Press launch for Spirit of Mother Jones Festival and Summer School

Launch of 2018 Spirit of Mother Jones Festival and Summer School


The seventh Spirit of Mother Jones Festival and summer School takes place in Shandon Historic Quarter from Wednesday 1st August to Saturday 4th August.

Details of this year’s events will be released at a Press Launch in Cork’s Maldron Hotel tomorrow (Wednesday 26th June).

The Cork Mother Jones Committee is delighted to announce a varied and topical programme of events for the festival in 2018.

As well as the traditional venues at the Firkin Theatre and the Maldron Hotel, we are particularly pleased to announce that many of the talks at this year’s summer school will take place at the Cathedral Visitor Centre attached to the historic North Cathedral.

In effect Mary Harris/Mother Jones is coming home as it was on 1st August all of 181 years ago that she was baptised at the North Cathedral in the very same 200 year old baptism font which is still used today in the Cathedral.

Among the major highlights of the festival will be the premiere of a new documentary, Fords – Memories of the Line’, a film about what it was like to work on the assembly line at Ford’s car manufacturing plant in Cork, which operated on the Marina from 1917 to 1984. The documentary was produced by Frameworks Films, a Cork based production company, in collaboration with Ford’s Ex-Workers Group. It will document the closure of the factory in 1984 and the impact this had on the men, their families and the city of Cork. This should be of interest to anyone connected to the Ford Motor Company and its car factory in Cork

The Committee intends to celebrate the achievements of the suffragette movement and the one hundred anniversary of the right of women to vote, which took place in the 1918 election.

The Cork Mother Jones Committee is very pleased to confirm that Dr. Micheline Sheehy Skeffington, the grand-daughter of suffragette leader Hanna Sheehy Skeffington has agreed to speak about her grandmother at the 2018 Spirit of Mother Jones summer school.

Hanna Sheehy Skeffington was born in Kanturk, Co Cork in 1877 and went on to spend a lifetime fighting for the rights of women, including the right to vote, until her death on 20th April 1946. Hanna’s husband Francis Sheehy Skeffington was murdered during the 1916 Rising.

In an extraordinary coincidence, during a visit to America in 1918, Hanna Sheehy Skeffington had shared a speaking platform in San Francisco with Mother Jones.

The two Cork-born women met and spoke together at this meeting on April 16th 1918.

Hanna’s American visit and her meeting with Mother Jones will be described by Micheline at the Mother Jones summer school on Saturday 4th August, 2.30 at the Firkin Theatre in the Shandon Historic Quarter.

Professor Louise Ryan, a native of Cork, is professor of Sociology at the University of Sheffield, who has published extensively on the suffragette movement. Her recent publication Winning the Vote For Women is a huge contribution to an understanding of the period will examine the connections between the Irish campaigners for womens’ rights and the trade union movement.

Further Cork highlights include a specially commissioned lecture from noted Cork historian Anne Twomey who will speak on the lives and influence of Mary, Annie and Muriel MacSwiney. This will be of major interest to many people in view of the role of the MacSwiney family during the War of Independence and in the new State.

University College Cork historian Luke Dineen will lecture on Cork born Thomas “Corkie” Walsh, a member of the Irish Citizen Army, who fired the first shot of the 1916 Rising in Dublin. A memorial was recently erected to “Corkie” Walsh in St. Finbarr’s Cemetery.


According to James Nolan, spokesperson for the Mother Jones summer school

“We are thrilled that Dr. Sheehy Skeffington and a wide range of the other speakers have agreed to come and speak at the seventh annual Spirit of Mother Jones summer school.

They will explore the various connections between the campaigns for votes for women and the trade union movement as well as the war of Independence over hundred years ago while others will speak on current international and national topics.

The summer school has gone from strength to strength and many hundreds are expected in the Shandon area as a further indicator of the growing importance of this unique event and the line-up of speakers and films this year is testament to this.”

The addition of the new venue, the Cathedral Visitor Centre will allow for a further expansion of the summer school and we are so happy that Mother Jones is returning close to her birthplace and indeed the very place where she was baptised in 1837”

declared Mr Nolan.


Among the other speakers confirmed is Mary Manning who on the 19th July 1984 refused to register the sale of two Outspan South African grapefruits at the Dunnes Stores Henry Street branch and set off a chain of events which captured the world’s attention. Mary will tell the story of the Dunnes Stores Strikers and their historic fight against Apartheid which aroused the interest and gratitude of Nelson Mandela himself, on Friday evening the 3rd August at the Firkin Theatre at 7.30. Her book Striking Back. The untold story of an Anti-Apartheid Striker in conjunction with Sinead O’Brien, will be available.


Ms Louise O’Keeffe who having failed in the High Court and Supreme Court and who then took the Irish government to the European Court of Human Rights where she was successful over its failure in its duty to protect children in Irish school will speak about her lengthy 20 year battle through Irish courts.

Investigative journalist Frank Connolly will speak on NAMA-land. – How the transfer of billions of euro in public assets enriched a new elite which is the subject of his latest best-selling book.

The festival’s strong American connections is again reinforced this year by the presence of Dr John Barimo who will talk on the reasons why many American trade union and working class people supported Donal Trump.  Dr Emily Twarog of the University of Illinois will discuss the role of gender and the female vote in the USA, which had an influence in the election outcomes. Actress Loretta Williams from Illinois will re-enact Mother Jones at her fiery best.

Other films include the Cork premiere of Up to the Last Drop – The Secret Water War in Europe, produced by Small Planet Productions in Greece and directed by Yorgos Avgeropoulos.

On the final evening we have a special showing of the film Pride at the Firkin Theatre which documents the extraordinary cooperation between the London based LGBT community and the Welsh Miners during the 1984 British Miners Strike.

There will be a wide range of musical events, featuring Jimmy Crowley, John Nyhan, William Hammond, Richard T Cooke and the Shandon Shawlies and the Cork Singers Club in the wider festival at various locations in the Shandon Historic Quarter to celebrate the life and spirit of Mother Jones.

As the fame of Mother Jones spreads, 2018 has seen the erection of a road marker commemorating her on the famous Route 66 in Illinois as well as an exhibition at the new museum near Mount Olive her final resting place. There have been further exhibitions and gatherings in Chicago.

In early May 2018, the Irish Ambassador to America, Mr Dan Mulhall paid a visit to the grave and monument to Mother Jones at Mount Olive Miners cemetery accompanied by Rosemary Feurer of the American Mother Jones Heritage Project.

We wish to thank the Irish Trade Union movement, the Cork City Council and our sponsors for their support, all events are free and open to the public (but please come early as some events fill up quickly).

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.

Historic marker to Mother Jones unveiled on Route 66 near her Illinois resting place

The new road marker at I-55 south of Springfield, Illinois. Photo courtesy of Mike Matejka

The new road marker at I-55 south of Springfield, Illinois. Photo courtesy of Mike Matejka

A commemorative road marker in honour of Cork-born Mother Jones was unveiled near Mount Olive, Illinois on Monday (11 December) in the presence of the Honorary Irish Consul in Chicago, Mr. Brian O’Brien. 

Brian O'Brien

Irish Consul General Brian O’Brien (Photo courtesy of Mother Jones Heritage Project MJHP)


The marker itself will be seen by over a million people a year who come to take a break just off the world-famous Route 66.   After the ceremony, Mr O’Brien visited the indoor exhibition area at the location. They the group travelled to Mount Olive where Mr. O’Brien placed a wreath at the grave of Mother Jones in the Miners Cemetery in Mount Olive.


The wreath contained the words of her motto “Pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living” in both Irish and English. There then followed a toast to Mother Jones at the grave which was celebrated using Red-Breast Whiskey. Congratulations to everyone involved in this amazing project.  


Group at the grave of Mother Jones at Mount Olive. (L-R): Brigid Duffy of Irish American Heritage Center,   Mother Jones Performer Amy Rueff of Illinois American Federation of Labor, Rosemary Feurer of Mother Jones Heritage Project and Consul General Brian O’Brien



The Wreath with inscription in English and Irish

Our thanks to Prof. Rosemary Feurer of the Mother Jones Musuem for forwarding photos and other material.

Rory McCarthy sings “Valley of Jarama” at ceremony to mark centenary of Michael O’Riordan

Cork singer Rory McCarthy sings “Valley of Jarama”, a song from honouring the International Brigades . A short ceremony was held across the road from 37, Pope’s Quay, Cork where Michael O’Riordan was born was born in 1917. The young O’Riordan left from here in 1938 and travelled to Spain to fight on the Republican side in the Spanish Civil War, in opposition to fascism. Seriously injured, O’Riordan returned to Ireland as the war ended with the defeat of the forces of democracy. Later he was a leading member of the Communist Party of Ireland and served as its General Secretary for many years. O’Riordan died in 2006. His son Manus and daughter Brenda were present for the ceremony which was part of the 2017 Spirit of Mother Jones Festival.

Spirit of Mother Jones Festival surpasses previous events

Large crowds were typical at most events

The 2017 Spirit of Mother Jones Festival and summer school in the Shandon Historic Quarter ended on Saturday night 5th August when the Sweet Olive String Band played it out.

After completing some 30 separate events over 5 days, an exhausted committee and participants somehow managed to raise a glass or two of Mother Jones favourite tipple in a final toast or two as we surrounded her plaque on John Redmond Street. Endless verses of “She’ll be Coming Round the Mountain When She Comes” rang out. Amazingly, a blinding evening sun finally burst through the clouds above the old Cork Butter Market and blanketed the street and plaque in a glowing orange sunlight as Helen sang “Black Flowers” by Lynn Miles.

Throughout the previous five days we had met visitors from the USA, UK, Chile, South Africa, France, Germany and Holland as well as from all over Cork and Ireland. Songs from Jimmy Crowley such “Mick Barry – the Pride of Waterfall” … Susana and Jimmy’s tribute to Victor Jara of Chile….. to Jarama Valley and the evocative songs and stories of the Cork Singers Club were sung.


Jimmy Crowley

Jimmy Crowley in full song at the Maldron

We listened in an overflowing room to the story of Micheal O’Riordan, who as a young 21 year old left his home in nearby 37 Popes Quay in 1938 and went to fight fascism in Spain as he was remembered by his son Manus and daughter Brenda. And we later celebrated his life in an impromptu tribute by Rory McCarthy on Popes Quay opposite his house!

Rory McCarthy sings The Internationale opposite No.37 Pope’s Quay as Manus O’Riordan listens

We heard historian Harry Owens describe the horrors of the Spanish Civil War and Anne Twomey talked about the passion of La Pasionaria, while John Nyhan and the legendary Mick Treacy sang the songs of the lost war in English, Spanish and German. The six Limerick men who fought were brought back to life in the new documentary by Frameworks Films and the LIBMT. Earlier, Luke Dineen had vividly described the impact of the Bolshevik revolution on Cork.

We had watched A Plastic Ocean with growing unease and the final silent stunned response of the large audience signalled a world in deep trouble. Later listening to environmentalist Fr. Sean McDonagh, we quietly wondered if the revolutionary environmental change in Catholic Church teaching as represented by Laudato Si-On Care of Our Common Home from Pope Francis may even already be too late for our planet.

Marcia D’Alton explained in a revealing presentation the perplexing planning in Cork Harbour…… as we await the latest incinerator decision, while Sean O’Muiri of Save Our City described the future Cork City river planning on the banks of our River Lee.

A relative of Feargus O’Connor was present to hear Warren Davies tell us of the West Corkman who brought the revolution of democracy to Britain. The mighty river of Chartism had indeed flowed from West Cork to Britain!

Anne Twomey packed the room to tell of the brave local women who fought for Irish freedom on the northside of Cork City. Some of their proud relatives were in the audience too. Later investigative journalist, Frank Connolly told of Tom Gilmartin and the story of recent corruption Irish style in our Republic……… a Republic born of these very womens’ heroic efforts.

Lord Mayor of Cork, Cllr. Tony Fitzgerald, accepting urn containing earth from the grave of Mother Jones from Jim Goltz, Illinois.

Richard T Cooke and his singers sang local songs, the Mother Jones Ceili band raised the roof, while soul singer Karen Underwood originally from Chicago and taking inspiration from the personal tragedies experienced and overcome by Mother Jones gave an unforgettable performance for the ages. During Saturday morning Karan Casey sang her wonderful new tribute to Mother Jones based on “Pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living”.

On Tuesday, Irish trade union leaders had discussed tactics, victories and defeats and then we had witnessed the impact of Mother Jones in the USA, the role of the Greek community and the present day mining manifestation in West Virginia where Donald Trump secured many of their votes in the remarkable Blood on the Mountain.

Sacred proclamations from the AFL-CIO and the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) were presented to the committee representing the acknowledgement by those unions of the immense role of local girl Mary Harris in union activism. Julianna described Mary’s contemporary Florence Kelley.

The earth carried from the grave of Mother Jones in Illinois by James Goltz and representing her symbolic essence was presented to the Lord Mayor of Cork. It is safe in Cork now!

Awarding of prize to Ken Fleming of the ITF

Ken Fleming (right) receives the Spirit of Mother Jones Award 2017 from Jim Nolan of the Cork Mother Jones Committee. Also in photo (centre) is SIPTU General Secretary Joe O’Flynn

Ken Fleming, the inspiring trade union organiser, in an emotional response to being presented with the 2017 Spirit of Mother Jones Award described what it meant to him and explain why it would enable him and his comrades in the International Transport Workers Federation to drive on to eliminate slavery on our seas.

Mother Jones had indeed chosen an outstanding recipient for this our highest accolade and we are reassured that she remains at work today.


Spirit of Mother Jones Festival 2017 – Day 4

Today is Day 4 of the Spirit of Mother Jones Festival & Summer School 2017 and promises a full day of events.  The main theme of most of today’s activity is around the Spanish Civil War (1936-1937) and we will also be honouring Michael O’Riordan who fought on the Republican side in the war and whose centenary is being marked this year.  Michael was born at number 37 Pope’s Quay, under the shadow of Shandon Steeple.

Timetable for Day 4

2017 Cork Spirit of Mother Jones Award

Ken Fleming

Ken Fleming

The Cork Mother Jones Committee is proud to announce that Ken Fleming of the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) and SIPTU is the recipient of the 2017 Spirit of Mother Jones Award.

Ken has been an inspector in the ITF since 2006 and the ITF Co-coordinator for Britain and Ireland since 2012 and has sought over the past decade to prevent the exploitation of seafarers on some vessels operating under Flags of Convenience visiting various ports including Cork.  Ken has recouped millions of euro in unpaid wages for foreign seafarers in Irish ports, has had several vessels detained and has ensured their crews are repatriated home.

He has tenaciously and passionately fought for the rights of seafarers and fishers on the seas and has become one of the best known and respected trade union officials in the world.

More recently, Mr. Fleming has been engaged in an international campaign to ensure decent working conditions, employment rights, proper wages and legal protection to the migrant fishers who work in the Irish and the UK fishing fleets. He called for a major overhaul of the Irish fishing industry, claiming in a submission to an Oireachtas Committee that the current regulatory permit scheme for migrant fishers has not worked and instead has led to legalised slavery for many hundreds of migrant fishers.

According to James Nolan, spokesperson for the Cork Mother Jones Committee,which presents this annual award:

“Ken Fleming has been willing to challenge the official silence on the blatant exploitation of many seafarers and migrant fishers in ships operating under Flags of Convenience in Ireland and the UK. He is a fearless, passionate and a determined defender of the workers who have been denied their rights and continually he exposes and challenges a system which treats many of them as virtual slaves”

James Nolan continued,

“Ken has bravely exposed the exploitative working practices in sections of the marine and fishing industries and he has sought to organise the migrant fishers. He has repeatedly called on the relevant State agencies to enforce a recent permit system which would allow these fishers the right to protect themselves against exploitation. We should not allow our fish to be caught or our goods to be transported or our passengers to be carried on the back of slave labour!  Ken Fleming is a worthy recipient of the 2017 Cork Spirit of Mother Jones Award.”

Responding,  Ken Fleming stated,

“I am deeply touched by the belief the Mother Jones committee have shown in my work, by selecting me for this very special award. It has been a very long and hard road, but this award has electrified me. The knowledge that a fully independent group not only recognise the work we have done, but fully support the determination to stamp out the scandalous abuse of workers completely, is inspiring. This award represents the most satisfying moment of my career.”

“It places the work of the ITF amongst a very special group of people that have devoted a great part of their working lives to see justice done. And it’s been a team effort – my fellow UK Inspectors, Liam Wilson and Darren Proctor, have faced the aggression with me head on in most ports in Ireland.”

“We can now look to the Spirit of Mother Jones for inspiration as I have a sense that she is now aware of our struggle, and my hunch is she will find a way to lend a hand.”

Video above shows Ken Fleming addressing the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation on 4th July 2017

Ken Fleming is a native of Dublin. He started work as a bus driver and worked his way through the SIPTU organisation until he was seconded from SIPTU to succeed the late Tony Ayton in the International Transport Workers’ Federation in 2006.

Ken attended the 2013 Spirit of Mother Jones Festival where in an unforgettable speech he spoke movingly and with empathy of the exploitation endured by many seafarers and fishers.

The Cork Mother Jones Committee is privileged that Ken has accepted this award which is presented to people who act and work in the Spirit of Mother Jones. We are satisfied that our selection of Ken Fleming for the 2017 award is very true to this spirit.

The 2017 Award was presented to Mr. Fleming by the Cork Mother Jones Committee on today (Thursday) afternoon August 3rd at the Firkin Theatre, in the Shandon Historic Quarter of Cork.


The Cork Spirit of Mother Jones Awards to date have been,


  • 2013, Margaret Aspinall and Sue Roberts (Hillsborough Family Support Group)
  • 2014, Gareth Peirce, solicitor.
  • 2015 Fr Peter McVerry. Campaigner for the homeless.
  • 2016 Mr.  Dave Hopper (RIP) General Secretary, Durham Miners’ Association.


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.