The Revolutionary Women of Cork’s Northside 1916-1923

On Wednesday evening, the 3rd August, Anne Twomey of the Shandon Area History Group will speak on the above topic at the 2017 Spirit of Mother Jones summer school.

Anne Twomey

Anne Twomey of Shandon Area History Group speaking at last year’s Spirit of Mother Jones Festival

The recent celebrations of the 1916 Rising were marked by an examination of the central role played by many women during the period of the Irish Revolution. In contrast to 1966, when little mention was made, publications such as “No Ordinary Women: Irish Females Activists in the Revolutionary Years 1900-1923” by Sinead McCoole and John Borgonovo in his “Dynamics of War and Revolution: Cork City, 1916-1918” made determined attempt to reveal the story of the contribution of women during this period.

The landmark exhibition by the Shandon Area History Group “Ordinary Women in Extraordinary times” at the St Peters Vision Centre in Cork in June 2016, concentrated on the activities of ten women in Cork whose roles lay largely hidden.

badge

Cumann na mBan lapel badge

Through their efforts and others the full extent of the invisible yet essential infrastructure provided by women which supported the ongoing revolution from 1916 all over Ireland is being unveiled.

With Cork becoming the cockpit of the revolution from 1917 onwards, a number of extremely determined yet forgotten (or ignored) women constructed an impenetrable yet vital support network to the struggle for independence then taking place. Their pivotal and defiant actions, deemed almost irrelevant by history more concerned with the glory of the battle is slowly emerging into the consciousness of their communities.

Anne Twomey at a recent lecture where she detailed the tireless and heroic work of those revolutionary women remarked how “those that knew…..knew!” Now we need to know!

Memorial Window

Stained glass window at Our Lady of Lourdes church, Ballinlough, Cork in memory of Birdie Conway.

The Shandon Cumann Na mBan group after 1916 provides a touchstone for many of the women. At the centre of this group was Lil Conlon and her sisters. Lil was an indefatigable worker who performed many tasks during the troubled period and later penned a book Cumann Na mBan and the Women of Ireland 1913-1925 in which she posed the question “What did the women of Ireland do anyway?”

Lil Conlon book

Lil Conlon’s book on Cumann na mBan (published 1969)

Kate “Birdie” Conway, whose early career was as a professional operatic singer, later became a founder member in Cork of Cumann Na mBan and afterwards Shandon Branch president, played a huge role from 1914 to 1922. Her fundraising, her organising and support activities for prisoners’ dependents and in the cultural area were legendary. She arranged concerts, and often sang at them herself. “Birdie” Conway passed away on 21st February 1936. Today she is remembered by a magnificent stain glass window in the entrance portal at the Ballinlough Church in Cork city.

In Clogheen, on the northern ridge of the city, Mary Bowles was arrested in January 1921 as she tried to hide a Lewis gun while local men escaped from an attempted ambush. She suffered dreadfully at the hands of her captors, and was imprisoned although just a very young teenage girl. She is remembered in a ballad “Mary Bowles… the Pride of Sweet Clogheen

Across in Blackpool, Peg Duggan and her sisters Sarah and Annie, living at 49 Thomas Davis Street, operated an escape network for those on the run for years. Her flower shop on Parliament Street was a centre of Volunteer/IRA activity until closed by order of the British authorities. She was among the first on the scene of the murder of Lord Mayor Tomas MacCurtain in Blackpool on 20th March 1920 and she rendered first aid and comfort for his widow, children and the extended Walsh family throughout that terrifying night.

Emma Hourigan who lived nearby at 45 Maddens Buildings was very active, running intelligence, putting up posters, campaigning and organising. Yet six of her neighbours from Maddens Buildings consisting of just 76 houses were killed during World War 1. Historian Mark Cronin (Blackpool to the Front: A Cork Suburb and Ireland’s Great War 1914-1918) details how hundreds of young men from Blackpool and surrounds had fought in the British Army during the Great War and almost 70 never came home.

Emma Hourigan

Emma Hourigan

From this small Blackpool community one begins to appreciate the complexity of Irish life and history in a small urban village and the difficulties faced by Emma Hourigan and others who bravely took the republican road to freedom. By a sad irony the contributions of the women in the War of Independence and the men who went to fight for John Redmond to achieve Home Rule were virtually written out of Irish history.

In the very heart of Cork City in St Augustine Street stood the innocuous paper shop run by the Wallace sisters who were members of the Irish Citizen Army. This unpretentious premises was effectively the intelligence post office for the volunteers and the IRA for 5/6 years. Nora and Sheila Wallace’s heroic and invisible contribution to the revolution is only now surfacing from the shadows.

Wallace Sisters

Sheila and Julia Wallace

Margaret Lucey typed drafts of Principles of Freedom by Terence MacSwiney, while MacSwiney’s sisters Mary and Annie spent their entire lives working for the achievement of a Republic.

Young Kitty Daly was very active, she took part in the burning of Macroom Railway Station and was involved in the ambush of a British officer near the present St. John’s School.

Geraldine Sullivan (Neeson), was Muriel Murphy’s bridesmaid at her marriage to Terence MacSwiney on 9th June 1917. She transported explosives on her person around the city. The transport of arms and explosives from place to place became normal for the more active women in 1920-1921.

In 5 Devonshire Street, Nora O’Sullivan was actively involved and bravely hid and carried weapons for volunteers, who were subject to constant searches. Sinead McCoole’s book contains a curious self-prophetic note made by Nora to her friend Kitty Coyle, while a prisoner in Kilmainham Gaol during the Civil War….

“Remember me is all I ask,

and if remembrance proves a task,

forget”

 

Their unique stories will be told on Wednesday evening 3rd August by Anne Twomey of the Shandon Area History Group. The Group has made a major contribution to public history by researching and continuing to tell the story of these extraordinary women and others during the Irish Revolutionary period. The Cork Mother Jones Committee wishes to thank Anne Twomey and Maeve Higgins for their research on which this article is based. Photos courtesy of the Shandon Area History Group except where stated.

“A Plastic Ocean” at the Spirit of Mother Jones Festival and Summer School 2017.

plastic pollution at sea

Plastic Ocean – floating plastic

The Cork Mother Jones Committee will screen the stunning environmental film “A Plastic Ocean” at the sixth Spirit of Mother Jones festival on Thursday afternoon 3rd August 2017 at the Firkin Theatre in Shandon. While many regard tackling climate change as being vital to the survival of the planet, other threats are also accumulating in the environment.

This film investigates how the world’s increasing addiction to plastic is impacting the food chain and how that is effecting every one of us through new and developing human health problems. The results will astound viewers as the film captures never-before-seen images of marine life under threat from plastics.

A Plastic Ocean – film poster

A Plastic Ocean is filmed in 20 locations around the world and documents in chilling detail the effects of the some 8 million tons of plastic which we dump in the world’s oceans annually. Each year some 300 million tons of plastic are manufactured in the world, half of which we use just once before we dump it, making it one of mankind’s most destructive inventions.

The film follows documentary film maker Craig Leeson and a free diver Tanya Streeter, who while filming the blue whale, discover huge quantities of plastic floating in the waters off Sri Lanka. What follows is a global odyssey to discover what is happening in the oceans around the world.

Taking four years to film, and costing some $3.5 million the results should force people to question the plastic pathway and urge industry and all of us users to seek safe alternative solutions.

The evidence of plastic pollution which the film makers found shocked them and made them question a world where plastic is everywhere, yet few question why we produce so much, use so much and where it goes when discarded. The build-up of micro plastics and the creation of ocean garbage patches places the viability of the world’s oceans to sustain life under huge pressure.

Tanya Streeter

Tanya Streeter on the island of Tuvalu

The ratio of plastic to plankton in the Mediterranean Sea is 1:2, in some places the small plastic particles outnumber plankton by a ratio of 26:1.  A large amount of discarded plastic carries toxic chemicals such as BPA, phthalates, pesticides and PCBs. Over 90% of seabirds worldwide have plastic pieces in their stomachs. If this trend continues, and with studies showing that plastic is entering the food chains, then what is the future for human health and our very planet?

Plastics are created from the oil hydrocarbons and one solution would be to return plastics to oil. The search for bacteria to break plastic molecules down continues but the oceans or indeed the earth are not able to do so.  Some proposed solutions such as incineration create many toxic and poisonous emissions to the environment. Have the plastic manufacturers any real answers to safeguarding the environment from their products?

Oil Rigs

Oil – leaves lasting damage

Plastic Oceans is a global network of independent not for profits and charitable organisations, united in their aim to change the world’s attitude towards plastic within a generation.

“A Plastic Ocean” will be screened on Thursday afternoon 3rd August at the Firkin Theatre in Shandon as a contribution to an “Environment Day” at the Spirit of Mother Jones festival. Discussion to follow. All are welcome. Further lectures on environmental issues will be announced shortly.

New film “Blood on the Mountain” will feature at the Spirit of Mother Jones Festival 2017

Blood on the Mountain

Blood on the Mountain movie poster

Blood on the Mountain is a newly released award-winning documentary.  It  is a fearless look at the 150 year history of the US coal industry. It has been endorsed by both the United Mine Workers of America and Sierra Club.   This is a story of human struggles endured at the mercy of unregulated industries and corrupt politicians.
The film’s director is Mari-lynn Evans who is “a life-long fan of Mother Jones.” She faced terrific obstacles and efforts to stop the film from the coal industry, which “reminded me of what Mother Jones and activists 100 years ago had to face.”
The film, she notes, “is a story of human struggles endured at the mercy of unregulated industries and corrupt politicians,” that should interest people far beyond West Virginia: “The injustices to the workers, environment and communities in the coalfields of Appalachia are the “canary in a coal mine” illustrating to all Americans what happens when corporations are allowed absolute control to inflict atrocities and politicians abdicate responsibility for those they are elected to protect.”

The film is showing at the Mother Jones Museum & Heritage Project Newsletter

May Day Special at the Mother Jones Museum at Mount Olive, Illinois on 29th April.  We are delighted to announce that we will also be showing the film for the first time in Ireland at the 2017 Spirit of Mother Jones in Cork which runs from 1st to 5th August in the Shandon area of the city – further information coming soon when the 2017 Festival Programme is available.
For further information on the Mother Jones events in Illinois visit it the Mother Jones Lives! page on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/MotherJonesLives/

Mother Jones featured on Irish Times series on Irish diaspora

Today’s Irish Times (Saturday, 25th March 2017), includes a features an interesting article on Mary Harris / Mother Jones.  The feature, which is part of an ongoing series of diaspora related articles under the heading “Irish Connections”, covers Mother Jones ‘ personal journey and her campaigning across North America for the rights of working people and their families, especially those consigned to the margins of society and without a voice.

The full article can be read here: http://www.irishtimes.com/life-and-style/abroad/mary-harris-who-became-mother-jones-the-united-states-fiercest-union-organiser-1.3017717

 

Richard T. Cooke’s eulogy at the funeral of Dr. Sean Pettit

 

Richard T. Cooke (right) with Dr. Sean Pettit and his wife Aruba

Richard T. Cooke (right) with Dr. Sean Pettit and his wife Aruba

 

Richard T. Cooke, President/Chairperson, Cork Adult Education Council

delivered a personal eulogy at Dr. Sean Pettit’s

Requiem Mass at 11.00am Monday, November 28th 2016

St. Patrick’s Church, Lower Glanmire Road. Ireland

A tribute to my good dear friend, Dr. Sean Pettit – The Romantic Historian

By Richard T. Cooke

 

Charming, theatrical, enthusiastic, passionate and generous are some of the words that spring to mind when I think of my dear friend Dr. Sean Pettit who went to his eternal rest on Wednesday, November 23rd 2016. I took a deep breath when I read of his passing in an email I received from his dear loving wife Aruba and I picked up the phone to ring her immediately to express my profound condolences. I felt so sad. Sean was one beautiful sweet man and I was so lucky to have him as a friend for over 30 years.

Dr. Pettit & Aruba in younger days

Dr. Pettit & Aruba in younger days

My first sighting of him was way back in 1984. I was working in the Cork Archives Institute and attending UCC. Our tutor Mr. O’Brien told us about an upcoming lecture in the Boole Library by a Dr. Sean Pettit which might be of interest to us as the topic was on history. That following night off I went with a couple of friends to the lecture. We took our place in the lecture hall and chatted amongst ourselves while we waited for Dr. Pettit to arrive. And boy, did he arrive. His stage presence was unlike anything I had ever seen before and as he began his lecture, I said to myself, something magic is going to happen here and indeed it did. He spoke about Cork’s wonderful rich colourful heritage, tradition and culture with gusto. I was in awe, spellbound with his charismatic presentation. The blood flowing through his veins I imagined was not unlike the water flowing through the river Lee. Passionately he delivered his historical pearls of Cork’s history and eagerly I soaked up his knowledge. It wasn’t a lecture in fact but a theatrical performance that captured all my senses. His passion was infectious and on that night, I wanted nothing more than to be like him. He was like a rock star of history. He made Cork’s past come alive, he made it exciting. He was like Moses preaching the gospel of Cork in the most romantic of ways that would undoubtedly cause any one from any part of the world to fall head over heels in love with our beautiful smiling thriving city of Cork.

walking tour

Dr. Sean Pettit leading a walking tour of Cork city

Over the years we became firm friends. We often met and had a good auld chat on one of Cork’s historic streets or landmarks like the time we met in the English Market and we shared the history of that historic place with throngs of people around us by the fountain which was decorated with Turkeys, geese and chickens in was Christmas time.  And we used to lunch together in the Imperial Hotel on the South Mall, that grand elegant 19th century building which Sean loved so much and our conversation would always be on some aspect of the history of Cork.

I was intending to meet up with Sean on Thursday, November 24th last for another lively chit-chat but this will now have to wait until we meet again on the other side and no doubt we will. People loved him so much just like me. He was so generous and giving with his knowledge like my good dear great friends and mentors, Wally McGrath of the Evening Echo and CJF McCarthy of the Cork Historical and Archaeological Society.

Dr. Sean Pettit will be remembered for his overwhelming generosity and kindness and no doubt I am only one of his many friends, colleagues and fans.

Shandon

With friends in the Shandon area

As I was walking the streets of Cork after hearing the very sad news I could feel his presence and I’m sure that his loving spirit is now happily strolling the streets of our proud city sporting his characteristic warm furry Russian hat and puffing his pipe – he was a gentleman of gentlemen.

He had that elegant rich old fashioned romantic way about him and this could be witnessed every time he was in the presence of his dear and loving wife Aruba – I can still see them linking hands – they were sweethearts. And you can see for yourself this romantic old fashioned chemistry in the film on YouTube titled: Dr Sean Pettit & Aruba Coghlan Honoured that documents the Lifetime Award that Aruba received in 2015 for her wonderful work in the field of ballet and the Historian of the Year Award that Sean received for his lifetime work in the field of history from the then Lord Mayor of Cork, Cllr. Chris O’Leary and from the Committee of Celebrating Cork Past in the City Hall, Monday, September 28th 2015.

Sean loved speaking about Cork. He was loud and proud of his native city and its wonderful heritage and especially its people. His last two public lectures were in St Peter’s Cork, North Main Street, for the Cork Adult Education Council Lunchtime Lecture Series on Monday, April 4th 2016 and at the Spirit of Mother Jones Festival on Friday, July 29th 2016. As always they were thronged with his many fans.

And finally, an 18th century writer once wrote: the greatest gift that God could give to a human being is a friend. Goodbye my dear friend until we meet again…

I would be delighted if you would join me now in giving Sean a round of applause in celebration of his wonderful life. Thank You

A tribute to the late Dr. Séan Pettit – “The Final Curtain”

Sean Pettit and Richard T. Cooke

Dr. Sean Pettit (left) with Richard T. Cooke at last year’s Spirit of Mother Jones Festival

The Maldron Hotel was packed, last seats already taken…..standing room only now……still 20 minutes to go. Mild apprehension among even experienced members of the Mother Jones Committee……….the growing crowd…..aged from 8 to 80….a sense of anticipation…….crackling expectation……electricity in the air.

He arrived from the rear of the room, advancing slowly through a flash of cameras and mobile phones, hugs and handshakes and a standing ovation. Reaching the front of the room he raised his arms in the air with a broad smile. The “Master” had appeared….resplendent and immaculate in cream jacket…….he was ready to perform!

Dr. Pettit with some of the members of the Cork Mother Jones Committee

Dr. Pettit with some of the members of the Cork Mother Jones Committee

Introduced by his old friend Richard T Cooke…….he commanded the packed room and hall with professional ease, just as 40 years earlier in his trademark swishing black gown he commanded the packed lecture halls of the West Wing of his beloved University College Cork…….bringing history to life for young students!

On Friday afternoon 29th July 2016, Dr Sean Pettit was at home on Cork’s Northside in the North Infirmary speaking of Cork in the 1800s and portraying the Cork city experienced by a young Mary Harris. He seamlessly worked through his amazing collection of slides, gently and modestly describing the reality of life for the wealthy and the degrading poverty of the poor on the streets of Cork. From the sedate wonder of the then beautiful Mardyke to the resilient Shawlies of the Quays we moved back in time with a genial Sean to ramble around and imagine the city of our ancestors.

Crowd photo

Shot of the crowd who packed in for Dr. Sean Pettit’s talk.

In his classic book This City of Cork,published in 1977, Dr Pettit wrote in a chapter entitled “The Sick, The Poor and the Beggars” with passion and scarcely disguised anger about the human distress and the plight of subsistence living of ordinary people in Cork in the 1830s. His empathy for the poor always shone through his presentations. He spoke of the mansions on the hill and the carriages of the rich and famous but he never forgot to speak also of the social injustice experienced in the laneways and alleys of Cork.

His lecture at the Mother Jones summer school 2016 was a remarkable performance, a public historian graciously speaking of the heritage of the people of Cork, of his love for his native City and generously passing on his knowledge, experience and appreciation to those so lucky to be present on that glorious day and as he had done also for many thousands more over the past 50 years.

We instinctively understood then that we were witnessing a rare performance from “The Master” but could not know that Sean was taking his final curtain after his finest hour.

 

Dr Sean Pettit passed away on Wednesday 23rd November 2016. The Cork Mother Jones Committee wish to express our condolences to his beloved wife Aruba to whom he dedicated all his books.

 

 

Dates for Spirit of Mother Jones Festival 2017 announced

The 2017 Spirit of Mother Jones Festival and Summer School will be held from Tuesday 1st August (Mother Jones Day) until Saturday 5th August. The full programme of events will be announced in Spring 2017.
 
The Cork Mother Jones Committee wish to thank everyone who assisted in any way with the 2016 event. We want to thank especially our speakers, musicians and singers and we appreciate very much the huge numbers of people who attended the events. We enjoyed five wonderful days in the Shandon community. The Committee is now looking forward to the 2017 Festival and summer school and if you have any ideas or suggestions for 2017, please forward for consideration to us via motherjonescork@gmail.com