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.
General background to the treatment of some women during 1916-1923 and afterwards by all sides in the conflict.
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 sidelined 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.
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”
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 in the middle of March 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.
In ‘A Hard Local War’, William Sheehan references Nellie Carey’s and Essie Sheehan’s deaths for ‘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.
He 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.
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, many of the women revolutionaries were fighting for real social change, and one is forced to question the real motives and ideals of the now comfortable male leaders of the new Irish State. Did they really desire any real social change in light of their fierce hostility to many women activists who had fought alongside them?
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, led by James Connolly, who were a very socially aware group. Ann Matthews lists twenty-eight members of the female auxiliary of the ICA “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 in the Rising. These figures clearly demonstrate the high level of activity by women during the 1916 Rising.
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.
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 triggered the savage State hostility to women activists in general from some of the Pro-Treaty/Free State leaders? 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.
Many of 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, Winifred Carney (the last woman to leave the burning GPO!) and many others were in the forefront of the subsequent efforts over the decades to bring about a more equal, fairer and compassionate society.
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 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).
A documentary “Endurance & Engagement: Cork City Women in the 1920’s” will be shown at the Dance Cork Firkin Crane on Thursday 28th July at 7.15pm.
The short documentary, commissioned by Cork City Council, as part of the Decade of Commemorations and funded by the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts Gaeltacht, Sport & Media looks at the lives of ordinary women in Cork City during the turbulent period of the struggle for independence and how they were impacted by the violence and unrest.
The women included in the documentary are Eilish MacCurtain, The Duggan Sisters, Geraldine Neeson and Dr Mary Hearn.
The research team on the project were Anne Twomey of Shandon History Group, Dr Helene O’Keeffe of UCC School of History, and Gerry White. The documentary directors Ciara Buckley & David Slowo of Wombat Media. The Executive Producer of this documentary was Christine Moloney of LW Management who will introduce it on the night.
We wish to record our thanks to Cork City Council and St. Peters Cork for making a screening available at the Spirit of Mother Jones Festival.
Christine Moloney will introduce the documentary and there will be a brief Q&A. afterwards.
It will be followed at 8:00 pm by a talk by historian Anne Twomey.
The annual Durham Gala will take place on Saturday 9th July 2022 following a break of two years due to Covid-19. The Gala this year is “dedicated to the key workers”, who provided essential services in the UK during the recent pandemic.
The Cork Mother Jones Committee extend warm congratulations and solidarity to the Durham Miners Association and wish the DMA well for a fantastic parade and Big Meeting.
The parade itself features thousands of people of all ages from former mining communities across the north of England marching behind their colourful banners and colliery bands.
Dave Hopper, a former General Secretary of the DMA along with his committee were regular attenders at the Spirit of Mother Festivals. Dave spoke at the 2014 and 2015 Festivals, and he provided a first hand account of events at the battle of Orgreave as well as contributing to the general discussions.
He was awarded the 2016 Spirit of Mother Jones Award posthumously after his sudden death a few weeks before the festival in 2016.
The Durham Miner’s Association is based at Red Hills in Durham, which was opened in 1915.
The Red Hills contains the Miners Parliament where representatives of each of the lodges of county Durham once met to decide on union matters.
Mick Lynch, General Secretary of the RMT Union will speak at the Big Meeting on Saturday 9th July 2022. Mick, whose father was from Cork has led the recent rail strikes in Britain.
It is a huge honour to speak at the Big Meeting. This year is the 75th Anniversary of the death of Irish trade union leader, Jim Larkin, a founder of the ITGWU, (now SIPTU) and the Irish Citizen Army. In 1914, a few months after the end of the Dublin Lockout, Jim Larkin spoke at the Durham Gala and on the day argued for one union,
” if one section is out, you should be ready to bring out everyone of you”
As the miners’ banners were carried from the field in Durham on that day in July 1914, they were not to return for five years………….. just ten days later Britain was at war with Germany.
Dr Angela Flynn is a lecturer in the School of Nursing and Midwifery in UCC. Having worked as a nurse in the NHS in London, she returned to Ireland in 1999. She was shocked at just how unfair and inequitable the Irish health system was and was taken aback by the stark two-tiered system. Over half the population of Ireland pay for private health insurance because they know that should they need to see a consultant or have scheduled surgery they will languish on waiting lists if they stay as public patients. Angela decided to examine the history of the Irish health care system that led to this inequity for her PhD, and she used Noel Browne’s Mother and Child Scheme as one of the case studies. She has published a number of papers from this research. Now in 2022, on the 25th anniversary of the death of Noel Browne, Angela will discuss an imagined world where his scheme had been successful and explore the potential health system we could have had.
Noël Browne was born in Waterford on 20th December 1915. He died in Connemara on the 21st May 1997.
A quarter of a century has passed since the death of Noël Browne, the most controversial Minister for Health in Ireland’s history. His courageous account of early life and a political career of over 40 years can be found in his autobiography ‘Against The Tide’ published in 1986. Written with a rare honesty and integrity, it portrays an often heartbreaking account of the ‘precarious survival’ of early family life against the backdrop of the deathly poverty, illness and the sheer awfulness of daily experience for many poor people in the new Irish State. His earliest memories of witnessing the savagery of the Irish Civil war ensured his abhorrence of violence.
Both parents, Joseph (1923) and Mary Therese (1929) died of tuberculosis (TB) and many of his seven siblings contracted the killer disease, Noel who also had TB was one of three to survive, while his sisters Annie, Eileen, Una and Jody, his brother all eventually succumbed.
Official figures show that from 1921 to 1950, 114,000 Irish people died of the disease. Scarcely an Irish family remained untouched and many families were completely wiped out.
Browne was fortunate to be “adopted” by the Dublin surgeon Neville Chance and his family who ensured Noel gained entry to Trinity College and eventually became a doctor.
He realised quickly that the only way to change Ireland’s disastrous health system was to become directly involved in political action. Browne, by now a committed socialist was elected to Dail Eireann in 1948 as a Clann na Poblachta TD. The Clann, led by Sean McBride with ten TDs joined a Coalition government. To the surprise of many he was appointed Minister for Health on his first day in the Irish parliament.
He commenced a massive hospital construction project, free X-ray screening for tuberculosis patients and set in motion systems to eliminate tuberculosis with the aid of Streptomycin. The blood transfusion service was set up.
Browne set a frenetic pace within the department, he was indeed a man in a hurry witnessing the immediate and positive impact of the National Health Service (NHS) introduced by the UK Health Minister Aneurin Bevan in July 1948.
Unprecedently and uniquely for a politician, he decided to actually implement the health reforms contained in the Irish 1947 Health Act, fully aware that he would “only have one crack at it”. However his proposal to introduce free medical care for children under 16 and their mothers in order to reduce child mortality which became known as the Mother and Child Scheme was vigorously opposed by the Catholic Hierarchy which it described as ‘the free-for-all Mother And Child Scheme’ and Irish Medical Association (I.M.A) which condemned it as ‘the socialisation of medicine’.
Browne refused to concede to the concessions demanded by the Church and the establishment and once he lost the support of his leader in Clann na Poblachta, Sean MacBride who requested his resignation he was eventually forced to resign on 11th April 1951.
Now a political outsider, he never regained access to political power again to drive positive structural change in the health system.
Later many of the changes Browne had helped to introduce made a real difference to ordinary people and the arrival of vaccines and new drug treatments helped to reduce significantly the death rate. This fell by half within a few years and was down to 15% of the 1940 levels by 1960. The death sentence of a TB diagnosis was no more.
While aspects of his health scheme were eventually put in place, his initial opportunity to construct a NHS type universal health care system for Ireland was lost and the two tier private and public health system remains in place.
Noel Browne remained in politics, moving in and out of various political parties, marginalised by those in the political power, ignored by others, always controversial, passionate from the back benches, sometimes caught up in roundabout arguments of the Left yet adored by many radicals as an uncompromising advocate for the social justice and a universal free health system.
John Horgan’s book Noël Browne, Passionate Outsiderportrays this complex man in a warts and all analysis with empathy, understanding and some criticism.
Browne’s love story with Phyllis Harrison, was told by Phyllis in her publication Thanks For The Tea, Mrs. Browne – My life with Noel.
Written with love and affection, sadness and struggle, courage and quiet passion, Phyllis describes their life together as “a stormy passage” and the difficulties they faced through over fifty years of married life. The couple even tried farming, an episode described with some humour in an Amateur Farmer’s Journal. Browne was originally informed that he had six months to live when they married back in 1944, he again suffered a relapse after his appointment as Minister and occasionally ran his department from his sick bed.
Noël Browne retired from politics in the early 80s, daughters Ruth and Sue raised, he and Phyllis moved to an isolated cottage in Connemara on the west coast of Ireland where he wrote his memoirs Against The Tide, which became a best seller. Some former political colleagues received blunt assessments of their actions and when coupled with a gripping narrative, the book remains a very rare and raw account of Irish life and politics.
His successful efforts to end the scourge of TB and his exposure to a new generation of Church control of the State remain his major achievements.
But his passionate dream of providing access to a decent health service for all citizens of the Republic of Ireland based on need remains to be achieved.
‘He lies in the clean sandy soil by the Atlantic shore, where he liked to sit every afternoon, seagulls and screaming curlews flying above him’
On Saturday afternoon 30th July at 2.30 Angela Flynn will discuss the Mother & Child Scheme, imagine if it had been successful and explore the potential health system we could have had.
As 2022 signals a return to real festival events, we are happy to announce that Luke Dineen will once again speak at this year’s Spirit of Mother Jones Festival.
Labour and trade union historian Luke has appeared at many of our festivals and is one of the most popular contributors.
He brings to life the often forgotten history of the trade union movement in Cork and its proud contribution to bettering the lives of ordinary people.
Luke, who was awarded a PhD in labour history from UCC will speak on the “Cork General Lockout of 1923”.
The end of the Civil War in May 1923 encouraged the Cork Employers’ Federation (CEF) to demand wage reductions across a wide range of workplaces in the city. Discussions and negotiations with the unions failed to resolve the issues and by July 1923, the ITGWU dockers were on strike. The employers insisted on wage reductions of up to 25% and further reductions in workers allowances which the unions refused to accept.
On 20th August 1923, most businesses in Cork closed, the Cork Lockout had begun, over 6000 workers were on strike.
It was part of a wider effort by employers in other cities and towns across Ireland to bring about wage cuts.
Despite large marches, sackings, mass unemployment and growing signs of serious shortages of food and coal stocks, John Rearden, a solicitor and secretary of the CEF refused to compromise and the impasse dragged on in the city.
Recently elected TD and UCC Registrar Alfred O’Rahilly acted as arbitrator in the dispute and agreed a resolution with Trade Union leader Jim Hickey.
Most workers went back on reduced wages by mid November and while at the end of the day, both sides accepted compromises, the trade unions suffered most as the lockout used up much of their financial resources in strike pay, Payments to strikers by the ITGWU were almost 24,000 pounds representing 15% of all the union’s expenditure for 1923. (1919 was under 1%). Membership fell to a third of its 1923 level by 1928. Employers still retained the right to hire and fire at will.
Most employees were back at work by early November. 1923 was an annus horribilis for the Irish Trade union movement.
The new Free State government had signalled that they no longer needed to encourage the acquiescence and support of organised Labour in the struggle for independence.
The government instead aligned with the new State’s established business class, whose pragmatic rapprochement with the new political order reflected the inherent conservatism of the real victors in the Irish Civil War.
Luke Dineen will speak at the Shandon Maldron Hotel at 11.30 am on Saturday 30th July. All are welcome.
Article by Luke Dineen ‘Class War in Cork’: The Cork General Lockout of 1923′ in Saothar 46. (Journal of the Irish Labour History Society 2021).
Article by Francis Devine, The Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union in Cork City and County 1918-1930. (Journal of the Cork Historical and Archaeological Society Volume 124, 2019).
The documentary Mother Jones And Her Children is now available to view at the link below.
This 2014 documentary tells the exciting story of Mary Harris/Mother Jones from her birth in Cork in 1837 to her death in 1930.
It features US Labour historians such as Rosemary Feurer, who administers the website www.motherjonesmuseum.org and who writes extensively on Mother Jones. Elliott Gorn, author of Mother Jones: The Most Dangerous Woman in America appears also along with interviews with authors Simon Cordery and Marat Moore. Larry Spivack of the Illinois Labour History Society and John Alexander of the Virden Monument Committee and US trade union activists such as Mike Matjelki, Dave Rathke and Terry Reed take part. In addition, there is an interview with Uibh Laoghaire historian, Joe Creedon regarding the birth place of Ellen Cotter, the mother of Mary Harris, while members of the Cork Mother Jones Committee (CMJC) provide details about her baptism in Cork, and the Spirit of Mother Jones Festival.
According to James Nolan of the CMJC
“This documentary is ideal for anyone who wishes to learn more about this amazing Cork woman, a woman who survived horrific personal tragedy and bravely supported the trade union movement and fought for social justice in America for over four decades.
Mary Harris’s efforts in the early 1900s to highlight the exploitation of children in the mines, mills and factories of Americaand her arguments that they should receive an education instead will still resonatewith school children across the world today.
This documentary should be included in the Irish educational curriculum.”
Mother Jones and Her Children remains available on CD. The link to the documentary also appears above the main website masthead.
It was produced by Frameworks Films and the Cork Mother Jones Committee.
2:00 pm. The highlights of the past ten years of the Spirit of Mother Jones Festivals.
7:00 pm. Tadhg Barry Remembered. A documentary by Cork Council of Trade Unions and Frameworks Films.
8:00 pm. Interview with Dr. Donal Ó Drisceoil, author of Utter Disloyalist: Tadhg Barry and the Irish Revolution.
The official launch of the Spirit of Mother Jones Festival 2021 took place at the Maldron Hotel, Shandon last night. The Lord Mayor of Cork represented by Cllr. John Sheehan declared the festival open and stated that he was delighted that the festival had proceeded this year as each event set out to challenge one’s views of history and social issues. Speaker, Anne Twomey attended and participated in a brief Q&A session afterwards in relation to questions about Muriel MacSwiney.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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’sDaughter (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.
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.
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”.
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.
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”
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.
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.
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.
Cork Community Television, Sunday 28th November at 7:00 pm.
We are proud to present Dr. Sean Pettit’s lecture entitled “The Cork City of Mary Harris” which he gave to the 2016 Spirit of Mother Jones festival. Sean was a much loved and respected teacher and UCC lecturer who became widely known as a writer, broadcaster and a man with an intimate knowledge of the people and streets of Cork.
His publication This City of Cork1700-1900 (1977) is long regarded as a classic. He believed that the best way to appreciate and experience the City was to go out and about on the streets. In his introduction he argued that “the main emphasis is on the people who made it, and on how they lived”. He did not neglect giving a raw and realistic account of the sick, the poor and the social problems through history in the City especially in the context of the Famine era into which Mary Harris was born in 1837.
Dr. Pettit with the aid of his large collection of photographs and prints captivated the vast attendance on that lovely Friday afternoon in July 2016 on the north side of Cork city. Sadly Sean passed away suddenly just a few months later on November 23rd 2016.
The introduction to “The Cork City of Mary Harris” will be given by his good friend Richard T Cooke. Richard is a founding member of the Cork Mother Jones Committee, himself a writer, singer and broadcaster and the author of many publications including My Home By The Lee (1999).
Dr. Sean Pettit……..An Extraordinary Teacher will be shown on Cork Community Television, livestream on www.corkcommunitytv.ie or Virgin Media 803 on Sunday evening 28th November at 7:00 pm as part of the Spirit of Mother Jones Festival 2021.