Some Memories of the Tenth Spirit of Mother Jones Festival 2021.

The tenth Spirit of Mother Jones Festival concluded on Sunday night 28th November 2021 with the songs of the Cork Singers’ Club.

The 2021 festival programme required a miracle due to the deterioration in the Covid-19 situation in Ireland and yet the Cork Mother Jones committee and friends ensured the completion of 20 events over the four days and managed to broadcast most of them on Cork Community Television. The extent of the collaboration we received from numerous groups, organisations and individuals to create a festival demonstrates that there is no substitute for people working cooperatively. 

Taking the example of the resilient spirit of Mother Jones as the road map, everyone just “ploughed on”,  (while ensuring full compliance with the Covid-19 regulations to keep people safe), we achieved our aim to carry through with the ambitious programme of events.

Poster of 2021 Spirit of Mother Jones Festival designed by Shannon Smyth.

Highlight for those lucky to be in attendance was the presentation of the Spirit of Mother Jones Award to the brave representatives of the Cork Survivors and Supporters Alliance (CSSA).

Following the televised broadcast of the thought provoking conversation between Catherine Coffey O’Brien and Maureen Considine of the Alliance, they were joined by Phil Kinsella and Sheila O’Boyle for the formal presentation of the 2021 Spirit of Mother Jones Award by James Nolan of the Cork Mother Jones Committee. 

It was an emotional occasion!

One is however left to ponder at the ongoing silence of so many and to wonder how this country can even consider allowing planning applications for development/construction of apartments to take place on the OSI marked burial grounds of hundreds of children?  In spite of our reputation for mourning and honouring our dead, why are marked burial grounds no longer deemed sacred from development and are the hundreds of children whom we as a nation failed in the past to protect not allowed to now rest in peace?

Earlier, adoption rights campaigner Mari Steel who had herself been adopted from Bessborough in the early 60s discussed her journey to locate her own mother Josie. 

A number of Q&A sessions with each of the speakers at the Maldron Hotel followed the Cork Community TV transmissions and the subsequent discussions, arguments and queries were reminders of the sparkle and sparks associated with many of the Spirit of Mother Jones meetings over the past decade. We appreciated the kind comments of Cllr John Sheehan deputising for the Lord Mayor who as he formally opened the festival stated that “he eagerly looked forward to the challenging programme of events at the festival each year as it was essential in any functioning democracy that people ask the hard questions”.

From the tragedy of Tadhg Barry, who spent his entire adult life working in the engine room of the revolution in Cork to the eventful and long life of Muriel MacSwiney, an unlikely revolutionary, the debates and sharing of information went on. The late and much loved Dr Sean Pettit could be seen once again displaying his legendary oratorical skills describing the Cork City of Mary Harris and much more. His final public performance displayed his creative approach to his lectures and his love of Cork City highlighted how he provided the stimulus for generations of local Cork historians.

We did not forget Mother Jones either and many of the documentaries at the festival sought to frame the American background and landscape in which Mother Jones operated in the early 20th Century. We appreciate the assistance of our friends, in America, UK and Greece. Her memory was enhanced in Cork through the efforts of singers such as John Murphy, Cait Ni Cheallachair, William Hammond, Karan Casey, Richard T Cooke and Mags Creedon who performed songs and stories relating to the life of Mother Jones. John and Gearoid Nyhan accompanied by Mick Treacy performed “Let the Mountains Roll”.  Our thanks to the Cork Folk Festival and Cork Singers’ Club for their invaluable assistance. Cork’s own Mother Jones, Joan Goggin and her family Eadaoin and Aoife supporting the event all the way.

As the tenth festival recedes into the memory, so many people and organisations should be thanked. Without Eddie Noonan and the crew of Frameworks Films and Cork Community Television, the festival could not have happened in these never ending Covid days. We really appreciate the practical support our main sponsors such as Cork City Council, Cathedral Credit Union, the ASTI, SIPTU and the INTO as well as the assistance of the Shandon Maldron Hotel and WhazOn Cork which have continued to assist us even as we cannot have normal social gatherings and discussions which were always the heart, soul and magic of the Spirit of Mothers Jones festivals. 

Our thanks go to all the participants this year who give of their time on a voluntary basis to contribute to the events, to designers Abbie O’Shea and Shannon Smyth, website administrator Ferdia O’Mahony and to Ciaran Cronin and Aidan Fitzpatrick of A to Z printers. For 2021 we wish to especially thank the Centre for Community and Civic Engagement in University College Cork for promoting and assisting the formal launch of the festival back in October on the beautiful grounds of UCC.

Our collaboration with the Centre For Earth Ethics in New York with respect to the Mona Pollaca interview was innovative.  Finally we are thankful to the journalists at the Evening Echo, Irish Examiner, Irish Times, Southern Star and 96FM for providing local and national coverage of the events as many normal community publicity channels were closed due to Covid-19.

As a committee we now look forward to working on the next Spirit of Mother Jones festival in 2022.

If anyone has ideas for topics, for speakers or for entertainment for this 2022 festival, please drop a brief email to motherjonescork@gmail.com and we will consider all suggestions.

Some of the extensive press coverage of the 2021 Spirit of Mother Jones Festival follows:    

https://www.irishexaminer.com/opinion/columnists/arid-40751109.html

https://www.irishtimes.com/news/ireland/irish-news/mother-and-baby-home-campaigners-honoured-with-mother-jones-award-1.4737326

https://www.echolive.ie/corknews/arid-40750860.html

https://www.irishexaminer.com/lifestyle/artsandculture/arid-40752849.html

https://www.irishpost.com/news/cork-mother-and-baby-home-campaigners-honoured-with-award-224813

https://www.irishexaminer.com/news/munster/arid-40751139.html

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.  

Day 4 of the 2021 Spirit of Mother Jones Online Festival.

Tonight at 8.30 pm, there is a special Cork Singers’ Club Mother Jones Night.  For a zoom connection email John Murphy at dublinhill6@gmail.com as soon as possible or join in through the Cork Singers Club Facebook Page. 

The online festival schedule on Cork Community Television (which can be located on any search engine using http://www.corkcommunitytv.ie) is as follows: 

·        2:00 pm. The Mine Wars produced and directed by Randall MacLowry

·        4:00 pm. Mother Jones and Her Children by Frameworks Films.

·        7:00 pm. Dr. Sean Pettit…….An Extraordinary Teacher with an introduction by Richard T Cooke.

This film features Sean’s final presentation “The Cork City of Mary Harris” at the Spirit of Mother Jones Festival on 29th July 2016.

·        8:00 pm. The Songs of Mother Jones. Featuring Māire Ní Chēilleachair, Karan Casey, William Hammond, Mags Creedon, Richard T Cooke, John Murphy, John & Gearoid Nyhan and Mick Treacy,

The singers of the tribute songs to Mother Jones at the Butter Market Garden in Shandon.

Day 3 of the Spirit of Mother Jones 0nline Festival 2021.

Saturday 27 November 2021                                                                                      

·         2:00 pm. Blood on the Mountain produced by Mari-Lynn Evans.

·         4:00 pm. Palikari:  Louis Tikas and the Ludlow Massacre by Lamprini C Tomas and Nickos Ventouras.

·         6:00 pm. Mother Jones: The Most Dangerous Woman in America by Rosemary Feurer.

·         6:30 pm. Interview (zoom) with Mari Steed, Adoption Rights campaigner.

·         7:00 pm. Maureen Considine and Catherine Coffey O’Brien of the Cork Survivors and Supporters Alliance, CSSA discuss their effort to safeguard the Bessborough Burial ground.

All events are available on Cork Community Television at http://www.corkcommunitytv.ie or Virgin Media Channel 803.

Day 2 concluded with an interview of Donal O’Drisceoil by Ann Piggott of the Cork Mother Jones Committee and Alan, William and John bring matters for the day to a conclusion with a selection of tunes and songs at the Maldron Hotel.

Welcome to 2021 Spirit of Mother Jones Festival (online).

Begins today. 

Click on www.corkcommunitytv.ie or Virgin Media channel 803.

Thursday 25th November 2021.

2:00 pm. The highlights of the 2020 online Spirit of Mother Jones Festival.

Muriel MacSwiney.


7.30 pm. Muriel MacSwiney………..The Unlikely Revolutionary.         An interview with Anne Twomey, historian and teacher, of the Shandon Area History Group.

Anne Twomey. Shandon Area History Group.

Solidarity to all our American friends of Mother Jones on Thanksgiving Day.

The Cork Survivors and Supporters Alliance (CSSA) to receive the 2021 Spirit of Mother Jones Award.

The Cork Mother Jones Committee is proud to announce that the 2021 Spirit of Mother Jones Award will be presented to members of the campaigning group The Cork Survivors and Supporters Alliance (CSSA).

Members Maureen Considine, Ann O’Gorman and Catherine Coffey O’Brien have agreed to accept the award on behalf of the members of the Alliance. 

Maureen Considine and Catherine Coffey O’Brien of the CSSA in discussion.

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

“We are pleased to announce that the Spirit of Mother Jones Award for 2021 has been awarded to members of the Cork Survivors and Supporters Alliance who have campaigned for the proper memorialisation of the women and children who lie buried in the grounds of the former Mother and Babies Home at Bessborough in Cork City.

Specifically the CSSA by their determination and bravery prevented the recent plans to construct apartments on sensitive areas of the Bessborough grounds and through their efforts they discovered an Ordnance Survey Map from 1950 which clearly shows the marked Children’s Burial Ground.

In addition to their actions the members of the Alliance, their experts and their legal team won an oral planning hearing of An Bord Pleanala and convinced the planning inspector of the merits of their argument to protect the Children’s Burial Ground. 

Finally by their ongoing efforts and continuing campaign to seek the human right in accordance with common Irish tradition for a dignified burial place for those who died, for the preservation of the burial grounds, for the right of access to those grounds and for the creation of an appropriate memorialisation garden for the mothers and children at Bessborough, they have displayed the courage of their convictions and are worthy of the Spirit of Mother Jones award for 2021.

We are indeed honoured to present the Spirit of Mother Jones award for 2021 to the representatives of the Alliance, Catherine Coffey O’Brien, Ann O’Gorman and Maureen Considine.”  

The Cork Survivors and Supporters Alliance (the CSSA) represents a group of survivors of Bessborough Mother and Baby ‘Home’.  The CSSA’s membership is largely composed of mother-survivors, whose babies’ died in the institution, and includes family members. Children and mothers who died in Bessborough are buried onsite and in various public burial places such as St. Joseph’s cemetery (Ballyphehane) and All Saints cemetery (Carr’s Hill), with just a handful of the total burials marked.

Following proposals for development on the grounds of Bessborough towards the end of 2020, the CSSA opposed the plans citing the newly discovered evidence for the location of a large Childrens’ Burial Ground on the Bessborough estate. The Commission of Investigation into the Mothers and Baby ‘Homes’ stated that it is “highly likely” that burials took place in the grounds.

Using the 1950 Ordnance Survey original map drawing, which clearly shows “Childrens’ Burial Ground” marked on the grounds of the former Bessborough lands, the CSSA’s legal team convinced An Bord Pleanala to refuse permission for the development on the grounds that it would be “premature to grant permission for the proposed development prior to establishing whether there is a children’s burial ground located within the site and the extent of any such burial ground.” This has now created some space to ensure the proper memorialisation of the women and children who are “highly likely” to lie buried in the grounds.

OSI 1950 Bessborough

The full citation reads 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 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 same 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 award will be presented this week to Catherine, Ann and Maureen at the Spirit of Mother Jones Festival. 

A discussion about the role of the CSSA and its contribution to the oral planning hearing will be shown on Saturday 27th November at 7:00 pm on Cork Community Television as part of the online Spirit of Mother Jones Festival 21. Further details at www.motherjonescork.com

The Spirit of Mother Jones Awards to date;

  • 2013,     Margaret Aspinall and Sue Roberts. (Hillsborough Family Support Group).
  • 2014,     Gareth Peirce. Solicitor.
  • 2015      Fr Peter McVerry. 
  • 2016      Dave Hopper (RIP) General Secretary, Durham Miners’ Association.
  • 2017      Ken Fleming. (International Transport Workers Federation). 
  • 2018      Mary Manning (on behalf of the Dunnes Stores workers).
  • 2019      Louise O’Keeffe.
  • 2020      Antoinette Keegan.
  • 2021     Catherine Coffey O’Brien, Ann O’Gorman & Maureen Considine (for Cork Survivors & Supporters Alliance).

How do we restore our connections to Mother Earth? 

A Native American perspective on the Environment.

An interview with Mona Polacca.

This online interview with Mona Polacca took place at the launch of the Spirit of Mother Jones Festival 2021 at UCC on the 14th October 2021..

The discussion was held as part of UCC Community Week in a collaboration between the Spirit of Mother Jones Festival with the UCC Department of Civic and Community  Engagement and the Center for Earth Ethics in New York City.

Our thanks to Dr John Barimo and Shannon Smith for their cooperation in making this interview available.

Songs for Mother Jones 2021.

William Hammond organised the recording of seven songs which commemorate Cork born Mary Harris. Frameworks Films undertook the filming and recording of the session on a beautiful morning in Shandon, Cork City. The recordings were held at the old Butter Market garden under the landmark Bells of Shandon during the summer of 2021.

The programme of songs will be shown on Cork Community Television on Sunday 28th November at 8:00 pm.

Karan Casey at the recording at Shandon.

The music video features newly written songs by Karan Casey, John Murphy and Mags Creedon sung by the songwriters.

It also includes a song The Ballad of Mother Jones written by legendary Teresa Ní Chárthaigh of Blarney Street and sung by Māire Ní Chēileachair. Richard T. Cooke has written a song “And the Band played Hallelujah” which he recites. John Nyhan, his son Gearoid and Mick Treacy also contribute a song “Let The Mountains Roll”.   Finally, William features with a waltz he composed for Mother Jones and a song recorded by Gene Autry called “The Death of Mother Jones”.

The Singers.

Máire Ní Chéileachair.

From Farran in Cork, Máire got her love of singing and the Irish language from her parents who are from Kilnamartyra. In 2018, Māire won Corn Ui Riada and was also named TG4 singer of the year, she has recorded two CDs.

John Murphy.

From Ballyvolane in Cork City, he is a prolific songwriter and a member of the Cork Singers Club. He has commemorated the Burning of Cork in song along with some of Corks finest musicians in his recent debut album entitled, Cork 1920, A City In Flames.

Karan Casey.

Karan Casey from Ballyduff Lower, Co Waterford is an Irish folk singer and traditional singer, and a former member of the Irish band Solas. She is one of the most instantly recognisable, alluring and original voices in all of world music. Her recording, Distant Shore, is a collection of potent and beautiful Irish and contemporary ballads.

Richard T. Cooke.

Richard is a true blooded Corkonian and this is evident in the many books, television history documentaries, radio programmes and songs. And this was recognised when he received the prestigious Lord Mayor’s Civic Award in 2009:-” For his lifetime in promoting Ireland and his beloved City of Cork to the world through his writings and through his songs.” Richard is a member of the Mother Jones Committee.

William Hammond.

Known also as Hammy is from Fermoy he has been living in Cork for over 40 years. William has a great love of traditional music and set dancing. He is an accomplished accordion player in the  CD style  and a singer with the Cork Singers Club. William has been organising festivals in Cork for over 35 years including the Cork Folk Festival, Michael Dwyer Fest, Féile Fearmuí and the Mother Jones Festival.

John Nyhan.

John was born in Cork City and is now living in North Cork. Influenced by the Folk Revival musicians including; Pete Seeger, Joan Baez, Tom Paxton, Ewan MacColl, Fairport Convention, Sweeney’s Men, Planxty and Rory Gallagher. John is known throughout Ireland and the USA as a promoter of Folk and Bluegrass concerts and he is joined by his son Gearoid in this recording. His friend Mick Treacy a veteran of the Holy Ground Folk Club in Birmingham and of the folk scene in England and Ireland accompanies.

Mags Creedon.

Mags is a member of the Cork Songwriters Club and she regularly performs poemsong at Munster Arts events with O’ Bheal poetry. She is a Pan Celtic finalist in 2018, and 2019 and has performed on the charity Èalù album 2016 Commissions. Mags is also a member of the Cork Singers Club and has written a song for the Cork Libraries about the Cork writer, Frank O’ Connor.

The filming and recording by Frameworks Films took place on Sunday 29th August 2021 at the old Shandon Butter Market garden in the heart of the Shandon Historic Quarter.  The Cork Mother Jones Committee wish to express our thanks to everyone involved in Cork’s tribute to Mother Jones.

Spirit of Mother Jones Festival 2021 Events Schedule.

The Spirit of Mother Jones Festival will take place online on Cork Community Television from Thursday 25th November 2021 until Sunday 28th November 2021. We are hoping to have a number of live events, including Q&A’s with the interviewees as well as some live music at the Maldron Hotel in Shandon during the course of the Festival. These are subject strictly to the Covid 19 regulations specified at the time and the attendance will be limited.

Thursday 25th November – Sunday 28th November 2021

Programme of online events on Cork Community Television.

Poster of Spirit of Mother Jones Festival 2021. Designed by Shannon Smith.

Thursday 25th November 2021

  • 2:00 pm. The highlights of the 2020 online Spirit of Mother Jones Festival.
  • 7.30 pm. Muriel MacSwiney………The Unlikely Revolutionary.                                     An interview with Anne Twomey, historian and teacher, of the Shandon Area History Group.
Anne Twomey.

Friday 26th November 2021

  • 2:00 pm.  The highlights of the first ten years of the Spirit of Mother Jones festivals.
  • 7.00 pm. Commemorating the 100th Anniversary of the death of Tadhg Barry, of Blarney Street.

                       Tadhg Barry Remembered. Documentary by Cork Council of Trade Unions and Frameworks Films.

  • 8.00 pm. Interview with Dr. Donal O’Drisceoil

                       Author of Utter Disloyalist: Tadhg Barry and The Irish Revolution.

Dr. Donal Ó Drisceoil

Saturday 27th November 2021.

  • 2:00 pm. Blood on the Mountain produced by Mari-Lynn Evans.
  • 4:00 pm. Louis Tikas and the Ludlow Massacre produced by Lamprini C Tomas and Nickos Ventouras.
  • 6:00 pm. Mother Jones: The Most Dangerous Woman in America by Rosemary Feurer.
  • 6:30 pm. Interview (zoom) with Mari Steed, Adoption Rights campaigner.
Mari Steed
  • 7:00pm. Maureen Considine and Catherine Coffey O’Brien of the Cork Survivors and Supporters Alliance, CSSA discuss their effort to safeguard the Bessborough Burial ground.
Maureen Considine and Catherine Coffey O’Brien.

Sunday 28th November 2021

  • 2:00 pm. The Mine Wars produced and directed by Randall MacLowry.
  • 4:00 pm. Mother Jones and Her Children by Frameworks Films.
  • 7:00 pm. Dr. Sean Pettit…….An Extraordinary Teacher with an introduction by Richard T Cooke. This film features Sean’s final presentation “The Cork City of Mary Harris” at    the Spirit of Mother Jones Festival on 29th July 2016.
Dr. Sean Pettit and Richard T. Cooke.
  • 8:00 pm. The Songs of Mother Jones.

Featuring Māire Ní Chēilleachair, Karan Casey, William Hammond, Mags Creedon,   Richard T Cooke, John Murphy, John & Gearoid Nyhan and Mick Treacy.

These events will feature on Cork Community Television at http://www.corkcommunitytv.ie or Virgin Media Channel 803.

The 2021 Spirit of Mother Jones Festival will also include Q&A sessions with the speakers at the Maldron Hotel after the broadcasts on Cork Community Television. The capacity is strictly limited in accordance with the Covid-19 regulations for the safety of participants.  Full details on how to attend will be announced later.

Muriel MacSwiney … An Unlikely Revolutionary!

The 2021 Spirit of Mother Jones Festival will contain an interview with Anne Twomey, teacher and historian on the life of Muriel MacSwiney. This will be shown on Cork Community TV on Thursday, November 25th at 8:00 pm followed by a Q&A with Anne at the Maldron Hotel.

Anne is a member of the Shandon Area History Group which recently published “Ordinary Women in Extraordinary Times”.

The Cork Mother Jones Committee through the Spirit of Mother Jones Festival has attempted over the past decade to research and promote the cause of women, especially strong independent women whose life stories have sometimes been ignored, silenced or deleted from the public discourse. In the following article Muriel MacSwiney … an Unlikely Revolutionary, we take a brief look at her eventful path through life.

Mary Harris and Muriel Murphy were both born on the north side of Cork City, but unlike the poverty of Mary Harris, Muriel Murphy was born to wealth and privilege at Carrigmore in Montenotte, a future heiress to the huge riches of the Cork merchant prince and unionist supporting Murphy family.

In Muriel’s statement to the Bureau of Military History (BMH) dated December 1951 she wrote “My family, of course, were completely imperialist, conservative, capitalist and roman catholic”.

The youngest in a family of six, she complained of being kept isolated from the “common people” and claimed to have left her snobbish convent at seventeen where she had “learned literally nothing”. Muriel received little formal education and author Angela Clifford in Letters to Angela Clifford suggested that as a result “her originality was left unfettered, she thought and then she did what her thinking suggested”.

Instead of a well-trodden pathway whereby she could have kept her head down and along with many former unionist families who simply blended into the new Free State then in its birth pangs through violent revolution, Muriel took a different path and boldly embraced the early Republican cause and later married Cork Volunteer leader Terence MacSwiney in 1917.

It was the ultimate love story of the beautiful girl sacrificing everything for a poor imprisoned playwright, poet and revolutionary. Her small wedding at Bromyard in Herefordshire on 9th June 1917, on her twenty fifth birthday was conducted through the Irish language at an open prison where the groom wore his military uniform was highly unusual.

Muriel and Terence’s Wedding.

Her forty months of married life was interrupted regularly by the absence of her husband either through his organizing work for the Irish Volunteers or as a result of his harassment or imprisonment by the British authorities. Terence’s later role as Teachta Dāla (TD) in the new Dāil Eireann or his position as Lord Mayor of Cork City could not save him from the harsh treatment of the British which in effect also victimised their families.

Terence was in jail when Muriel gave birth to Māire and his first meeting with their two month old baby daughter, involved Muriel making the long journey to a prison in Belfast in August 1918 and staying in that city for several weeks. The newly married couple had just a few months of normality together in places such as Ballingeary and Youghal in Co Cork.

Muriel with Máire and Terence. (Possibly in Ballingeary).

Muriel too endured the pain of the ceaseless attempts to break her husband’s spirit. She did not agree with hunger strikes, but supported her husband to the very end of his strike. In the full glare of worldwide publicity on 25th October 1920, Cork Lord Mayor, Terence MacSwiney died. His death caused a massive growth of support for the Irish Republican cause, but it also mortally wounded the resolve of the British establishment to enforce it’s rule in Ireland.

The Funeral of Terence MacSwiney in London in 1920. (Notice how close the London policemen are to the coffin).

Very few observers subsequently considered the human trauma, stress and acute loneliness of the young widow with responsibility for a baby. Nor did they empathise with her personal reaction to her husband’s slow painful death over 74 days, the enormous impact of which was such that Muriel collapsed from sheer exhaustion and grief and was unable to attend her Terence’s funeral in Cork.

The painting of the funeral of Terence MacSwiney in St. George’s Cathedral, Southwark by Sir. John Lavery.

Yet exactly a month later, Muriel boarded the Celtic in Cobh (Queenstown) along with her sister in law Mary MacSwiney and arrived in New York on 5th December to a huge welcome from thousands of supporters including some 300 women who ignoring formalities simply mobbed her.

Photo from a New York newspaper shows the mayhem which greeted Muriel in New York.

She provided searingly honest evidence at an American Commission On Conditions In Ireland hearing in Washington on 9th December.

The New York Times front page article referred in patronising terms to her as “a mere girl, with brilliant eyes and a quick engaging smile”. ‘A perfect picture of Irish beauty” gushed the New York Evening World.

Muriel spent the entire Christmas holiday period being introduced to hundreds of Irish people in political and business circles. Later on New Years Eve, New York Mayor Hylan presented her with the formal Freedom of the City at a ceremony in City Hall, the first woman to receive this honour.

Mary and Muriel MacSwiney in America.

Muriel was followed by huge crowds and by today’s terms was a media poster girl for the Irish Revolution. She was serenaded by the “Fighting Sixty Ninth” regimental band that night and the band turned up again to accompany Muriel to the New York quay as she sailed for home on New Year’s Day 1921. Sister in law, Mary MacSwiney stayed on in America until after the truce. One must wonder whether Muriel’s media role as the grieving widow of a Republican martyr was exploited by some within the increasingly powerful movement for independence.    

Portrait of Muriel MacSwiney by Sir. John Lavery.

Soon after returning from America, she headed briefly to Germany for medical treatment. 

Displaying great courage and resilience, she worked ceaselessly for the Republic in spite of health difficulties. She witnessed at close quarters the murder and mayhem around the transfer of power to her comrades and then experienced the growing bitterness between those former friends. As some revolutionaries conformed, others were marginalised. The old unity and loyalty disappeared. Muriel took the Republican side and was present at the heart of the initial fighting during the first days of the Civil War madness.

She returned to the USA in September 1922 and stayed for almost a year trying to gather financial support for the anti-treaty side. Her daughter Māire was looked after by Madame O’Rahilly as part of the O’Rahilly family in their home in Dublin. Māire in her memoir History’s Daughter (2005) described this period as “one of the happiest years of my childhood and the longest period that I spent in a family situation.”

The book covers in great detail the relationship between mother and daughter. They spent the early summer of 1924 together at the old Murphy family home at Carrigmore which seems to have been their last period together in Cork before their emigration to Germany. Māire discusses in some detail her various German schools and the long absences of Muriel in this memoir. However as Muriel gave birth in 1926 to her second daughter Alix may well have contributed to these long absences from Máire.

One may never know the full circumstances behind the sudden appearance of Māire back in Cork in the summer of 1932. Māire describes her return from Germany as voluntary if somewhat unorthodox. Muriel always contended that it was a well-planned kidnap by Mary MacSwiney and her friends in the Church and State. Her poignant description of her desperate efforts to get support in Dublin, are very raw. She spoke with Jim Larkin, Linda Kearns and many other friends and she describes how she cried tears for her child in front of Ēamon De Valera.

Māire was made a ward of court in Ireland after informing the judge that she wished to stay with her aunts in Ireland. It was argued that her aunt Mary was already her legal co-guardian. It remains unclear to this day if this legal paperwork was actually produced as the full court papers and decision have remained sealed. Maire was then raised and educated by the MacSwiney sisters, Mary and Annie at their Scoil Íte school located off Wellington Road in Cork City.

The end result was the 50 year long tragic family estrangement of Muriel and Māire who never spoke or met again. Muriel felt deeply wounded by what she felt was a total betrayal by the MacSwiney family and its cover up by the State. An immediate result was that she became quite ill with flu and pneumonia and was depressed for a period after her vain attempts to get back her daughter failed.

Muriel Image in St. Peter’s, North Main Street, Cork presented by Jeannette Collins.

https://www.corkcity.ie/en/a-city-remembers-cork-1920-to-1923/commemorative-events/muriel-macswiney/

In her BMH statement Muriel states how she left the Catholic Church as early as the outbreak of the Civil War. The Church emerged from the War of Independence as the most powerful institution in the new State (similar to the earlier post Famine period), however Muriel was beginning her break from its influence. “I consider everyone has the right to whatever religious beliefs they think right or to the freethinker ideal which is mine”. Ironically two of her sisters, Nora and Edith joined convents. A third sister Mabel married her second cousin James Murphy and lived at Ringmahon House, near Blackrock in Cork.

Ringmahon House today. Muriel often visited her sister here.

Muriel seems to have embraced European communism and socialist ideas from the mid-20s onwards and moved freely in the German and Parisian left wing circles. Her second daughter Alix was born in May 1926 following a relationship with Pierre Kaan, a writer and independent communist intellectual. Very little is known about this relationship as there is no available reference to Muriel discussing it.

Later, Kaan became a Liberation Sud Resistance leader operating in the town of Montlucon in Central France during the Nazi occupation of nearby areas. Following betrayal in 1943, he was imprisoned, tortured and locked up concentration camps such as Buchenwald and Gleina. He died soon after liberation by the Czech resistance on 18th May 1945.

Muriel left Germany in 1933, as the Nazi takeover of Germany got underway.

She initially lived in France, spent the Second World War in the UK and then moved between Brittany and the UK. Her house in Brittany was named Ty Connolly.

Muriel kept some contact with Ireland and came and went and had extensive correspondence with the Sheehy Skeffington family, while she said she had met Tom Hales in 1953/54. Earlier Māire had married Ruairí Brugha in July 1945 and Ruairi had made great efforts to build bridges to no avail.

She was very friendly with Mrs. Kathleen McDonnell of Bandon, who had German connections, knew all the parties including Mrs. Stockley and Mary MacSwiney and who attempted to organise a reconciliation between Māire and Muriel. Muriel would not agree to any meeting.

Muriel campaigned against homelessness in Dublin and actively supported the Dublin Housing Action Committee especially praising the activities of housing activist Dennis Dennehy. She expressed “complete confidence” in Dr. Noel Browne.

Her letters and writings clearly display expressions of her socialist views and she was somewhat involved in the complicated discussions and rows within the Left during that period. Her available correspondence demonstrates her sympathy on the side of the underdogs in society to the very end of her days. Muriel not alone fought bravely for the Irish Republic, but also fought against international fascism and the control of the Catholic Church in Ireland throughout her life.

Utterly fearless, she challenged the Bishop of Southwark in 1957 when he tried to raise ten thousand pounds for a MacSwiney Chapel in the cathedral where Terence’s body reposed after his death….she told the Guardian newspaper that the money would be better spent in Ireland “where children are suffering from bad conditions caused by unemployment and lack of proper health services”. This may refer to the present Chapel of St. Patrick, which lies on the southside of the cathedral and was rededicated in 1958. There is reference to the cathedral receiving with honour, the body of Terence MacSwiney, “which rested here on the 27th and 28th October 1920”.

The MacSwiney Brugha family at the dedication of the Southwark Cathedral altar to Terence MacSwiney.

In a prescient comment about Muriel, her daughter Māire contended that “one of the main reasons for her falling out with the Roman Catholic Church was its attitude to and treatment of unmarried mothers”. However, it took a further century for the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Home reports to be published in the Republic of Ireland. These reports exposed to some degree in stark detail the treatment experienced by at least one hundred thousand Irish women who either gave birth to children in these institutions or who worked unpaid in the Magdalene laundries in the new State which Muriel witnessed being created in 1922.  Thousands of children died in the institutions and the whereabouts of their burial continues to be a source of controversy to the present day.

Ruairí Brugha died on 20th January 2006, while Māire MacSwiney Brugha died in May 2012. They were married for over 60 years.

Muriel later lived in England with her daughter Alix Blakelock (1926-2009), and her family at Tonbridge in Kent. Members of the family including Alix’s son Adrian (1948-2014) were active in Labour politics and Adrian supported the miners in the 1984/5 strike. On the 25th October 2020, at the commemoration outside of Brixton Prison, of the 100th anniversary of the death of Terence MacSwiney, among those who gathered were members of the Brugha family and Nigel Blakelock, grandson of Muriel MacSwiney.

Muriel died in the Oakwood Hospital Maidstone on 26th October 1982 almost 62 years to the day after Terence MacSwiney.

Angela Clifford who met and corresponded with Muriel regarded her as “a free spirit”. Cork journalist and author Mary Leyland in An Irishwoman’s Diary in the Irish Times September 2012 considered her to “have been charismatic in her own way, purposeful, original and fearless”.

From the few holidays she spent with her mother, Máire remembered her as “a warm and loving mother and I dearly loved her”. Terence MacSwiney himself, long resigned to bachelor hood expressed his intense love for this unusual, wealthy young lady who had innocently entered a closed circle of conspirators in Cork and took a shine to him.

In a chapter of Letters to Angela Clifford in 1996, Ms Clifford deals in chapter four with what she terms the “Character Assassination” of Muriel. Certainly, as Muriel had refused to play the grieving republican widow, she appears to have been largely removed from republican history and was rarely discussed openly in her native Cork. She was disappeared into the knowing silence of the new establishment.

Her refusal to bring up her child as a Catholic, her antipathy to the Church as an institution (Māire referred to it as “an obsession”) and her association with communists did not fit well with the prevailing conservative orthodoxy and double standards applied to her as a woman.

What is very apparent is that Muriel as an activist revolutionary woman/widow/ patriot was not allowed the same freedom or latitude in relation to her personal family life decisions as her male revolutionary counterparts. Nor were the doctrinaire positions of some in her republican circles commented on to the same degree as the conventional wisdom of Muriel’s perceived obduracy.

Muirgheal, (muir gheal…Irish for “bright sea”), the name by which she preferred to be known and with which she signed letters, is worthy of full inclusion as a serious Irish and international patriot, not solely as the wife/widow of Terence MacSwiney, but in her own right as a woman who took her own difficult path in a long revolutionary life.

Principles of Freedom, published in 1921.

In Principles of Freedom, originally a series of articles written in 1911, Terence MacSwiney considered womanhood; his heroic ideal woman was Matilda Tone, wife of Wolfe Tone because of her bravery. He also advised that “a man should learn to let his wife and children suffer rather than make of them willing slaves and cowards”.

In his poem The Path he acknowledged that the life of a revolutionary would place a harsh demand on any woman whom he wished to marry.

“I dreaded asking thee to take my hand lest on a path regretted it should lead, And lest thy heart in after years should bleed, if then ‘mid scenes unwelcome thou shouldn’t stand, And thou shouldst think: “It is a harsh demand this path makes on my labour””.

Muriel bravely survived these harsh demands.      

Gerard O’Mahony of the Cork Mother Jones Committee.     

The interview with Anne Twomey will be shown on Cork Community TV on Thursday November 25th at 8:00 pm followed by a Q&A with Anne at the Maldron Hotel.

Anne is a member of the Shandon Area History Group which recently published “Ordinary Women in Extraordinary Times”

Note:

Manus O’Riordan wrote of meeting Muriel in Dublin when she visited his family home and they later exchanged correspondence.  In his last visit to the Spirit of Mother Jones Festival in August 2019, his parting words were “Never forget Muriel”. His assistance is very much appreciated.

Manus O’Riordan RIP (May 30th 1949-September 26th 2021).

Further reading:

  • Muriel MacSwiney: Letters To Angela Clifford, by Angela Clifford Athol Books 1995.
  • History’s Daughter: A Memoir From The Only Child of Terence MacSwiney, by Māire MacSwiney Brugha.
  • Enduring The Most: The Life and Death of Terence MacSwiney (1995) by Fergus J Costello.
  • Ordinary Women in Extraordinary Times. The Shandon Area History Group.
  • An Irishwoman’s Diary, Irish Times, September 18th 2012 by Mary Leyland
  • Muriel MacSwiney On Ballingeary, and Her Letters To A Grandson of Ballingeary. Ballingeary & Inchigeela Historical Society 2016 by Manus O’Riordan.
Anne Twomey, Historian.

The 2021 Spirit of Mother Jones will present an interview with local historian and teacher Anne Twomey of the Shandon Area History Group, in which we explore the life of Muriel MacSwiney from the available information. The interview will be shown on Cork Community TV on Thursday evening 25th November at 8:00 pm.