City Council Heritage and Tourism Departments along with the City and County Libraries and Cork City and County Archives have been hugely helpful and supportive. We wish to thank Cllr. Damian Boyle, Cllr. Colette Finn, and Cllr. John Sheehan who attended the festival as acting Lord Mayor of Cork. Also, we are grateful to Cllr. Kieran McCarthy and Cllr. Ted Tynan for their assistance.

Our sponsors in the Irish Trade Union movement ensure the unique festival takes place and guarantee that it remains open and free to all to attend. SIPTU at Liberty Hall has sponsored the festival from its very beginning and we are very grateful. Likewise, the Association of Secondary Teachers in Ireland, especially the Cork South Paddy Mulcahy Branch. IFUT, the INTO and Connect are also valued sponsors. Local sponsors include the Cathedral Credit Union and Cllr Ted Tynan.

Special mention to Mary Dineen, Joan Goggin, Eadaoin and Aoife, Anne Twomey, Jimmy Crowley, Luke Dineen, John Nyhan and the Cork Singers’ Club for their support. Finally, to all our speakers from far and near who come and speak and engage in debate and enjoy the wonderful atmosphere on the north side of Cork. The festival remains relevant to people, it must remain when necessary willing to challenge the accepted orthodoxy and above all we wish to remain interesting.

Let us know by email what you wish to discuss at next year’s summer school. Our email is motherjonescork@gmail.com.

Our thanks too to Friends of Mother Jones around the world for their encouragement especially those in Chicago, Mount Olive, Washington, Colorado and elsewhere. Cork may have given Mother Jones to the world, now Mother Jones is bringing the world to Cork.

Provisional dates for the 2023 festival are Thursday 27th July to Saturday 29th July 2023.

Hope to see you there.  

Cork Mother Jones Committee 2022.

Richard T Cooke, James Nolan, Ann Piggott, Dominic O’Callaghan, Ann Rea, William Hammond, Geraldine McCarthy, Shannon Smyth, John Barimo, Angela Flynn and Gerard O’Mahony.                   

 From Allihies to Leadville, Another ‘Trail of Tears’.

Leadville Miner Memorial, (J Goltz),

Today as one descends into the community from the high Castletownbere road, the beauty of Ballydonegan Bay and Allihies village on the Beara peninsula in West Cork remains stunning to the eye. Alive with tourists, music and life in the summertime, it slumbers gently during the wild winter months. The hills all around are dotted with the remains of mine sites, there is a busy Copper Mine Museum providing a focus point for information, study and relaxation in the linear village. One can walk the Allihies Copper Mine Trail, in the footsteps of the miners. The village’s past is bound up with the local mines and their impact, its future is to tell the miner’s story.

Mining began here in 1812 at Dooneen, established by John Puxley, the local landlord, followed in 1813 by the Mountain Mine and in 1818 by the Caminches Mine. Mines opened and closed, Dooneen in 1838, Caminches in the 1840s.  Eventually mine shafts pockmarked the hills rising to the north of the village. By 1842, upwards of 1600 men and boys, some from Cornwall, worked underground and across the hilly landscape. The large Kealogue mine opened.

Working conditions were brutal, many died, and strikes were smashed in a ruthless manner. As the great Famine devastated West Cork (1845-1852), food was brought in by the Puxleys to keep the mines in operation. The emigration of some miners and their families began. The miners especially at the Kealogue mine were concerned by safety issues and went on strike in 1861.

Later in 1864, there was a confrontation with the local Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) when they marched on the Mountain Mine to demand better pay and conditions. Further strikes followed over low wages and resentment grew as the mine owners constructed extravagant additions to their Puxley Manor at nearby Dunboy Castle. Emigration continued as workforce was reduced, the mines were sold and finally closed in 1884. Sporadic attempts to reopen mines, including some exploration for base metals and uranium have taken place in the 1970s, but the old mines remain a silent testament to a difficult past.   

Many miners and their families journeyed to the USA, using the infamous coffin ships, facing disease and exploitation upon arrival. They remained always transient, for ever journeying westwards to the copper mines of Butte, Montana and to Michigan, to Pennsylvania, and onwards to Leadville, high in the Rocky Mountains in Colorado.

Prospector Abe Lee struck gold at California Gulch in Colorado about 1860. Will Stevens followed around 1875 and when he discovered the silver-bearing carbonate of lead in the old diggings at an altitude of 10,000 feet, the miners quickly renamed the old town. Leadville immediately became a magnet for the silver rush of the mobile mining workforce arriving in the New World. 

Originally a mining camp, Leadville prospered in the bonanza and developed a notorious reputation for gambling, brothels and drinking saloons as vividly described by the local Daily Chronicle newspaper. However, it was not that unlike nearby mining towns such as Cripple Creek, or indeed Deadwood, or Butte. By 1890, Leadville had a population of 25,000 and six churches. And by 1896, Leadville was so wealthy that in a display of ostentatious civic pride it was able to construct an Ice Palace, costing $20,000 and covering some 5 acres. In the same year, there began a nine-month strike by the Cloud City Miners’ Union (local of the Western Federation of Miners WFM). The miners were seeking a daily rate of just $3.00, yet they were defeated and at least six miners died in the conflict.

Colorado National Guard protecting mines during the Leadville Union Strike of 1896 (Denver Public Library).

Hundreds of Irish miners joined the rush to the tiny town. Research by Assistant Professor, James Walsh at the University of Colorado in Denver has identified hundreds of graves at the Catholic and paupers’ graveyards at Evergreen Cemetery in the town. Many contain remains of young Irish miners and their families, some from West Cork.

James Walsh estimates from his research in the Catholic parish records that 1400 people are buried in unmarked graves in the paupers’ section and up to 70% of them have Irish names. Their average age is just 23 years and half of them were children under 12. There could be up to 2500 Irish immigrants buried in the wider cemetery. A significant number can be linked back to Allihies.

Their brief lives underground were filled with dangers, sickness and back breaking work for very little money. The journey from Allihies to Leadville in many ways represents a further “trail of tears” * for the mining population of the Beara peninsula who now lie in often unmarked graves among the woods of the town.

Experiences of underground miners were captured by photographer, Timothy O’Sullivan, a young veteran of the American Civil War whose work down in the pits has preserved for ever this hell-like subterranean prison of the mining life. His images of ghostly and gaunt men with far away expressions working deep underground are matched in the work of Tom McGuinness, miner and artist who painted remarkable images of the silent and lonely coalminers in the mining tunnels of the North East of England almost a century later.

The Loneliness of the Underground Miner: Photo (Timothy O’Sullivan). National Archives USA

For those who have never mined in the mineral veins of the earth, it is hard to imagine the oppressive heat, the dirt and filth and the sheer loneliness of men and boys who rarely saw the daylight of the magnificent Rocky Mountains. It was the new world of many Irish and some did not survive for long in the horrific and dangerous working conditions of this snowbound town. 

Miners in the Shaft Lifts at Cripple Creek (Denver Public Library.)

Some Irish prospered. In 1880, Thomas Francis Walsh, from Tipperary discovered a vein of quartz bearing silver at Leadville and made a huge fortune. James Doyle, James Burns and John Harnan made a fortune at Cripple Creek. The “Silver Kings” of Cornstock were four Irishmen, John Mackay, James Fair, James Flood and William O’Brien. So as miners and their families worked for a few dollars a day, the “Kings” flaunted their riches, building gigantic mansions, erecting marble columns, and commissioning pure silver candelabras.  

The silver rush continued into the 1890s when most local mines closed, the remaining miners headed to Denver and the Colorado coalmines of John D. Rockefeller where they and their descendants’ joined unions at the urging of Cork born Mother Jones, and the United Mine Workers Union under John Mitchell in the early 1900s. Others later took part in the bitter West Virginia/Colorado Coal Wars of 1913/14, which culminated in the Ludlow Massacre.

On a beautiful Saturday afternoon in September 2022, Alan Grourke, President of the Irish Network in Colorado introduced a series of speakers to a crowd which had gathered to witness the emotional unveiling of a memorial to the Irish miners and their families who lie buried alongside. The memorial depicts “Liam” the miner as he sits, facing back to Ireland some 7000 kms. to Allihies with his miners pick and an Irish harp.

Liam the Miner faces Ireland (J. Goltz).

James Walsh speaking to Denver 7, a local TV station said as he walked near the unmarked graves among the trees stated.

“This is what class looks like in America, they were forgotten……instead of honouring the monarchy, we are honouring the poorest of the poor and that’s a radical thing to do, it changes perspectives, it changes dynamics and by honouring nineteen century workers, we honour 21st century immigrant workers too.”

Irish Consul, Micheal Smith, representing the Irish government which contributed financially paid tribute to the organising committee for their dedication to erecting the memorial, while the Mayor of Leadville, Greg Labbe provided an account of the harsh lives of the miners. Historian Kathleen Fitzsimmons pointed to the rounded stones forming the memorial and the pathway as a symbol of the spiral and urged people to visit this “sacred space” and leave the world better for their children. The Irish Miners’ Memorial is expected to be completed in 2023.

A blessing of the memorial then took place by Native American Cassandra Atencio, member of the Southern Ute Tribe on whose native lands the graveyard and memorial lies. The blessing provided further historical and symmetrical symbolic connections between the indigenous people of North America and the Irish.

The Choctaw Nation contributed funds to the town of Midleton in Co Cork during the Famine in 1847, despite being forced on their own ‘Trail of Tears’ during the ethnic cleansings of 1831-1833. Several thousand tribal members died on those marches.

Monument to the Choctaw at Midleton, Co. Cork.

The Ute people always lived in harmony with their wild environment and took care of Mother Earth.

An Ute prayer for the planet.

May the Earth teach you stillness as the grasses are stilled with light
May the Earth teach you suffering as old stone suffer with memory
May the Earth teach you humility as blossoms are humble with beginning

May the Earth teach you caring as the mother who serves her young
May the Earth teach you courage as the tree which stands you all alone
May the Earth teach you limitation as the ant which crawls on the ground.

May the Earth teach you freedom as the eagle which sores in the sky
May the Earth teach you resignation as the leaves which die in the fall
May the Earth teach you regeneration as the seed which rises in the spring.

May the Earth teach you to forget yourself as the melted snow forgets its life
May the Earth teach you to remember kindness as dry field weep with rain.

An appropriate monument and a fitting blessing for all those who lie in soil of Leadville.

*During the harsh winter of 1602/3 following defeat of the Irish at the Battle of Kinsale, Beara Chieftain, Donal Cam O’Sullivan Beare had led a thousand people from his peninsula clan and home on a 500 kms. March north to Co. Leitrim to escape the English attacks…after a trail of tears……. just thirty-five reached safety among the O’Rourke clan in Leitrim!

The Unveiling of the Irish Miner Memorial at Leadville Colorado (Courtesy of James Goltz).

Visit Allihies Copper Mine Museum, http://www.acmm.ie,

Visit INCO Irish Network Colorado, http://www.irishnetworkco.com.

Feminist Walking Tour of Cork Launched at Festival

Professor Maggie O’Neill launched the walk, a printed map and website for the new feminist walking tour of Cork on Saturday  30th July at the Spirit of Mother Jones Festival. 

Professor Maggie O’Neill

The launch was a collaboration with Mother Jones Festival and TVG Traveller pride. Following a brief introduction, a large number of the participants headed off to visit a number of the sites, including the Traveller Visibility Centre, the Mary Elmes Bridge, the Sexual Violence Centre and the Mother Jones Plaque.

Feminist Walking Tour at Mary Elmes Bridge

While some representations of women can be found, and some streets are named after queens and saints, there are no monuments to women in Cork City. Yet the women of Cork have made an enormous contribution to building better communities throughout the city and far beyond. 

Professor Maggie O’Neill

The Cork Mother Jones Committee wish to congratulate all associated with this venture which focuses on celebrating the contribution of women to Cork City and explores “the role of women in addressing sexual and social inequalities and building fairer, safer communities”. 

https://www.feministwalkcork.ie/

Further Information in relation to Cork Street names from Cork Mother Jones Committee:

It does appear as if the only female representation used on Cork street names are indeed those of queens and saints/religious figures. The name of Queen Victoria appears on approximately eleven place name locations in Cork City; the renaming of the area around MacCurtain Street as “The Victorian Quarter” is the latest example.

Interestingly, over one hundred place names in Cork City are named after saints, representing thirty-one saints, seven of which are female. (only St Mary, St Joseph and St Patrick can match Queen Victoria in popularity). 

Dozens more place names have religious associations such as the names of popular Cork priests or Italian saints. Just two nuns, both founders of religious orders such as Mary Aikenhead and Nano Nagle are remembered on a road, places and a bridge.

Names such as Bernadette, Mary, Margaret and Geraldine appear on Cork street names and they are probably connected to saint names also.

Only Dr Mary Hearn (2011) and Mary Elmes (2020 ) who have had the honour of recently having a park and a bridge named after them in the city may be deemed to have come from a secular if somewhat privileged background.

To date it appears that no secular working class woman has been bestowed with the honour of her name being placed on any public structure or street in Cork City. When one realises that Thom’s Commercial Directory of 2004 listed some 2805 streets in Cork City and yet no street is named after an ordinary Cork woman, it is a very serious omission and represents gender and class discrimination on an epic scale in our city.

Happy Birthday, Mother Jones

Mary Harris was born in Cork City in 1837.

On the morning of 1st August 1837, she was baptised by Fr. John O’Mahony in the North Cathedral.

Her parents were Ellen Cotter and Richard Harris, and her sponsors were Ellen Leary and Richard Hennessy.

St. Mary’s Cathedral Baptism Register 1833- 1853.

Her sister Catherine was baptised in the Cathedral on the 29th March 1840, while brother William was baptised here on 28th February 1846.

(Our thanks to Anne Twomey, Bernard Spillane of the North Cathedral and Nora Hickey of Kinsale for her genealogy work.)

Anne Twomey points to the then location of the baptismal font in the Cathedral of St. Mary & St. Anne – Nora Hickey looks on (right).

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.

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. 

A Visit to Cork’s Beautiful North Cathedral.

On Friday July 29th at about 11:00 am we will gather at the magnificent North Cathedral of St Mary and St Anne and known affectionately throughout Cork with some understatement as the ‘North Chapel’. It was originally dedicated in 1808 on the site of an earlier church.

Cork’s Beautiful North Cathedral

Anne Twomey will give a brief history of the Cathedral with particular reference to its connections with the baptism of Mary Harris on the morning of 1st August 1837. 

Launch of Feminism Walking Tour Website, Followed by a Walk.

Professor Maggie O’Neill in collaboration with Traveller Pride will launch the Feminism Walking Tour website followed by a walk.

Professor Maggie O’Neill.

Gather outside the Maldron Hotel Shandon at 3.45 pm on Saturday 30th July. All welcome.

The thematic focus of this walk is on celebrating the contribution of women to art, culture, society and the city; exploring the role of women in addressing sexual and social inequalities, and building fairer, safer communities. The walk, which is the first in a series of walks, writes women into the spaces and topography of the city. The walk was created in discussion with students from University College Cork, Naomi Masheti, Cork Migrant Centre; Danielle O’Donovan, Nano Nagle Place; Mary Crilly, Sexual Violence Centre Cork; Eileen O’Shea, Traveller Visibility Group; John Barimo, Mother Jones Plaque and James Cronin, Honan Chapel.

The walk and website will be launched at the Mother Jones Festival 30th July 2022!

New Documentary: Ordinary Women in Extraordinary Times.

The documentary ‘Ordinary Women in Extraordinary Times’ will be shown at the Cork Dance Firkin Crane in Shandon on Friday evening 29th July at 7.30 pm.

A new documentary about some of the women who played an important role in the revolutionary period in Cork will be screened at the Dance Cork Firkin Crane Theatre in Shandon, Cork on Friday 29th July at 7.30pm, as part of the Spirit of Mother Jones Festival 2022.

According to Lil Conlon, one of the members of the Shandon Cumann na mBan in Cork, a question that was often asked in the early years of the Irish Free State was“ What did the women do anyway”?  This documentary tells the story of what two sets of sisters did during the War of Independence and attempts to answer that question in part.

‘Ordinary Women in Extraordinary Times’ tells the story of five women –  Nora and Sheila Wallace and Mary, Annie and Muriel MacSwiney. These women played a vital role in the formation of the Irish state and yet the detail of what they did and how they managed to do these tasks whilst still playing their other roles as wives, mothers, teachers and shopkeepers has received little attention.

The documentary first tells the story of how the Wallace sisters ran a newsagents shop on Augustine Street in Cork city centre, which effectively became the unofficial headquarters of the No 1 Brigade of the Cork Volunteers after their own headquarters on Sheares St was closed after the Rising. Florrie O’Donoghue from the brigade is quoted as saying “If any two women deserved immortality for their work…they did!”  Their story is told by members of the Shandon Area History Group and also by Bill Murphy, grand-nephew of the sisters and by Bernadette Wallace, their niece.

The second family to feature in the documentary are the MacSwiney family. Mary and Annie MacSwiney were the sisters of Terence MacSwiney, former Lord Mayor of Cork, whose death by hunger strike whilst imprisoned in Brixton Prison made international headlines and Muriel MacSwiney, their sister-in-law, was his wife. This section will be told via interviews with  Anne Twomey and Maeve Higgins, members of the Shandon Area History Group and also with Cathal MacSwiney Brugha, the grandson of Muriel MacSwiney and grand-nephew of Mary and Annie MacSwiney.

The documentary has been produced by Frameworks Films in collaboration with the Shandon Area History Group and was funded by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland. It will also be broadcast at 8pm on Sunday 31st July on Cork Community Television, which is available on Channel 803 on Virgin Media’s digital cable package and online on www.corkcommunitytv.ie

For further information please email emma@frameworksfilms.com

‘Dark Times, Dark Deeds, Long Shadows:  the experiences of some women in the Revolutionary Years’  

Historian Anne Twomey will address the treatment of some women during the Revolutionary years on Thursday evening, the 28th of July, at 8.00 pm at the Cork Dance Firkin Crane on the opening day of the 2022 Spirit of Mother Jones Festival. This forms part of our coverage of the Decade of Centenaries at festivals over the past few years.

Speaker, Anne Twomey, at the Festival launch with Cllr. Damien Boylan, Deputy Lord Mayor of Cork.

General background to the treatment of some women during 1916-1923 and afterwards by all sides in the conflict from the Cork Mother Jones Committee. 

Starting in 1966, the fiftieth-anniversary celebrations of the 1916 to 1923 period almost ignored the role of the Citizen Army (ICA), rarely referred to the Civil War’s events and largely side-lined women’s contribution to the struggle. Observers at the time may have wondered why the 1916 Proclamation addressed to the people of Ireland’ IRISHMEN and IRISHWOMEN’ seemed to apply only to the Irish men.

1916 Proclamation

In 1966, it appears as if the women relatives of the men of 1916, were recognised and honoured. The actual women participants were largely ignored.

The conferring of honorary degrees on the nearest surviving relatives of the seven signatories of the 1916 Proclamation on the 14th of April 1966. (Source: Cuimhneachán 1916-1966),

Source: Cuimhneachán 1916-1966 Commemoration Booklet.

Rose McDermott, sister of Seán Mac Diarmada receiving an honorary Doctor of Laws in 1916, surrounded by President De Valera, Fr. O’Callaghan, and Sr. Mary Emanuel, and Sr. Mary Mercy. (Source: Cuimhneachán 1916-1966),

Fifty years later, in the current ‘Decade of Centenaries’, the essential contribution of women to the struggle for independence has been added to the narrative of the period.

Of further significance is the emergence from the silence and shadows of the war years of increasing evidence of the cruel and inhumane treatment of some women by all sides during the revolutionary years and in the new Irish Free State both during and long after the end of the Irish Civil War of 1922/23.

It can be argued that evidence of the participation of women was always to be found if one knew where to look and asked the right questions. However, as Sinead McCoole in “No Ordinary Women” discovered, many quiet, unassuming Aunt Bridies (Bridie Halpin) around the country existed. Their long-lost collections of personal materials in attics were found and revealed their vital and valuable contributions to the fight for Independence.

Additionally, the important work of Margaret Ward, Louise Ryan and Linda Connolly and many other academics and writers have highlighted and challenged the unacknowledged gender-based violence against women which occurred across the wars. 

For every high-profile Countess Markieviez, Kathleen Clarke or Mary MacSwiney, there were also hundreds of nameless women involved. Some sacrificed their health and took huge personal risks to ensure the day-to-day functioning and operational integrity of the secret revolutionary infrastructure of the Irish Republican Army was protected, while challenging the British forces and demanding a real democratic republic.  Kathleen Clarke, widow of Tom Clarke, one of the 1916 Proclamation seven signatures, while in Holloway Jail in London in 1918, detailed her inhumane treatment in the autobiography “Revolutionary Woman”.  

Mrs. Clarke was born into the Daly family in Limerick city. Her brother Ned was executed after 1916, two sisters, Nora and Laura, were in the GPO, and the family was regularly harassed by the British Army.

During a raid in October 1920, her two sisters, Una and Carrie, were physically attacked by the British raiding party. Una was dragged into the street where her hair was cropped, and her hand was slashed with a razor. The terror, shock and subsequent trauma of brutal hair cropping inflicted on many women by the male protagonists on all sides left an insidious lifetime mark on women treated in such a degrading and dehumanising manner.

Yet later, during the Civil War, following another disruptive Free State army raid on her home in 1922, Kathleen sadly comments. 

“Running through my mind was all I has suffered at the hands of the British, and now my own people were causing me more suffering, and it hurt more because they were my own” 

Eithne Coyne described her treatment in Mountjoy Prison, in Survivors in 1921 before and after the Truce.

“It was fairly tough that time in the Joy, with only four hours of exercise, and a lock up at half past four………the food was very bad; a tiny piece of meat twice a week, and for the rest of the time a thin soup. They came to your door accompanied by one of the ordinary female prisoners carrying these rusty two-tier cans that never seemed quite clean, with a small one sitting on top, in which was your tea, soup, cocoa or whatever was being served”

EITHNE cOYNE “sURVIVORS”

Publications such as “Ordinary Women in Extraordinary Times” detailed the arrest and imprisonment by British forces of seventeen-year-old Mary Bowles from Clogheen on the northside of Cork City in January 1921. Various reports suggest she was very badly treated. Regular raids took place by British forces, and their harsh treatment meted out to women in isolated farmhouses and homes all across the country, which were left wrecked or burned by the Black and Tans, went largely unreported at the time.

Kathleen Keyes McDonnell described a military raid on her family mill and home at
Castlelack near Bandon.

“One morning towards the end of January 1920, police and military forced an entry by the back door before 7 a.m. One soldier put a bayonet to my forehead ordering me to get out of bed; another seized my arm and shook me roughly”

Tom Barry’s memory of the Crowley family in Kilbrittain, especially of Mrs. Crowley “sitting on a stool in the yard, gazing thoughtfully at the ruins of her blown up and burnt-out house” with members of her family dead or in prison, following a visit by the infamous British Essex Regiment, leaves no one in any doubt as to the brutal actions of the military during the War of Independence.

The kidnap and execution by the IRA of Mary Rawson, known as Mrs. Lindsay, following her betrayal of the planned Dripsey ambush, which resulted in the execution of five IRA men and the death from wounds of a sixth in February 1921, clearly declared that women were not immune to the ultimate penalty. This elderly woman’s long period of detention as a hostage and her eventual execution during March 1921 in Rylane, Co Cork was extensively documented by local historian Tim Sheehan in his book ‘Lady Hostage’ published in 1990.

Around the same time, 45-year-old Bridget Noble (Neill) was executed as a spy by the IRA at Ardgroom in West Cork. From the available accounts, both executions of Mary Lindsay and Brigid Noble were particularly gruesome. Their deaths were followed by a total veil of silence and the remains of both women have not been recovered.

In ‘A Hard Local War’, William Sheehan references the deaths of Nellie Carey and Essie Sheehan, whose crime was that they were accused of ‘going out’ with British soldiers and ex-soldiers.

In the course of her paper to the Irish Civil War National Conference in Cork in June 2022, Dr. Mary McAuliffe spoke of the violence inflicted on Bridget Carolan in Longford, Margaret’ Ciss” Doherty in Donegal, the Walsh sisters in Kerry and Margaret Doherty of Co Mayo by the National Army during 1922 and 1923. These were just a few of those women who suffered. The attack on Eileen Biggs in Dromineer, Co Tipperary, in June 1922 by anti-Treaty IRA men, who escaped justice, was one of the violent events reported in the media.

Diarmaid Ferriter’s recent publication on the Irish Civil War ‘Between Two Hells’, provides an account of some of the suffering of women during the period. He tells of Cork Cumann na mBan members Ellen Carroll who, as a result of her wartime activities, contracted TB in 1924 and young Johanna Cleary and Mary Carey who both died in 1924 as a result of an earlier Civil War hunger strike in Kilmainham Gaol.

Pension Discrimination Experienced by Women.

Ferriter refers to the efforts of their families and Cork activist Nora O’Brien (Martin), who had been arrested and imprisoned several times after 1916, to submit applications for small pension gratuities, which often failed due to mean-spirited pension adjudicators. What is striking about this is the indifference and bureaucratic cruelty of the State pension adjudication system, usually manned by former male comrades. They regularly and coldly refused to award even paltry payments to many women who had endured deprivations, trauma and bad health arising directly from their wartime activities.

Women could only apply for the lower levels of pension payments, a grade D or E pension, the highest levels (A, B and C) were reserved for active men only. Hundreds of women across the country were refused pensions based on narrow criteria as to what constituted ‘active service’. This unfair treatment continued for many decades as the women aged and needed assistance.

Efforts to obtain pensions often resulted in women who had risked their lives and liberty being subject to bureaucratic ritual humiliation by those men in charge of decision making. Cork activist Siobhán Creedon Lankford applied for a pension on 28th December 1935 based on her service as an Intelligence Officer with the Cork No 1 and 2 Brigades.

On 13th November 1941 Siobhán was notified of the granting of a Rank E pension calculated at three and a half years service although she had been active from the age of 22 to 29. She immediately appealed and sought a Rank D pension, which was denied. Siobhan received just £17.10s per annum by way of pension. Her story is fully documented by Éamon and Máirín Lankford in Appendix 1 of the 2020 edition of The Hope and the Sadness.  It makes for sad reading indeed and reflects poorly on the attitude of the Military Pensions Board towards the role of women in the war years. 

A headline in the Irish Independent newspaper of Monday 30th May 1921 declared “Daring Cork Exploit”.  The news item gave a brief account of the escape of Dolly Burke from the Womens’ Prison in Sundays Well, Cork. Dolly Burke of Ballinure, Co. Tipperary was the first woman to break out of jail during the War of Independence. 

After being sentenced to four months in Cork Jail for her activism, on the evening of 27th May 1921, some local Cork activists including Peg Lawlor of Blarney Street and Brian Martin helped her to escape. She was not arrested again. 

From 1918 onwards, Dolly had set up and ran the IRA intelligence network in much of South Tipperary. She formed Cumann na mBan in the area and was harassed regularly by the British forces and her fiancé Tom Donovan was shot dead by them. Her brother Michael was on hunger strike in Cork prison, the same time as Terence MacSwiney. He was later wounded breaking out of Kilkenny Jail. They became the only brother and sister to escape from prisons during the War of Independence. Dolly maintained an arms dump near her home for the Republican side in the Civil War and later emigrated to the USA until 1934.

Yet when Dolly applied for her military pension in 1940, she was allowed only part service from 1920 and at the lowest E rank. Even a letter of support from Dan Breen did not budge the pension authorities.

Another prison escape involving women, took place on Halloween night in 1921 during the Truce, when Eithne Coyne, Linda Kearns, Mary Burke and May Keogh got over the walls of Mountjoy.

Women Fighting for Real Social Change!

Author Liz Gillis raises a fundamental point in her publication ‘Women of the Irish Revolution’ when she comments:

“Whereas the men were fighting for the Republic, the women while also fighting for that ideal, were additionally fighting for real change. They asked what exactly this Republic would mean for ordinary people, for the poorer parts of society”  

In reality, a large number of the women revolutionaries were fighting for meaningful social change, and one is forced to question the ulterior motives and ideals of the increasingly comfortable male leaders of the new Irish State. Did the leadership desire any social change or movement towards social justice in light of their fierce hostility towards the women activists who had fought alongside them in the War of Independence?

Sinēad McCoole provides a list of some eighty-three women imprisoned after the 1916 Rising; at least twenty were from the socialist Irish Citizen Army (ICA), led by James Connolly, who were a very socially aware group. Ann Matthews lists twenty-eight members of the female auxiliary of the ICA who were “in action” in 1916 in her publication The Irish Citizen Army.

In all, over 70 women were coming and going to the General Post Office (GPO) at some point during Easter Week, while at least 270 women were directly involved around Dublin during the week of the Rising. These figures clearly demonstrate the high level of activity by women activists over that period.

No Ordinary Women also contains a further prisoner list of women held in Kilmainham Gaol, Mountjoy Jail and the North Dublin Union during and after the Civil War. The extensive records list five hundred and fifty names of Republican women interned and imprisoned during this period, many of whom were kept in terrible conditions. Many of the names and addresses of those women make for stark reading in that they remain largely unknown, although women had become increasingly visible in the Civil War. Almost forty of the incarcerated women on that list were from Cork; who were they? Do we know their life stories?

Incessant verbal and media attacks on women activists by the Free State leadership leading to the mass imprisonment, ill-treatment and detention for many months of Republican women commenced soon after the Civil War began. Hundreds of women from all over the country were arrested on a mass scale, something which even the British authorities were reluctant to attempt during the War of Independence.  Eithne Coyne estimated that about forty women and girls in total, some of them as young as fifteen were incarcerated in prison by the British until the signing of the Treaty in December 1921, when they were released.

Some spent time on hunger strikes during this period and endured beatings and punishment. Several died soon afterwards due to illness and medical conditions arising at very young ages. Later following their release back into their families and communities, these traumatised women were often dismissed and described as simply “suffering from their nerves’.

The use of much of this violence was not accidental or down to rogue individuals. It appeared to form part of a systematic State policy intended to smash the resistance of the women, yet no one has been held accountable for the harsh treatment they endured while in custody. Few efforts were made to bring the elements of either the National Army or the Anti-Treaty forces responsible for the violence against women to justice. The policy of impunity permitting freedom from sanction enjoyed by those responsible created a de facto official immunity for male participants on all sides. In the absence of a truth and reconciliation commission, the cruel treatment of some women remains a stain on the birth of the State.

Wars are cruel and savage affairs where the normal rules of interaction, consideration, dignity and respect among some participants are lost. Passionate political views on both sides of the Civil War divide, when transformed into violent action, unleashed the dogs of war. This sundered the once solidly united Cumann na mBan and resulted in former friends and comrades becoming bitter enemies in the early years of the new State. The war cast a long shadow.

As the six female TDs rejected the Treaty along with the leadership of Cumann na mBan and most of their activists, one has to question if this opposition by the high-profile female revolutionaries, triggered the savage Free State hostility from the Pro-Treaty leaders to all Republican women activists? Was it due to this hostility that during March 1922 in Dail debates, both Michael Collins and Arthur Griffith, indulging in political opportunism, opposed the enfranchisement of women over 21 in the new Free State? In spite of their opposition, the Irish Free State Constitution enacted in June 1922 provided that all Irish citizens over the age of 21 were entitled to vote. 

As a result, Ireland developed into a mean-spirited place for many women in the subsequent decades as the ruling political and exclusively male establishment, closely aligned with members of the Catholic Church hierarchy, ignored and actively discriminated against women in employment, health and education.

The Republican women were eventually released yet the State assault on the rights of women intensified. Withdrawal of employment rights of women by Irish governments began immediately. By 1924, an effective ‘Marriage Bar’ was imposed on women working in the civil service, later extended to the public sector such as the Post Office and even to private sector employers such as Guinness and Jacobs. 

Under British rule a 1919 UK statute provided for most women to serve on juries, however by 1927, Minister for Justice Kevin O’ Higgins had excluded all women from “the horrors of criminal courts”. Under Eamon de Valera who came to power in 1932, divorce in Ireland was banned under the 1937 Irish Constitution, reflecting the socially conservative policies of the Catholic Church. Earlier in 1935, contraception was made illegal in Ireland. 

Tens of thousands of women who broke the Church’s moral teaching were incarcerated in the Magdalen Laundries and in the Mother and Baby Homes. Thousands more emigrated quietly due to economic necessity and local social stigma, to Britain and the USA, and continued to do so until progressive women’s voices began to rise again in the 60s and 70s.

Among those who stayed on in the new Ireland of the 1920s such as Kathleen Lynn, Helena Molony, Rosie Hackett, Charlotte Despard, Madeleine Ffrench-Mullen, Elizabeth O’Farrell, Hannah Sheehy Skeffington, Delia Larkin, Leslie Price, Dorothy Stopford Price, and Winifred Carney (the last woman to leave the burning GPO!), they and others were in the forefront of the subsequent efforts over the decades to bring about a more equal, fairer and compassionate society. 

The Casualties of War.

Although women were regarded as non-combatants during the wars, it may come as a surprise that so many lost their lives, especially in Cork during the five-year war period. If the records of University College Cork’s “Cork Fatality Index”, which covers some of the period of the Decade of Centenaries are examined, one cannot but be horrified today at the general level of violence throughout Cork City and County. Of the eight hundred and twenty-seven who died in Cork from 1919 to 1923, twenty-five were women, including eleven who were killed during the Civil War. 

Reading the accounts of their deaths, it is clear that the great majority were innocent victims of the fighting and general mayhem happening around them in Cork. The names of Albina Murphy aged 34, a member of the Irish Union of Distributive Workers, Madge Daly aged 24, Mollie Egan aged 24, shot in the neck; Kate Crowley; Lillie Gallagher, aged 8, killed by a bomb, May Hall, nineteen-year-old Josephine Scannell killed by a stray bullet while sewing and sitting by her window on Frenches Quay are probably unknown to most people.

The girls and women and others who died may be remembered only by their families today, yet they were the horrific casualties of the violent birth of our country and should not be forgotten. Their deaths should continue to remind everyone of the enormous price paid by many ordinary people during war.

To quote Cork woman Mary Elmes, speaking about World War Two on the cost of warfare:

“War is a terrible thing, which is never won. It’s always lost. Everybody loses.” 

Sources and Further Reading.

Diarmuid Ferriter, Between Two Hells, The Irish Civil War (Profile Books 2022)
Kathleen Clarke, Revolutionary Woman 1878-1972, An Autobiography (The
O’Brien Press Ltd 1991) Cuimhneachán 1916-1966 Commemoration Booklet.
Tim Sheehan, Lady Hostage Mrs. Lindsay (Cork 1990)
Sinēad McCoole, No Ordinary Women (The O’Brien Press Ltd 2015)
Liz Gillis, Women Of The Irish Revolution (The Mercier Press 2014)
Shandon Area History Group, Ordinary Women In Extraordinary Times (2019)
Louise Ryan, Drunken Tans: Representations of Sex and Violence in the Anglo-
Irish War (1919-21). Feminist Review 2000. 
Dr Mary McAuliffe, ‘Violence and indiscipline? The treatment of ‘die-hard’ anti-
treaty women by the National Army 1922-23. Irish Civil War National
Conference.
Ann Matthews, ‘The Irish Citizen Army’ (The Mercier Press 2014)
Kathleen Keyes McDonnell, ‘There is a Bridge at Bandon’ (The Mercier Press
1972)
Tom Barry, ‘Guerrilla Days in Ireland’ (The Irish Press 1949)
William Sheehan, ‘A Hard Local War’ (The History Press 2011)
Paddy Butler, ‘The extraordinary story of Mary Elmes, the Irish Oscar Schindler’
(Open Press 2017) Linda Connolly, Understanding violence against women in the Irish Revolution –
a global context. RTE.
Cork Fatality Index, University College Cork. Siobhán Lankford. The Hope and the Sadness (Celum Publishing of Cork 2020). First published by Tower Books 1980. Margaret Ó hÓgartaigh, Kathleen Lynn Irishwoman, Patriot, Doctor (Irish Academic Press 2011). Uinseann Mac Eoin, Survivors, Argenta Publications 1980, 20 Marlborough Road, Donnybrook, Dublin 4. Karen Minihane, Extraordinary, Ordinary Women: Untold Stories from the Founding of the State,