NAMA-land – Frank Connolly’s latest book


NAMA-land cover

The investigative journalist, Frank Connolly will appear at the Spirit of Mother Jones Festival and summer school on Saturday morning the 4th August at 11am at the Firkin Theatre.

Mr Connolly will discuss his latest book NAMA-Land: The Inside Story Of Ireland’s Property Sell-Off And The Creation Of A New Elite. (Published by Gill Books 2018).

Frank Connolly

15.7.08. Dublin. FRANK CONNOLLY Writer/Journalist. ©Photo by Derek Speirs

Following the crash of the Celtic Tiger in 2008, the Government established the National Asset Management Agency (NAMA) in 2009. It was designed to manage the disastrous position of Ireland’s the “bad” banks which had huge loans outstanding from builders, developers and property speculators resulting from the dramatic fall in value in property prices and their own reckless lending practices.

What followed was the largest transfer of €31.8 billion in loans which had a book value of €74 billion in property assets from public ownership to private interests. This mechanism was designed to save banks, which had huge distressed debts on their books from the collapse by effectively providing them with liquid funds using Government borrowed money following the transfer of their bad assets to NAMA.

Frank Connolly questions why these assets were subsequently disposed of in large bundles to global hedge funds and to vulture funds which “sweat out” their acquisitions in order to maximise their returns on the assets which they have obtained from NAMA at a fraction of their true worth.

protest Dublin

Housing protest

One of the result is that many thousands of Irish people have lost homes and properties as these funds “collect” on their investments which they obtained at a substantial discount. Increasingly long established tenants are being evicted as the vulture funds claim they wish to upgrade these apartments which they acquired as “job-lots” in order to increase substantially the subsequent rents. The State is often left with the rehousing costs of the former tenants.

Nama-Land “will hopefully provide an insight into one of the most significant and far-reaching political and financial experiments in the history of the state, one which will have a profound impact on Irish society and its people for many years to come”.

“Frank Connolly’s careful and penetrating investigative research has exposed critical truths about malfeasance in high places and the often ugly workings of political power generally, actions that have caused great harm to the general population” Noam Chomsky.

Frank Connolly will speak at the Firkin Crane Theatre on Saturday morning 4th August 2018 at 11am. All are welcome.




The story of Thomas “Corkie” Walsh

Thomas “Corkie” Walsh

The name of Thomas “Corkie” Walsh would not be one which would have been well known in Cork until recently. Certainly at the time of his death in 1918 he was an important figure in Cork trade union and republican circles and his funeral was attended by thousands of people, yet in later years he was largely forgotten.  That changed as the centenary of his death in 2018 led to a number of events to retell the story of Thomas “Corkie” Walsh and honour his memory.  This memory will again be rekindled at the Spirit of Mother Jones Festival with a lecture by local historian Luke Dineen.

Thomas Walsh was born in Cork around 1882.  The family had strong Irish republican credentials.  His sister Éibhlis (Elizabeth) married Tomás MacCurtain in 1908.  MacCurtain would go on to lead the Irish Volunteers in Cork in the 1916 Rising although the rebellion never got off the ground in Cork due to contradictory orders from the Volunteer leadership in Dublin.   In 1920 Mac Curtain, then Lord Mayor of Cork , was murdered by British crown forces at his home in Blackpool in front of his wife and family.  Walsh’s sisters Susan and Annie were also living in the MacCurtain home and witnessed the murder of Lord Mayor Mac Curtain.

Mac Curtain family

Lord Mayor Tomás MacCurtain pictured with his wife Eibhlís and their children shortly before his murder in 1920. Éilis was a sister of Thomas Walsh

Thomas was apprenticed from an early age to become a stone mason, an ancient trade that has existed since before the building of the pyramids or indeed Ireland’s own ancient Newgrange.  He was Cork branch of the Ancient Guild of Incorporated Brick and Stone layers which today continues having merged into the Building and Allied Trade Union (BATU).

The young Corkman moved to live in Dublin in 1914 and the following year he joined the Irish Citizen Army, which was founded by James Connolly, Big Jim Larkin and Jack White to protect workers who had been attacked by police and military while on picket duty during the 1913 Dublin Lockout.    It was in Dublin that he was given the nickname “Corkie” due to his Cork origins and accent.


Funeral scene from the Cork Examiner

In 1916 the Irish Volunteers and the Irish Citizen Army united to launch a rebellion, the Easter Rising,  for Irish independence.  Walsh was one of a number of participants of the Rising who probably fought under the command of Commandant Sean Connolly at Dublin City Hall.   While he was helping other comrades to erect makeshift barricades in preparation for the inevitable arrival of British military, Walsh was recognised by a group of Dublin friends who began to joke and mock him with his nickname “Corkie” and began to kick his barricade.  In order to disperse them he fired a shot in the air which was the first shot fired in Dublin during the Rising although it had been fired without intent to harm.

Walsh was captured by British troops at the City Hall.  He was one of around 100 participants to be sentenced to death but had his sentence commuted to 10 years penal servitude. It is interesting to note that Walsh was one of the very first of the rebels to be court-martialled – just one day after proclamation signatories and leaders Padraig Pearse, Thomas McDonagh and Tom Clarke. This and the severity of his sentence would suggest he was quite an important figure as far as the British were concerned. After a short period of detention in Dublin he and hundreds of others were transferred to Frongoch internment camp in North Wales.  His brother-in-law Tomás MacCurtain along with other Cork Volunteers, was also detained in Frongoch and it is likely that they met there once again.     The conditions in Frongoch were appalling, one of the two camps was a former distillery and it was cold, damp and had inadequate sanitation. Like a number of other internees, Walsh became ill due to the poor conditions and died within a short time of his release, passing away at St. Vincent’s Hospital, Dublin on 2nd March 1918.  He was 36 years of age.  His remains were returned to his native Cork where he was buried at St. Finbarr’s Cemetery after a funeral attended by many thousands of people.


Unveiling of new memorial gravestone to Thomas “Corkie” Walsh at St. Finbarr’s Cemetery

Unfortunately over the years Thomas Walsh was largely forgotten about and it took the event of his centenary to bring his memory to the fore again.  Thanks to the diligent research by members of the Cork Masons led by their historian Jim Fahy, the memory of Thomas “Corkie” Walsh has been rekindled and a new limestone gravestone, carved by local mason Tom McCarthy, was officially unveiled on 2nd March 2018, the centenary of Walsh’s death.


Thomas Walsh’s 1916 Rebellion medals

The story of Thomas “Corkie” Walsh will be told by local historian and regular contributor at the Spirit of Mother Jones Festival, Luke Dineen.  The lecture will be delivered on Thursday, 2nd August 2018 at 11.00am at the Cathedral Visitor Centre (at the side of the North Cathedral)




Votes for All Women: the tricky issue of class politics in the Irish suffrage movement

Louise Ryan will speak at the Spirit of Mother Jones festival and Summer School on Friday afternoon 3rd August at 2.30 at the Cathedral Visitor Centre.

She will address the topic, “Votes for All Women: the tricky issue of class politics in the Irish suffrage movement”.

The Irish citizen

Irish Citizen newspaper

Louise Ryan, originally from Cork, is a graduate of UCC. Louise is a Professor of Sociology, and co-director of the Migration Research Group at the University of Sheffield. She is the author of Irish Feminism and the Vote(1996) and (with Margaret Ward) Irish Women and the Vote (2007) as well as numerous academic papers on suffragism in journals including Women’s History Review and Women’s Studies International Forum.

Louise Ryan

Louise Ryan

Her most recent book, Winning the Vote for Women: the Irish Citizen Newspaper and Suffrage Movement in Ireland was published by Four Courts Press in 2018. Louise has appeared on numerous radio programmes and TV documentaries. She also written recent articles about the Irish suffrage movement for the Irish Examiner, Irish Times and Sunday Business Post. Louise has participated in Vote 100 events in Leinster House, The Royal Irish Academy, the House of Commons, Westminster, and Richmond Barracks, Dublin.

The Irish Citizen newspaper was founded by Hanna and Francis Skeffington and was published from 1912 to 1920. This paper provides historians with a “vivid picture” of suffragists’ issues during that period. The newspaper clearly shows that the contributors to the newspaper were concerned not just with the franchise but with a much wider array of issues affecting women generally.

Louise Ryan originally wrote Irish feminism and the vote: an anthology of the Irish Citizen newspaper, 1912-1920 back in 1996 and she has again performed a huge contribution to a more complete understanding of this exciting and turbulent period by republishing an updated and revised edition entitled Winning the Vote for Women: The Irish Citizen Newspaper and Suffrage Movement in Ireland.

Among the many issues debated in the Irish Citizen were the suffragists’ attitudes to work, class, wages and trade unions. It is easy to dismiss the suffragists as middle-class liberals from the leafy suburbs however clearly the movement contained within it a broad spectrum of ideas and views. Suffragists such as Louie Bennett, Winifred Carney, Cissie Cahalan, Meg Connery, Marion Duggan, Mary Galway, Margaret McCoubrey and Marie Johnson raised the issues of wages, exploitation, class and workers’ rights throughout this period and their debates and lively discussions appeared regularly in the pages of the Irish Citizen.

Professor Ryan will examine these differences and contradictions within the suffragist movement and the relationship between class politics and gender politics which are perhaps as relevant today as one hundred years ago.

One Woman’s Fight for Justice


Louise O'Keeffe

Louise O’Keeffe (Pic:: Courtpix)

Louise O’Keeffe describes herself as an ordinary West Cork woman and mother of two children. Yet this extraordinary woman took the Irish government to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), which in January 2014 found in her favour in a landmark judgement.

Louise had fought a long 20 year battle through  the Irish courts to get civil redress for the sexual abuse which she suffered in Dunderrow Primary School in Co Cork in the early 1970s for which her school principal Leo Hickey was convicted.  In 1998, Mr Hickey was charged with 386 criminal offences of sexual abuse involving 21 former pupils. He pleaded guilty to 21 sample charges and was sent to prison for three years.

Louise was deemed ineligible for compensation from the Residential Institutions Redress Board and so began her long journey, with the aid of her solicitor Ernest Cantillon, through the High Court, (January 2006), and the Supreme Court, (December 2008), which both ruled that the State was not liable.

Four Courts

The Four Courts, Dublin, seat of the Supreme Court

Following the Supreme Court decision, the State Claims Agency (SCA) wrote to 135 other people around the country who had made similar claims and effectively threatened to pursue them for legal costs if they did not drop their claims immediately. Many did drop their claims through fear of exposure to large legal costs!

Undaunted, Louise bravely continued her fight and on June 16th 2009 (Application no 35810/09) took her case to the ECHR which in January 2014 found the Irish State to be in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights for its failure to put in place any mechanism of State control to protect Irish schoolchildren from sexual abuse in relation to the abuse Louise had endured in primary school.


European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg

On the day of the ECHR decision, Louise stated “This is a great day for the children of Ireland”. Two days later the then Taoiseach Enda Kenny on 30th January 2014 apologised to her for the “horrendous experience she had to go through” and he stated that she was “a woman of extraordinary commitment”.

There has been ongoing controversy about the Government’s interpretation of the ECHR’s finding. Many commentators such as the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission and University College Cork’s Child Law Clinic suggest that the Government’s redress scheme is overly restrictive in its interpretation of the ECHR O’Keeffe finding. This appears to have now made it almost impossible for victims to qualify for redress as the State requires that a prior complaint of abuse must have existed in the school before the claimant was abused.

The Minister for Education appointed Justice Iarfhlaith O’Neill as an independent assessor to examine appeals where the State Claims Agency decided claims were ineligible. Justice O’Neill has sought an explanation from the Minister as to whether the rejection by the adversarial SCA, of many claims on the grounds of evidence of prior complaint was consistent with the ECHR O’Keeffe judgement. Very few cases have been settled under the State scheme to date.

Louise O’Keeffe will tell the story of her fight for justice at the Spirit of Mother Jones Festival on Thursday afternoon 2nd August at 2.30 pm at the Cathedral Visitor Centre. All are welcome.

The story of Hanna Sheehy Skeffington as told by her granddaughter Micheline


Hanna Sheehy Skeffington

Dr. Micheline Sheehy Skeffington will speak at the Spirit of Mother Jones summer school on Saturday afternoon 4th August at the Firkin Theatre at 2.30 pm. All are welcome.

Dr Sheehy Skeffington is a plant ecologist with an interest in wetlands, heathlands and peatland. She has carried out research on sustainable farming for conservation and has contributed to many publications in these areas over three decades.

Micheline won a landmark Equality Tribunal case against National University of Ireland, always in 2014 as a result of its discrimination against her over many years in relation to promotion to Senior Lecturer.

Dr. Micheline Sheehy Skeffinton

Micheline will discuss her grandmother Hanna Sheehy Skeffington at the summer school and she will concentrate on the visit by Hanna to America from December 1916 to June 1918. Having recently retraced the footsteps of her grandmother across America 100 years on, Micheline spoke in some of the key cities in which Hanna had spoken. She filmed as she went to create a documentary which will be produced by Loopline Films.

Hanna Sheehy Skeffington

Hanna Sheehy was born in Kanturk, Co. Cork on 24th May 1877 to David Sheehy and Bessie (nee McCoy) who were from Co. Limerick. She spent much of her early life in Tipperary. Her father owned a mill near Templemore Co Tipperary and operated bread shops in Thurles and Templemore. She was brought up in very political household which had Fenian connections as both her parents were involved in the rural agitation of the time.

Hanna came to Dublin and received an MA with first class honours in 1902. In 1903 she married Francis Sheehy Skeffington. Hanna and Frank were among the founders of the Irish Women’s Franchise League in 1908 and in subsequent years became increasing active in the suffrage movement and she was imprisoned on a number of occasions. By 1912 they founded the Irish Citizen newspaper along with Margaret and James Cousins, which gave a voice to women involved in the campaign for voting rights and equality.

Both Hanna and Frank remained actively involved in politics, working in the soup kitchens of the 1913 Lockout, supporting the suffrage campaign and as pacifists actively opposing the First World War.  Frank, while out trying to prevent looting in Dublin on 26th April 1916 during the Easter Rising was murdered by Captain Bowen-Colthurst at Portobello Barracks. Hanna’s brother-in-law Tom Kettle was killed at the Somme in September 1916.

Hanna departed for a tour of America with her son Owen in December 1916. She spoke at over 250 meetings explaining the events in Ireland including the murder of her husband. She met US President Woodrow Wilson and even introduced to Henry Ford as well as Mother Jones before

Hanna with her son Owen in 1915

departing from New York on 27th June 1918. Hanna was seen off by Liam Mellows. On her return she was arrested in Dublin and later imprisoned in Holloway Jail before being released after a hunger strike. In the general election of 1918, Hanna had joined Sinn Fein and campaigned for Countess Markievicz, who was the only woman elected in the first election where women over 30 had the vote.

Later, Hanna received a head wound following an assault by the police at a meeting in Dublin where she bravely tried to protect a person who was being clubbed by the police. This incident was vividly described by a very worried Countess Markievicz writing from Cork Prison in August 1919 when describing how Hanna “lost a lot of blood and will have to keep quiet for a bit”.

She was one of just five women elected to Dublin Corporation in 1920. She opposed the new Free State, spending further time in America at the request of Eamon de Valera. At the foundation of Fianna Fail in 1926, she was appointed to the executive of the party. In subsequent years Hanna wrote extensively on women’s rights and campaigned on many issues in addition to travelling to address conferences in Europe. In 1933, she was arrested in Northern Ireland for speaking there in defiance of a banning order and spent over a month in prison.

During the Spanish Civil War she chaired a Women’s Aid Committee for the Spanish Republic. Later she campaigned against the new constitution in 1937 on the basis of how poorly it treated women. On 20th April 1946 Hanna died and is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery alongside her husband Frank. Hanna is described on her gravestone as a “feminist, republican, socialist”.



Hanna’s extraordinary meeting with Mother Jones one hundred years ago in 1918.  

One hundred years ago, in what is a unique coincidence, two Cork born women spoke on the same public platform at a massive trade union protest meeting in San Francisco. This large public meeting took place on the evening of 16th April 1918 at the newly constructed San Francisco Civic Auditorium (still standing today but now known as the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium). San Francisco is Cork’s sister city in America since 1984!

Graham Auditorium, San Francisco

Cork born Mother Jones (1837-1930) spoke passionately in defence of her long-time friend and trade union activist Tom Mooney who had been sentenced to death for the bombing of a Preparedness Day parade in San Francisco on 22nd July 1916 in which ten people had been killed. In what was widely considered to be a frame-up, Mooney’s case became a cause celebre for the labour movement. The San Francisco Examiner reported that somewhere between eight and ten thousand Mooney supporters attended this protest meeting and had marched through San Francisco earlier.

Mother Jones was joined on the platform by Cork born Hanna Sheehy Skeffington, and who was in the final stages of a speaking tour of America at the time.

Tom Mooney

Thomas J. Mooney in 1933

Both women supported the petition to seek a retrial for Thomas J Mooney and true to their rebel spirit, they definitely had their say on the night in question and left a lasting impression. The San Francisco Chronicle of the 17th April reported that Hanna was later arrested in San Francisco on 24th April 1918 but the case was dismissed the following day. The Department of Justice were interested in Hanna and agents from the Bureau of Investigation took notes at her meetings.*

Mother Jones spoke at great length regarding Mooney, however her once spell-binding oratory now somewhat dimmed by the toil of her 80 years, could not be heard by sections of the crowd. The packed audience was supportive of the union icon until she apparently condemned the US military for shooting down working men and their families and she then faced some opposition from the crowd.

Recent research by author Elliott Gorn** revealed that this element of her speech was reported to Washington by Lieutenant Rolin G. Watkins of the War Department’s Military Intelligence Division, (Later known after the war as the Bureau of Investigation under J Edgar Hoover). Indeed the Lieutenant also recommended that the Federal Authorities pressure her to stop making speeches. Lieutenant Watkins recommendations remained very much a nonstarter in the case of Mother Jones! By another extraordinary coincidence it seems that both women were being monitored by the American Intelligence Agencies. Mother Jones had also been arrested many times throughout her long career (including three months of incarceration in 1913 where she was interned without trial in Colorado) and indeed she was again arrested in 1919 on several occasions during the steel strike.

The union leader Tom Mooney was finally released from San Quentin in 1939. Hanna Sheehy Skeffington in her memoirs claimed   …”The war is thus often made a pretext for vengeance against the socialist reformer.”  Over the twenty years of his jail term Mooney had been the subject of a worldwide campaign to free him with people such as Lenin and George Bernard Shaw supporting his release.

The Cork Mother Jones Committee will commemorate the historic events of the 16th April 1918 at the  San Francisco auditorium during the forthcoming annual Spirit of Mother Jones Festival (August 1st to August 4th 2018) when Dr. Micheline Sheehy Skeffington will give an account of Hanna’s lecture tour of America.


Micheline Sheehy Skeffington will discuss her grandmother’s life and activities and present the findings of her recent American visit at the Spirit of Mother Jones summer school on Saturday afternoon 4th August at 2.30 pm at the Firkin Theatre.

*        Hanna Sheehy Skeffington Suffragette And Sinn Feiner, Her Memoirs and Political Writings by Margaret Ward. University College Dublin Press 2017. Page 143.

* *     Mother Jones – The Most Dangerous Woman in America by Elliott J Gorn, Hill and Wang 2001. Notes page 377.

Mary Manning to speak at this year’s Spirit of Mother Jones festival

Mary Manning, one of the Dunnes Stores Strikers will speak at the Spirit of Mother Jones Summer School on Friday evening 3rd August at the Firkin Theatre in Shandon at 7.30.

Dunnes Stores strikers 2

Dunnes Stores strikers Karen Gearon and Mary Manning with the late Nimrod Sejake of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) and ANC.

On July 19th 1984, Mary Manning went to work as usual on the cash registers at the Dunnes Stores, Henry Street branch in Dublin. Her union IDATU (Irish Distributive Administrative Trade Union, now Mandate Trade Union) led by Cork born John Mitchell had earlier instructed its union members not to handle South African products.

She describes what happened…

“My palms started sweating as I opened up my cash register. Everything after this happened very quickly. I spotted a middle-aged woman in the distance with two large yellow grapefruits in her basket. My heartbeat increased at the sight of them. I avoided eye-contact and popped my head down straight away. ‘Please don’t come to me, please go to any other till’ I thought to myself but the woman plonked her basket at my till, completely oblivious to the internal crisis unfolding within me.”

That morning, Ms. Manning refused to register the sale of those South African products. She was immediately suspended and another nine of her colleagues joined her on the picket line.


In her recent book with Sinéad O’Brien “Striking Back – the untold story of an Anti-Apartheid Striker”, published by Collins Press, Mary describes the long months during which she and her union colleagues spent on the picket lines, even as the strike began to generate worldwide publicity.

She describes the ups and downs of the protest and gives a vivid account of the dark days of the protest when the young Dublin women and their colleague Tommy Davis felt very alone. Mary tells of her growing personal commitment to the strike and her increasing political awareness and independence unfolds as the daily grind of the strike continued for almost three years.


However the spirits, morale and determination of the strikers remained high in spite of the failure of some fellow workers to support them, personal sacrifices in the midst of a recession and being let down by some of those who should have provided support. Yet as the national support for the strike and widespread opposition to apartheid grew, it led to people such as Seamus Heaney, Christy Moore, Sean McBride Donal Lunny, the incredible Nimrod Sejake and thousands of people joining the strikers on the picket line in Henry Street and other protests in Dublin and elsewhere around the country. The resolve of the strikers began to make international headlines.


Bishop Desmond Tutu

In July 1985, the strikers attempted to visit South Africa to meet Bishop Desmond Tutu, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984, at his invitation, but they were arrested at Jan Smuts Airport, refused entry and banned from the country. On their eventual return to Dublin, the strikers were introduced to the world’s media as “the ten deadliest shop workers in the world” by their union official, the late Brendan Archbold. It proved to be a huge international PR disaster for the apartheid system and the South African government.

As a result of the support for the strike, by April 1987, the Irish government had banned the importation of South African products and later Mary and some of her colleagues finally returned to work.  However as she and Karen Gearon were being treated within Dunnes Stores as the ringleaders of the strike she felt they were being singled out and all aspects of their work questioned and so finally Mary left the company. On the 5th November 1988, she emigrated to Australia, where she spent five years.

Less than six months after his release from prison after 27 years, on 2nd July 1990, Nelson Mandela arrived in Ireland and met the Dunnes Stores Strikers. He praised how the “ young shop workers on Henry Street in Dublin, who in 1984, refused to handle the fruits of apartheid, provided me with great hope during my years of imprisonment and inspiration to millions of South Africans that ordinary people, far away from the crucible of apartheid , cared for our freedom.”  Mary was unable to afford the flight to come back from Australia to meet Nelson Mandela.

On 18th May 2015 a plaque was unveiled on Henry Street, Dublin which commemorates the actions of Mary Manning and her colleagues….. brave and inspiring actions which had a worldwide impact.


Mary Manning now (Photo courtesy of Collins PressP

The Dunnes Stores Strikers were Cathryn O’Reilly, Sandra Griffin, Alma Russell, Theresa Mooney, Vonnie Malone, Karen Gearon, Tommy Davis, Michelle Glavin, Liz Deasy and Mary Manning. Brendan Barron was suspended in October 1985 in Crumlin by Dunnes Stores for refusing to handle South African products.

Mary Manning accompanied by Sinéad O’Brien will tell the story of the historic Dunnes Stores Strike at the Firkin Theatre on Friday evening 3rd August. All are welcome.

Spirit of Mother Jones Festival – Day Three (Thursday, 3rd August)

Timetable for Day Three of the Spirit of Mother Jones Festival – Thursday, 3rd August 2017.

There is an environmental theme to today’s events which begin at 11.00am with what promises to be an interesting and topical talk by Councillor Marcia D’Alton on “The Environmental Battle for Cork Harbour”.

We will have Music at the Maldron Hotel at 1.00pm and at 2.30pm at the Firkin Crane we will be showing the thought-provoking documentary “A Plastic Ocean” by Australian journalist and film-maker Craig Leeson.

at 7.30pm we will have a lecture at the Maldron entitled “Climate Change – Our Response” by Fr. Sean McDonagh who has written extensively on environmental issues and is currently President of An Taisce.

All are welcome.

“Climate Change – Our Response!” – with Fr. Seán McDonagh


Global Warming

Warming of Planet Earth – Photo via NASA / Wikimedia (Public Domain)

Fr Sean McDonagh will present a talk entitled “Climate Change – Our Response” at the Maldron Hotel on Thursday 3rd August 2017 as part of a general “environment day” at the 2017 Spirit of Mother Jones summer school.

Fr. Sean McDonagh was born in Nenagh, Co Tipperary in 1944 and was ordained a priest in the Columban order in 1969. He was sent to work in Mindanao in the Philippines where he spent four years working in Oroqueita City. Later he worked amongst the T’boli indigenous people near Lake Sebu where he witnessed at first hand the destruction of the local forests. Thus began his environmental activism which has led to a huge literary output and his travels across the world explaining that environmental destruction leads to global poverty especially amongst the poor.

Fr McDonagh and Pope Francis

Fr. Sean McDonagh (right) meets Pope Francis

He highlights the causes and effects of climate warming, the lack of access to fresh water, the destruction of our oceans. He opposes the patenting of seeds and animals and warns of the dangers of genetic engineering which concentrates power and control over food production in a few unaccountable multinationals. In 2006 he published Climate Change: The Challenge to Us All in which he discusses the consequences of Global Warming. His is a passionate and urgent call to all, including the churches to become active in ensuring solutions are found.

Fr McDonagh has written numerous articles and papers for various newspapers and magazines around the world. He is a strong advocate for Pope Francis’s recent Encyclical on the environment, “Laudato Si – On Care for our Common Home”, described by many as the most revolutionary papal encyclical ever. He argues for the Church to become the catalyst for the change needed to safeguard the planet. Currently President of An Taisce: The National Trust for Ireland, Fr Sean has assisted many environmental organisations over the decades. He is a proud Tipperary person and enjoys the game of hurling.

Climate Change: As a result mainly of the combustion of fossil fuels, there is an accumulation of carbon dioxide and greenhouse gases such as nitrous oxides in the atmosphere leading to the rise in average global temperatures by 0.6 C degrees in the past 100 years but scientists are predicting that the earth’s temperature could rise by between 1.4 C degrees this century. Many scientists also predict that this rise will have catastrophic results for the earth. High temperatures, heat waves, rising sea levels, violent storms, loss of food production, loss of wildlife, water shortages, the list is endless. But one thing is clear- it will have a major change on the world as we know it.

On Wednesday 19th July 2017, the Irish Government produced the National Mitigation Plan which detailed 106 ways to reduce the impact of Climate Change in Ireland. It promised a “fundamental societal transformation”. However Ireland is likely to be well short of reaching its target for a 20% reduction in emissions from the 2005 figures by the year 2020. Indeed emissions are projected by the Irish Environmental Protection Agency to increase 2015-2020 by between 10% and 20% in the transport sector and 5% in the agricultural sectors. These are the big emitters with Agriculture contributing 33% and Transport 20% of all greenhouse gas emissions in Ireland.

Fr. McDonagh

Fr. Sean McDonagh

The Paris Agreement aims to restrict global temperature rises to well below 2% above pre-industrial levels and is committed as a whole to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 40% by 2030 compared to 1990 levels. Ireland is currently way off the mark! Will the latest glossy green brochure of the National Mitigation Plan be just another symbol of Irish indifference to climate change? Or are we all going to ensure we do not remain bystanders to the threat facing future generations?

Fr Sean McDonagh will present his views on Thursday evening 3rd August at 7.30 at the Maldron Hotel, Cork.




Origins and Lessons of the Spanish Civil War

Historian and author Harry Owens, will address the topic “Origins and Lessons of the Spanish Civil War” at the Maldron Hotel on Friday 4th August at 2.45.

Spain 1937

Anarchist militia from the National Confederation of Labour wave their flags and rifles for the camera in Barcelona during the Spanish Civil War. ca. 1937 Barcelona, Spain

The Spanish Civil War was one of the most significant events of the 20th century and became a frightening prelude to World War 2. While it was fundamentally a war between the Spanish people, it was really a battle between the establishment and the workers and peasants, between the forces of conservatism and those seeking progress. Massive foreign intervention ensured a bloody conflict, which resulted in a total defeat for the democratically elected government and its supporters, and consigned Spain and her people to almost 40 years of rule by a fascist government.

Looking at some figures to gauge the extent of the war, Andy Durgan in his book “The Spanish Civil War” (Palgrave Macmillan 2007 Studies in European History) estimates that around 350,000 people died during the period 1936-1939 and its aftermath, out of a population of 25 million.


Republican forces barricade

He concludes that about 100,000 people were executed by Franco’s Nationalists during the war itself and more than 20,000 soon afterwards. Hundreds of thousands were condemned to prison and exile, ostracism or poverty as Franco consolidated his power and as hunger and terror became official policy and many more died. Others estimate that 150,000 republican supporters  were summarily executed, and lie in unmarked mass graves all over Spain today, in what is now accepted as “the Spanish Holocaust “.

Durgan also contends that about 38,000 people were executed by the Republicans, about half in the first six weeks of the war. In the same period close to 7000 Catholic clergy were killed. This was accompanied by huge destruction of property, churches, and monasteries and was often the result of chaos, fear, ignorance and criminality.

The immediate background to this war began in early 1930s, which saw a new coalition of republicans and socialists come to power and challenge the total grip of the privileged elites which had dominated Spain for centuries. These elites consisted of the Royalty, large landowners, the Catholic Church and army officers. In stark contrast, landless labourers worked under feudal conditions for wealthy landowners in rural Spain while in urban areas, wealthy industrialists exploited the urban poor. One in four children went to bed hungry each night, women, the chattels of their husbands were largely uneducated, and had no vote. The productive power houses of Catalonia and the Basque country seeking a modern market economy, demanded independence.  These conflicts simmered under the surface.

Graham Coton painting of the bombing of Gernika / Guernica

Earlier insurrections by miners and workers in Asturias in Northern Spain in October 1934, were defeated after which the Army murdered several hundred striking miners. This brutality served as a foretaste of the cataclysm to come and ensured a total break between the two sides. It pitched the urban and rural poor against the privileged elites. Following the General Election of February 1936, a Popular front of the Left emerged victorious and set about giving effect to the long awaited land reforms and improvements in pay and working conditions so long demanded in the mills, factories and large businesses throughout Spain.

Conflict broke out quickly in July 1936 when the Army rebelled in Africa and while the initial mutiny was defeated by the workers militias of the socialist, communist and anarchist trade unions, the country descended into war when the Nationalists under Army Chief, General Francisco Franco established an alternative military controlled state at Burgos in the north of Spain.

There followed one of the most brutal and savage wars seen in Europe. The foreign intervention by Germany (17,000 troops) and Italy (70,000 troops) in terms of men and equipment including planes, along with almost 80,000 Moroccan soldiers contributed to the gradual erosion of the Republican/Popular Front territories. In spite of tremendous, brave and passionate resistance in defence of the elected government by the workers militias and volunteers, the resistance to the Franco onslaught was eventually overcome.

The Soviet Union assisted the Republic. The Communist Comintern, an organisation which advocated global communism, recruited and organised the International Brigades. Some 35,000 volunteers from 53 countries came to fight Franco along with several thousand others who fought with other left wing groups. These were actively involved in all of the severest fighting mainly used as shock troops. They suffered 80% attrition, with 30% killed in action. Their bravery and dedication could not be questioned in what afterwards was called the last just war.

The Spanish Civil war brought out the best in people but also the worst. The April 1937 bombing of the Basque town of Guernica by the German Airforce foreshadowed the horror of the widespread indiscriminate bombing of civilians in World War 2. In remembering the battle of Jamara, the defence of Madrid, the battle of the Ebro, the courage of La Pasionaria and the slogan No Pasaran, Guadalajara, the uprising in Barcelona, the battle of Mazuco…………. the long and haunting legacy of Spain remains vivid. Poets and intellectuals such as Federico Garcia Lorca were murdered during the war.   The fight against fascism is commemorated by artists, poets and writers such as Pablo Picasso, Ernest Hemingway, and George Orwell.

The Spanish working class challenged the entrenched elites in Spain, fought bravely and courageously for a democratic revolution against impossible odds. The powerful elites of Spain were joined by Hitler and Mussolini who tested their war machines and tactics. The impact of the German Condor Legion on the ground proved very effective in the actual fighting.


Pablo Picasso’s “Guernica”

The political establishments ruling European democracies, largely sat back and failed to defend a democratically elected government from being overthrown. Could Russia have done more to properly arm the Republicans? Should the communists, socialists, anarchists and varied trade unionists have supported each other more effectively? Thousands of papers have been written and the discussions go on.

What is certain is that as a result of the defeat of the Republic, most of the Spanish people and in particular workers and peasants were consigned to almost 40 years of brutal repression until 1977. (Franco died in 1975). The Second World War soon broke out in Europe. Some historians have considered that had the Republican government/Popular Front defeated the forces of Franco, the Second World War might have been avoided. Yet could the poorly armed untrained republicans ever have defeated the might of the Spanish Army?

In the current volatile political climate which has seen Donald Trump become President of the USA, the British people vote to leave the European Union, the growth of right wing populism, the rise of Putin, are there enduring lessons to learned in relation to the Spanish Civil War? Are these still in any way relevant today?

Historian Harry Owens, who has spent a lifetime researching the Spanish Civil War, has visited Spain many times and has contributed to many books including Brigadista- An Irishman’s Fight Against Fascism- Bob Doyle, will consider this topic on Friday afternoon 4th August at the Maldron Hotel at 2.45.                   


The 2017 Cork Mother Jones Lectures.

The 2017 Cork Mother Jones Lectures.

Tuesday 1st August 2017 at 7.30 pm.


Ethel Buckley

Ethel Buckley

Ethel Buckley leads the SIPTU Division’s collective bargaining, industrial organising, campaigning, membership growth and activist engagement strategies in the private sector. A member of the Executive Council of the ICTU, she was the inaugural Trade Union Organiser in Residence at Ruskin College, Oxford, England. A Cork woman, she recently led the Clerys Campaign and was involved in the campaign for improvement of conditions of the Irish Womens’ Soccer team.


In the age of austerity, with the growth of the so called “gig economy” the widespread use of zero hours contracts, outsourcing and the general removal of protections from workers, trade unions membership as a percentage of the workforce especially in the private sector is decreasing. However a new generation of trade union activists and officials are challenging employers and the government to ensure workers’ rights are protected, workplace regulations are enforced and the role of trade unions remains relevant in Irish society.


Ethel Buckley will speak to the topic:


“Revitalising the Labour Movement: What can we learn from the Justice for Clerys Workers’ Campaign Victory”



Ed Byrne

Ed Byrne

Ed Byrne is current President of the Association of Secondary Teachers in Ireland. He took office on the 1st August 2016. Ed is a geography and business studies teacher at Colaiste Choilm in Swords, Co Dublin. He wishes to end discrimination against recently qualified teachers and wants equal pay for equal work.


He believes it is completely unacceptable to treat young highly qualified and committed young people entering the teaching profession in this discriminatory fashion. The ASTI which has a membership of 18000 teachers, has been to the forefront of this campaign for some time.


Ed Byrne will address the topic:


“Challenging Injustice, Inequality and the Unethical!”.



Ed Goltz with Lord Mayor Mary Shields

James Goltz pictured with the then Lord Mayor of Cork Cllr. Mary Shields in 2014

James Goltz is a member of the US Labour Union, the United Association.

James is from Bunker Hill, Illinois and has visited the Spirit of Mother Jones Festival twice.

He will deliver what he terms “the essence of Mother Jones” from her grave in Mount Olive Union Cemetery in Illinois to the people of Cork.


James has been in contact with a number of American Labour organisations and will present the Cork Mother Jones Committee with three Proclamations from

  • American Federation of Labour and Congress of Industrial Organizations, AFL-CIO International President Richard Trumpka (former President of the UMWA) on behalf of its 12.5 million members.
  • The Illinois AFL-CIO Executive Board and President Michel T. Carrigan on behalf of their one million members.
  • The United Mine Workers of America, UMWA International President Cecil E. Roberts on “behalf of a grateful miners’ nation, its friends and allies”. The United Mine Workers of America was founded in 1890 and Mother Jones worked as an UMWA organiser in the coal fields of America in the 1890s.

These three proclamations will be retained and secured by the Cork Mother Jones Committee and one day they will form part of a permanent exhibition to Honour Mother Jones in her native city.

All are welcome to attend at the Maldron Hotel, Shandon, Cork on Tuesday 1st August at 7.30 pm.