Christmas tragedy at Calumet 1913.

On Wednesday, December 24th, Christmas Eve 1913, in Calumet, Michigan,  seventy-three men, women, and children, mainly striking mine workers and their families, were crushed to death in a stampede in what became known as the Italian Hall Disaster.

At a crowded Christmas party organise for the children of copper miners, who had been on strike in the local mines since July 23rd of that year, someone shouted “fire” at the entrance to the hall. There was no fire!

Hundreds of people were in the second floor room at the Italian Hall enjoying the miners party. Toys were being distributed to the children by Santa. On hearing the shout from downstairs, there was a huge panic and a mass rush down a steep narrow stairs to the exit which caused multiple deaths, especially among the children.

The strike had earlier been called by the Western Federation of Miners (WFM) seeking union recognition and an improvement in wages and working conditions. Mother Jones had visited Calumet in early August to show her support for the workers, before she became embroiled in the Colorado Coal Wars.

Mother Jones visits Calumet in August 1913. Courtesy of Jeremiah Mason of the National Park Service.
The Arrival of Mother Jones in Calumet in 1913. Courtesy of Jeremiah Mason of the National Park Service.

The mine owners in Copper Country refused to talk to the union members and the long and bitter strike continued until March 1914 in spite of this tragedy. Later investigations failed to reveal exactly who had wrongly called out “fire” which started the panic. Mother Jones blamed an anti union “law and order crowd” in the Calumet region for the false fire call which led to the deaths and repeatedly mentioned this dreadful tragedy in later speeches.

The sad and harrowing scenes in the town of Calumet on Christmas Day and over the 1913 Christmas period as the bodies of over 60 children were brought back to their homes left a lasting mark on witnesses. Photos from the time show lines of wooden white caskets. The Red Jacket Town Hall became a morgue, while the massive funeral procession down snow covered Fifth Street to Lakeview Cemetery was heart-breaking. Following several speeches from the strike leaders, the deceased were laid to rest in two mass grave sites.

The disaster at the Italian Hall was memorialised by singer-songwriter Woody Guthrie when in 1940 he wrote the “1913 Massacre”, in which he blamed the copper mines bosses of the Copper Country for the deaths.

“The piano played a slow final tune,
And the town was lit up by a cold Christmas moon,
The parents they cried and the miners they moaned,
“See what your greed for money has done””

Candles are lit each Christmas Eve at the local park in Calumet, let us remember them too!

Our thanks to Jeremiah Mason of the National Parks Service, Lake Superior Management Centre at Keweenaw National Historical Park at Calumet.

See also;
https://motherjonescork.com/2020/01/08/mother-jones-visits-calumet-michigan-in-august-1913/

Mother Jones 92nd Anniversary.

Mother Jones died on 30th November 1930 at the age of ninety-three. Wednesday 30th November 2022 is the 92nd anniversary of her death.

Mother Jones Birthday Party May 1st, 1930. Photo courtesy of Saul Schniderman (Friday’s Labor Folklore).
Lillie May Burgess looking after Mother Jones. (Saul Schniderman, Friday’s Labor Folklore).
The Burgess family home where Mother Jones died. (Saul Schniderman, Friday’s Labor Folklore).

The Cork Examiner newspaper mentioned her death in its edition of Tuesday December 2nd 1930 under “Cork Centenarian Dies in U.S.A.

Cork Examiner Report (2nd December 1930) of the death of Mother Jones.

The Examiner quoting a report from the “Evening News” stated that:

“Mother” Jones Mary Jones, one of the most picturesque figures that Ireland and America between them have ever produced, died during the weekend at Silver Springs, Maryland.

Note: It recorded her birth as 1830, based on her autobiography which was incorrect.

“In her own way, Mother Jones is as important as Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jnr”

Jonah Winter, 2020. Mother JONES AND HER ARMY OF MILL CHILDREN sCHWARTZ & WADE BOOKS, nEW YORK
Cork Piper, Norman O’Rourke with a musical salute on 1st August 2012 at the Baptism Font where Mary Harris was baptised in Cork’s North Cathedral.

    https://motherjonescork.com/2020/12/07/the-funeral-of-mother-jones/

2022 World Cup – The Blood and Bones of Migrant Workers.

The right to hold the Soccer World Cup was awarded to Qatar by the Federation of International Football Associations (FIFA) in 2010.

This desert country possessed little football infrastructure, so a $200 billion stadium construction programme commenced. Immediately reports from the country indicated that hundreds of migrant workers were dying in construction-related incidents. 

The World Cup (Wikimedia).

David Joyce of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) spoke about the deaths of migrant workers in Qatar at the Spirit of Mother Jones Festival 2014.

The 2022 World Cup competition is about to begin in Qatar so let’s look at what has happened to the migrant workers since? 

The Guardian newspaper in February 2021 stated that some 6500 migrant workers from India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka had died in Qatar since it had been awarded the World Cup in 2010. No figures for death were available for the workers from the Philippines and Kenya. The figures were supplied to the Guardian by the country’s embassies in Qatar. It remains unclear how many of these deaths were attributable directly to the World Cup infrastructural work as the Qatari authorities did not make the information available. 

The Qatari government did not keep meaningful statistics but has admitted to 37 deaths of labourers between 2014 and 2020, of which 3 were “work-related”.

The United Nations Agency, the International Labour Organisation (ILO), which signed an agreement with Qatar in 2017 to improve work conditions, stated in a 2021 report that “it is still not possible to present a categorical figure for the number of fatal occupational injuries in the country.” The ILO admitted that in 2021, 50 workers died, 500 were severely injured, and 37,500 suffered mild to moderate injuries. The Qatari government says workers have much-improved working conditions, and the kafala system, which binds workers to employers, has been abolished. Evidence from workers indicates otherwise.

Amnesty International stated bluntly that Qatar has failed to adequately investigate and certify thousands of migrant deaths, and to this day, those deaths remain unacknowledged by the Qatari state authorities. One-half of migrant workers’ deaths are attributed to “unknown causes”, “natural causes”, and “cardiovascular diseases”. While toiling for long hours in scorching summer heat conditions and living in poor conditions, many workers paid the ultimate price for their labour. Remember that the summer months in Qatar were deemed too hot for FIFA, the players and the fans; the World Cup was moved to November/December 2022 from its traditional June/July dates!)

In August 2022, Amnesty said that more than 15000 foreigners of all ages and occupations had died in Qatar between 2010 and 2019. Estimates put the total number of migrant workers, who have virtually no rights in Qatar, at between 1.5 million and 2 million, of which some 400,000 work on various construction projects.

Recently French journalists Sebastian Castelier and Quentin Muller, in their book “Les Esclaves de l’Homme Petrole” (“The Oil Man’s Slaves”), exposed the brutal working conditions of many migrants in Qatar supported by some 60 personal testimonies of the workers.

The failure of the Qatari government to produce clear and reliable statistics for the causes of the deaths is not acceptable, given its undoubted sophistication in other spheres. It represents a deliberate attempt to cover up the true position. It is fairly evident that Qatar’s World Cup became a graveyard for many migrant workers even as their bodies were flown back to their native countries. Issues such as the Qatari human rights record and its attitude to same-sex relations have also drawn much criticism. 

New York based Human Rights Watch in an October 2022 report has condemned the Qatari rulers for their concerted attacks on the LGBTQ + Community. The report pointed out that even as Qatar prepared for the World Cup, the Interior Ministry was arbitrarily arresting, detaining and torturing LGBT people within the country.

“Mother Jones” magazine, in its November/December 2022 edition, contains a comprehensive and penetrating article by Tim Murphy, “Power Ball….How oligarchs, private equity, and petrostates took over soccer”, which detailed the sports-washing taking place in soccer, with particular emphasis on the scandals of the World Cup. The umbilical cord of enormous wealth passing between these entities and professional sports has now rotted the beautiful games.

Mother Jones Magazine November/December 2022 Edition.

The enormous level of arms purchases by Qatar from some countries whose FIFA executive members supported the original bid from the Emirate for the World Cup ($16 billion to France for fighter jets) and the corruption of this FIFA 22-man executive committee so well documented in FIFA Uncovered on Netflix is testament to scale of “one of the sleaziest, rottenest examples of corruption in the history of sport” (quoted from Malachy Clerkin in “The Irish Times” of 12th November 2022).

The sight of coffins arriving on airport trolleys in Kathmandu Airport and the funeral byres along the rivers in Nepal provide a jolting realisation of the human cost of the modern mass exploitation of migrant workers.

Not even the sponsored sports-washing and motorcycle videos of former soccer stars and influencers for Qatar can hide the reality that millions of sports followers worldwide will turn off or largely ignore this World Cup show in 2022. Thousands of migrant workers have died, and tens of thousands of these workers have been injured during the decade-long construction works to bring this World Cup to your televisions for the next few weeks. 

Almost 100 years ago, Mother Jones wrote in her autobiography about the working conditions of the extractive fossil fuel industry of coal mining.

” I have been in West Virginia more or less for the past twenty-three years, taking part in the interminable conflicts that arose between the industrial slaves and their masters. The conflicts were always bitter. Mining is cruel work. Men are down in utter darkness hours on end. They have no life in the sun. They come up from the silence of the earth utterly wearied. Sleep and work, work and sleep. No time or strength for education, no money for books. No leisure for thought.”  (The Autobiography of Mother Jones, C. H.Kerr 1925)

In a bitter and ironic twist of fate, at the Qatar World Cup, today’s workers are forced to endure long hours slaving under the harsh effects of the powerful sun to build football temples for their masters. The untold riches derived from to-day’s extractive polluting fossil fuel industry, an industry which may doom the entire planet are being wasted by the modern-day oil barons on sports washing vanity projects.     

Pray for these migrant workers and fight like hell for the survivors of this sports scandal.

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

Leadville Miner Memorial, (J Goltz),

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Liam the Miner faces Ireland (J. Goltz).

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

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

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

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

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

Monument to the Choctaw at Midleton, Co. Cork.

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

An Ute prayer for the planet.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mick Lynch to Speak at Durham Gala.

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.

View of Red Hills, home of the Durham Miners Association.

The Red Hills contains the Miners Parliament where representatives of each of the lodges of county Durham once met to decide on union matters.

Imposing entrance featuring Alexander McDonald, William Crawford, William Patterson and John Forman, early leaders of the DMA.

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. 

For further information, visit.

https://www.durhamminers.org/

Liam Cahill R.I.P.

It is with very great sadness that we learned of the sudden death of Liam Cahill, journalist, author, civil servant and trade unionist.

Liam attended the Spirit of Mother Jones Festival in 2019 and spoke on the 100th anniversary celebrating the Limerick Soviet. 

Liam Cahill and Mike McNamara at the Spirit of Mother Jones Festival 2019.

He appeared on Thursday Aug 1st  along with his great friend Limerick Union man Mike McNamara, following a screening of the 2015 documentary, The Limerick Soviet  in which he had participated. 

His 2019 publication “Forgotten Revolution: The Limerick Soviet 1919, a threat to British Power in Ireland”, which was an updated, revised and enlarged edition of his original 1990 book on the soviet, formed the basis of Liam’s talk. 

Photo of Liam Cahill with the President of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins in 2019. Photo: Barry Cronin, courtesy of Liam Cahill.

This important book unearthed the  incredible story of revolutionary events in Limerick which lay almost undisturbed for almost 70 years and it quickly sold out its print run.

Limerick Soviet 1919.

Liam claimed he wrote it originally to try to answer an important and still relevant question, “why were our grandmothers and grandfathers – even our great grandparents – more radical in their politics than my generation?”  It is unclear if he found the answer but the Limerick Soviet is no longer forgotten.

President Michael D. Higgins with Liam Cahill. Photo: Barry Cronin, courtesy of Liam Cahill.

Liam was extremely generous with his time and his advice to members of our committee and during his Cork talk he praised the role of Cobhman and trade union leader Jack Dowling, (long championed by Cork Mother Jones Committee member John Jefferies) who played a key role in the organisation of the Limerick Soviet.  

Liam was a political correspondent with RTE and during 1990 worked in Brussels as Government press spokesperson for the Irish Presidency of the European Union. However his contribution to the Irish Trade Union movement was enormous. Apart from being a full-time official of the Federated Workers Union of Ireland, he spent time on the executive councils of the NUJ and the PSEU as well as chairperson of the RTE Trade Union Group. He wrote widely on Irish Labour history. He had a huge interest in sport, especially the Gaelic Athletic Association. His internet forum, An Fear Rua was legendary and original in the early 2000s before twitter and WhatsApp with wide ranging and often heated discussions taking place on the many issues around Gaelic games under the paternal hand of Liam. The trade union and Labour movement has lost a great friend in Liam.

The Cork Mother Jones Committee and friends wish to extend our deepest sympathy to Liam’s children, Susan and Eoin.

Historian Luke Dineen to speak at the Spirit of Mother Jones Festival 2022.

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. 

Sources: 

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).

May Day Mother Jones Birthday Party in Chicago.

The May Day Party for Mother Jones will take place at the Irish American Heritage Centre at 4626 North Knox Avenue in Chicago from 4:00 pm to 6:00 pm.

Among those participating are: 

  • Kevin Byrne, Ireland’s Consul General to Chicago and the Midwest.
  • Sara Nelson President of the Association of Flight Attendants CWA, AFLCIO.
  • Don Villar, Secretary Treasurer Chicago Federation of Labour.
  • Also participating are singers and artists such as Paddy Homan, Kathy Cowan and the SAG-AFTRA singers while artist Lindsay Hand will sign posters.

All proceeds will go towards the Chicago Statue Campaign.

There are very few monuments which commemorate women in Chicago and as with most cities everywhere none of working class women.

Statue of Mother Jones.

Why not  assist the Chicago campaign to ensure that a beautiful statue is erected to honour Cork born Mary Harris who as Mother Jones worked ceaselessly to help immigrants of many nationalities to organise for decent wages and safe working conditions by joining the American trade union movement!. 

A broad based fundraising committee in the City has been active in fundraising to bring the dream of the Mother Jones statue to reality. 

Image of Proposed Statue of Mother Jones in Wacker, near Michigan Ave, Chicago.

With the help of the American trade unions and many others, the committee is close to achieving this ambition.  Let’s put this iconic Irish immigrant refugee and a founder of the American Labour Movement–the Mother of the working class–on a statue in the city she called home.

Go to the website www.motherjonesmuseum.org to see how you can help.   

https://www.motherjonesmuseum.org/event-details/mother-jones-may-day-birthday-party-may-1-2022-4-6-pm-chicago are hardly any sculptures of women historical figures in the city of Chicago.

https://conta.cc/3DzmU9T

Mother Jones and Her Children is now available here to view online.

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 America and her arguments that they should receive an education instead  will still resonate with 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. 

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.