Mother Jones Festival remembers Pete Seeger (1919 – 2014)

Mother Jones Festival remembers Pete Seeger (1919 – 2014)

To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the birth of Pete Seeger, John Nyhan and Mick Treacy will sing some of the songs associated with this legendary folk singer at the Maldron Hotel on Friday 2nd August at 9.30pm.

 

Pete Seeger remained committed throughout his long life to basic principles such as defence of trade unions, the rights of workers, social justice, peace and protection of the environment. An activist at heart, a songwriter, he wrote hundreds of songs, saved many “lost’ songs and popularised dozens of others.

“Songs won’t save the planet, but neither will books or speeches. But songs are sneaky things, they slip past borders, they proliferate in prisons”.

His main influences were Leadbelly, Woody Guthrie, Alan Lomax and Aunt Molly Jackson. Pete listened in awe as Leadbelly talked to his guitar, he sang for his next meal with Guthrie and he marvelled as Aunt Molly veteran of Harlan County mine wars sang out “I am a Union Woman”.

 

Almanac Singers album “Talking Union”

He studied sociology in Harvard, yet he wanted to be a journalist. The Harvard Class of 1940, including John F Kennedy, graduated without Pete who had dropped out. Abandoning his efforts to become an artist he discovered the songs and music of the people which allowed the working class to express themselves.

He was an integral part of the initial fusion and synergy of folk music with social and union activism, IWW songs, communist and leftist politics in the post-depression years. His first public appearance as a singer in 1940 ended with Pete forgetting how to play his 5 string banjo and then forgetting the words. Yet his dedication, belief and resilience saw him found the Almanac Singers and play Madison Square Garden in May 1941 before thousands of striking workers from the Transport Workers’ Union, led by Kilgarvan born Mike Quill.

The Almanac Singers “Talking Union” album featuring Pete and Woody became a musical bible for thousands of union activists and ensured the survival of songs such as Solidarity Forever (Ralph Chaplin), Which Side Are You On (Florence Reece) and We Shall Not Be Moved. The Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union and the entry of the Americans into World War 2 ensured the demise of the Almanacs.

Pete Seeger in concert

Seeger was drafted into the Army and served the war out in Saipan. Tragically, his baby son Peter, with his wife Toshi died at 4 months while he was in Saipan. After the war, he helped to organise People’s Songs, a huge collective of musicians and union activists which shared songs and promoted left-wing causes. Later he established Sing Out.

In 1949, Pete along with Lee Hays, Ronnie Gilbert and Fred Hellerman established The Weavers. They achieved popular success with hits such as Goodnight Irene (written by Pete’s old friend Lead belly), Wimoweh and Tena, Tzena, Tzena.

The advent of the McCarthy witch hunts ensured Pete became a target for the FBI and informers. Labelled a “Commie” and “Stalin’s Songbird”, the notorious and feared blacklist brought about the demise of the popular Weavers, with work drying up. Pete considered himself a communist with a small “c”, he supported many communist causes, was a member of the Communist Party and defended them in the 40s and 50s but claimed to be a musician first rather than a politician.

Pete Seeger at  HUAC

Pete Seeger in a forthright stance at the US House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC)

Through the grinding 1950s, Seeger became a lightning rod for the FBI and was relentlessly investigated for sedition by the House Committee on Un-American Activities.  1961 saw him cited for contempt of Congress and sentenced to ten one year periods in jail to run concurrently. Finally in May 1962, a Court of Appeal dismissed the charges.

His plight aroused a worldwide campaign. The Pete Seeger Committee in England had Paul Robeson as president, Ewan MacColl as secretary and Benjamin Britten, Doris Lessing and Sean O’Casey as sponsors. 4000 people packed the Royal Albert Hall in his support in 1961. A young Bob Dylan accused the authorities of framing him and described Seeger as a “saint.” Tommy Makem publicly supported Pete.

The 1960s saw the folk/rock boom take off and groups such as Peter, Paul and Mary and the Kingston Trio had huge hits with If I Had a Hammer and Where Have All The Flowers Gone. Turn Turn Turn and his adaption of the Cuban poem Guantanamera is embedded in the public consciousness. Pete’s version of We Shall Overcome an old gospel hymn adapted by striking tobacco workers in the 40s and published in People’s Songs became the anthem of the Civil Rights and Anti-Vietnam War movements. He marched at Selma with Dr Martin Luther King and encouraged Bernice Johnson and the Freedom Singers, who brought the spiritual and slave songs of the South to the Civil Rights movement.

Clearwater on the Hudson River

Back in 1949, Pete and his wife Toshi had purchased 17 acres of land on a hilly site overlooking the River Hudson, near Beacon north of New York. There they built a “log cabin” and raised three children (Danny, Mika and Tinya) amidst the woods. Toshi was an activist, “the brains of the family” who shunned the limelight, she organised Pete and organised concerts, festivals and their itineraries (Newport Folk Festival, the Clearwater festival).

A non-drinker and non-smoker, Seeger lived a relatively independent ascetic lifestyle, answering mail from all over the world, writing songs, supporting union and social causes and simply chopping wood.

In the 60s he noticed how the nearby environment was deteriorating and how the Hudson River was increasingly contaminated with toxic materials. Vowing to try to rectify this environmental degradation floating past his remote home, he led a project to build a sloop to travel the river to educate people and society about cleaning up the once beautiful Hudson. In 1969, Clearwater was finally launched and still plies the waterways.

Pete and Toshi

Seeger played his banjo and sang at hundreds of counter culture events through the 70s and 80s and influenced generations of singers and activists, Joan Baez, Bruce Springsteen, Arlo Guthrie, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Judy Collins and dozens of others acknowledged his pioneering influence, Pete in turn acknowledged Huddie, Aunt Molly and Woody. His 90th Birthday concert at Madison Square Garden was a huge event as the folk music world paid homage.

A highlight for Pete came when Barack Obama asked him to perform at his presidential inauguration concert in 2009. Accompanied by Tao Rodriguez, his grandson and Springsteen, they sang This Land is Your Land, written by Woody Guthrie.

Pete passed away on 27th January 2014. Toshi Seeger died on 9th July 2013.

 

John Nyhan

John Nyhan

John Nyhan was born in Cork City, he now lives in North Cork. He was heavily influenced by the Folk music revival of the 60s and 70s and has been playing and promoting music for over 40 years. In the 1970s he was a founding member of the Shandon Folk Club in Eason’s Hill, within earshot of the Shandon Bells.

John worked as a peace campaigner in Northern Ireland in the 70s as a member of Voluntary Services International. He is well known for his involvement in the Bluegrass and Folks concerts which take place at the Village Arts Centre in Kilworth in North Cork.

Along with Mick Treacy he has played at the Mother Jones festivals and his song themes have included the songs of Joe Hill, songs of the mining communities and the songs of the Spanish Civil War in 2017. In 2018 John and Mick honoured Ewan MacColl in an unforgettable performance.

Mick Treacy was a familiar figure in the folk clubs across English which resulted from the Folk revival. He was a member of the famous “Munstermen” folk group which played and sang on the UK folk circuits. The Munstermen had their own club known as the “Holy Ground” in the Cambridge Inn. Mick’s knowledge of folk ballads is encyclopaedic and his powerful performances along with his old friend John Nyhan are always memorable at the festival.

The songs of Pete Seeger will be sung at the Maldron Hotel in Shandon at 9.30 pm on Friday night 2nd August at the Spirit of Mother Jones Festival 2019.

 

The Radical Irish Diaspora – Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, the Rebel Girl

The Radical Irish Diaspora.

The Rebel Girl.

Elizabeth Gurley Flynn

Born in 1890 in Concord, New Hampshire, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn was of solid Irish roots. Indeed she claimed that all four of her great grandfathers, Gurley, Flynn, Ryan and Conneran, were United Irishmen and had helped the French Army which landed at Killalla Bay in 1798.  Her mother Anne Gurley, a native Irish speaker was brought up in Loughrea, Co Galway, while Thomas Flynn, her father had strong Mayo roots. Elizabeth refers also in her autobiography to her mother’s family connections to George Bernard Shaw and the Larkins.

 

The family moved to New York in 1900 to live in the South Bronx, her early youth was blighted by poverty, yet she availed of educational opportunities and her independent spirit (she was an early vegetarian) was encouraged by her socialist parents. In the radical ferment of New York City she learned of the Molly Maguires, the Haymarket Massacre, she read William Morris, Edward Bellamy, Frederick Douglass and Upton Sinclair. Her first public speech in Times Square at the age of 16 was on the rights of women.

 

The teenage Flynn became a sensation in New York. When approached by theatrical producer David Belasco who wanted her to star in “a labour play”……..she responded “I don’t want to be an actress. I want to speak my own words and not say over and over again what somebody else has written for me. I’m in the labour movement and I speak my own piece”. She always wrote her own speeches.

 

Elizabeth crossed paths with some of the seminal figures in the Irish labour struggle.  She first met James Connolly in 1907 and they became firm friends.  He was a frequent visitor to her parents’ home before eventually returning to Ireland in 1910.  Accompanied by Connolly, who was then also an IWW organizer in New York, she attended a meeting addressed by a fiery Mother Jones in the Bronx in the summer of 1908, Flynn was so overcome at the sight of Mother Jones that she collapsed.

She later saw Mother Jones passionately defending a Jewish man against deportation at a meeting in Chicago. Describing Mother Jones as “the Greatest woman agitator of our time”, she also admitted that she was afraid of “her sharp tongue” yet Elizabeth found Mother Jones to be very sympathetic and kind to her when told of how Elizabeth had lost her first child.

Later Elizabeth became well acquainted with James Larkin when he came to the United States after the Dublin lockout. He called around to her house many times. “He was very poor and while in New York he lived in a small alley in Greenwich Village.” She also commented that “he was a magnificent orator and an agitator without equal.”

Anne, her mother regularly babysat Owen Sheehy Skeffington when Hannah had to speak at meetings in New York. Among other visitors were Liam Mellows and Dr. Patrick McCarten, the then Irish envoy to the US.

While Mother Jones played a prominent role in the founding in Chicago in 1905 of the International Workers of the World (IWW), she did not conduct union organizing campaigns under its auspices.  However, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, became one of the IWW‘s most celebrated and tireless leaders, having joined in 1906.  Her efforts to organize the most oppressed workers over several decades took her from Massachusetts, to Minnesota, to Washington on the west coast.

 

The Rebel Girl

A few hours before he was executed in 1915, Joe Hill wrote to his friend Elizabeth to tell her that she was indeed the inspiration for his song The Rebel Girl.

 

Flynn spent her entire life working for the labour movement and was a founding member of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). She was dedicated to free speech and campaigned actively for women’s rights and was especially critical of the male leadership of the IWW and the unions and attacked their failure to practice equality for their female members.

 

Her valiant efforts to save Sacco and Vanzetti failed and they were executed in 1927. Her beloved only son Fred Flynn died in 1940 at the age of just 29. Arrested many times, and under surveillance by the FBI, she suffered bouts of illness. Eventually Elizabeth was jailed for over two years (Jan 1955-May 1957) when caught up in the red-scare campaign under the Smith Act by the American government. She became national chairperson of the Communist Party of the United States of America in 1961.

The grave of Elizabeth Gurley Flynn at Forest Home Cemetery, Cook County, Illinois

While on a visit to the Soviet Union in September 1964, she died unexpectedly at age 74. According to her wishes, a portion of her ashes was sent back to the United States, where they were buried in Chicago. Rebellious to the end she donated her papers, a few possessions and her books to Dorothy Day’s Catholic Worker house in New York City.

 

In a tribute in 1926, Eugene Debs, leader of the Socialist Party of America, stated that Elizabeth Gurley Flynn has “espoused and championed the cause of the weakest, lowliest, most despised and persecuted, even when she stood almost alone”

Lorraine Starsky will describe the life and significance of Elizabeth Gurley Flynn in a talk entitled: “In the footsteps of Mother Jones – the Life and legacy of Elizabeth Gurley Flynn

 

This will be held at the Cathedral Visitor Centre on Thursday 1st August at 11am as part of the Spirit of Mother Jones summer school 2019.

 

Lorraine is a long-time labor union and social justice activist from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in the United States. As a young adult she became involved in the campaign to end the Vietnam War, fighting against racism, and for womens’ rights, labour and union causes. Labour history is her lifelong passion and she has studied Irish women activists such as Mother Jones and Elizabeth Gurley Flynn. She is a Public Health nurse and has herself Irish roots.

 

Sources:

The Rebel Girl…..an Autobiography. My First Life (1906-1926) by Elizabeth Gurley Flynn. Published in 1955.

There is Power In A Union….The Epic Story of Labour in America, by Philip Dray. 2010 Doubleday.

James Connolly and the United States. Carl and Ann Barton Reeve. Humanities Press.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Miss Mary: the Quiet Heroine! – The Story of Mary Elmes

 Mary Elmes (1908-2002)

 

Mary Elmes was born on 5th May 1908 at Cul Greine, 120 Blackrock Road in Cork. Edward Elmes, her father was originally from Waterford and her mother was Elizabeth Waters from Cork. The family ran a pharmacy at 4 Winthrop Street, in the heart of Cork city, were prosperous and lived in Ballintemple near Blackrock. The family had military connections and several relations served in the British Army abroad.  Elizabeth Elmes was also friendly with Mary McSwiney having worked together in the Munster Women’s Franchise league. The family business premises appears to have been damaged in the burning of Cork by British soldiers on the night of 11th December 1920.

Rochelle School around 1930

Mary Elmes attended Rochelle School, on the Old Blackrock Road, now closed and incorporated into Ashton School in Cork. In 1928  she enrolled at Trinity College, Dublin where Mary had an outstanding academic career. Top of her class, she was a scholar in 1931, was awarded a gold medal and gained a first-class degree in Modern Literature (French and Spanish).

In 1935, as a result of her academic achievements, Elmes was awarded a scholarship in International Studies to study at London School of Economics. This was followed with a certificate in International Studies as well as a further scholarship to continue her education in Geneva, Switzerland.

After the completion of her studies, in February 1937, Mary was invited by Sir George Young, a former British diplomat and journalist to join the University of London Ambulance Unit and was sent to a children’s hospital in Almeria in then civil war-torn Spain.

Mary Elmes at Almeria

She ran a children’s hospital in Murcia from May 1937, and worked for a period alongside Dorothy Morris a nurse from New Zealand. January 1938 saw her appointed as administrator to a Quaker established hospital in Alicante. She was not a Quaker herself.

The Quakers looked after victims on both sides of the civil war, however Mary’s work was mainly with Republican children and civilians. The hospital in Alicante came under aerial attack from the Fascist airforce with aircraft provided by Germany and Italy and had to be evacuated. In mid-1938, Mary moved inland to the mountains near Polop where they worked from an abandoned villa for the remainder of the year, caring for over 30 children.

By early 1939, as the Fascists, with superior resources defeated the Republican government and ground out victory, millions of Spanish became refugees in their own country. During the following months, some 500,000 defeated Republicans and their families fled to France.

Spanish children in Quaker run refugee camp, France

Mary eventually left Spain over the border to France in May 1939 and returned home to Cork where she stayed for a month, before volunteering to work in the Spanish refugee camps in the South of France. She worked out of Perpignan for the Quaker led International Relief organisations, distributing aid, supplies clothes and books.

World War 2 was declared on 2nd September, placing the humanitarian effort in the South of France in jeopardy. Later on 22nd June 1940, following the invasion of northern France and the fall of Paris, France became divided into the German occupied North and the collaborationist South under the Vichy regime of Marshal Petain.

The Vichy south was flooded this time by refugees from the north of France and again back in Perpignan, Mary found herself in the middle of a new humanitarian disaster. She was increasingly critical at the actions of the Vichy government towards Jews who were being rounded up and placed in concentration camps yet was also trying to prevent the expulsion of the humanitarian agencies, such as those run by the Quakers from the area.

Mary, known as “Miss Mary” to many refugees, worked tirelessly to bring aid to the Rivesaltes camp, local schools and other nearby facilities, where hunger and malnutrition was growing.

Relief organisations, including the Quakers, fearful of their fate, began attempting to get Jewish children out of the camps to America or into local respite homes where they might escape the Vichy authorities. The summer of 1942 saw the beginning of the systematic deportation of all Jews to extermination camps in Eastern Europe.

Clodagh Finn’s book

From August to October 1942, Mary Elmes, with assistance from some colleagues and others, rescued dozens of children from Riversaltes, taking them to safe houses or helping them flee the country altogether. Well aware that she was putting herself at risk, Elmes bravely hid many children in the boot of her car and drove them to safe destinations. She aided many others by securing documents, which allowed  them to escape through the underground Resistance networks in Vichy France.

From November 1942 onwards, the Nazi grip of terror tightened. In February 1943, Elmes was arrested on suspicion of aiding the escape of Jews and was imprisoned in Toulouse, later being moved to the notorious Fresnes Prison run by the Gestapo near Paris, where she was incarcerated .She was finally released without charge on 23rd July 1943. Her own children believe she may have been released after an intervention by Eduard Hempel, the German Ambassador in Dublin.

Paddy Butler’s book

Immediately returning to Perpignan, she continued her humanitarian work for the Quakers until June 1946. She married Roger Danjou and settled into a domestic lifestyle, raised two children, Caroline and Patrick and remained mostly silent about her extraordinary activities over the previous decade. After almost a decade of difficult relief works in two major wars and taking huge personal risks, she lived a quiet life. She refused the Legion d’ Honneur, offered by the French State. Her work still unknown and unrecognized, she died in France on 9th March 2002 at the age of 93.

Eventually recognition came for her courageous humanitarian work and her efforts to save Jewish children from the Nazi genocide. On 13th January 2013, she was recognized in the Garden of the Righteous Among the Nations, at Yad Vashem in Israel. Later in February 2019, the Cork City Council voted to name the new pedestrian bridge across the River Lee as the Mary Elmes Bridge.

Anne Twomey of the Shandon Area History Group will tell the story of Mary Elmes at the Firkin Theatre, Shandon on Thursday 1st August at 7.30. All are welcome.

Sources:

A Time To Risk All by Clodagh Finn. Gill Books 2017

The Extraordinary Story of Mary Elmes…The Irish Oskar Schindler by Paddy Butler. Orpen Press 2017.

 

 

Helen O’Donovan R.I.P.

The Cork Mother Jones Committee wish to extend our deepest sympathies to Mick O’Donovan and his family on the death of Helen.
 

Helen O’Donovan

Helen was a great friend to everyone at the annual festival and contributed and gave so much to this event over the past 8 years. 
 
She had the voice of an angel and her beautiful rendering of classic songs such as “Mother”, “Black Flowers” and “The Curragh Wrens” in and around Shandon will live on forever in all our hearts and memories.
 
May Helen Rest in Peace.

John Swiney, Cork’s almost forgotten United Irishman

Spirit of Mother Jones Festival to commemorate the 175th Anniversary of the death of the United Irishman John Swiney of Shandon Street.

The Cork Mother Jones Committee is pleased to announce that Kieran Groeger will speak at the forthcoming Spirit of Mother Jones summer school on the life and times of John Swiney.

John Swiney, (also spelt Sweeny) was a leader of the United Irishmen in Cork City in the 1790s, traded from a woollen drapery shop in Shandon and on  the 175th anniversary of the year of his death, we propose to commemorate this extraordinary Cork patriot at the Spirit of Mother Jones summer school.

One of the most effective leaders of the United Irishmen during the revolutionary fervour which gripped Cork in the 1790s, unfortunately Swiney remains largely unknown in his native place even today. His name does not appear on the National Monument on the Grand Parade.

Sean O’ Coisdealbhain in a series of articles on the United Irishmen in the Cork Historical and Archaeological Journal in the late 1940s and ‘50s provided research into Swiney’s role and concluded that he deserved to be better remembered in Cork.

John Swiney was born in Cork on 7th August 1773 and as a young man along with the Sheares brothers and many others he became interested in the radical ideas and writings such as The Declaration of the Rights of Man emanating from the French Revolution. He joined the increasingly active Society of United Irishmen in Cork while still in his 20s.

Broguemakers Hill Cork in 1937, Swiney’s original shop of the 1790s would have been over to the left just out of shot at the junction with Shandon Street

A woolen draper by trade, his shop was located near the junction of Shandon Street and Blarney Street. This shop became a centre of operations, an unofficial headquarters for the United Irishmen in Cork City and witnessed many comings and goings of activists in the mid-1790s. Cork was in a ferment of civil unrest in this period with transportation for life being the regular punishment for persons administering the oath of the United Irishmen.

Some 4000 men in Cork city had joined the United Irishmen at that time and John Swiney was one of the main leaders………..indeed he had earlier joined Lord Donoughmore’s Loyal Cork Legion and militia to learn about military tactics.

He effectively operated as an intelligence officer for the United Irishmen, which was then seeking assistance from the French government for an invasion. On the ground he campaigned against tithes and linked up to the agrarian land disturbances especially in East Cork at this time.

However the Cork United Irishmen was riven with spies, his activities and his shop was watched by the authorities. He was arrested on the 28th March 1798 while visiting Roger O’Connor in Cork Jail. On the same day, two soldiers from the Dublin County Militia were executed in the City. James Murphy and Patrick Halvey were charged with sedition, found guilty and shot at the camp field on the present day Mardyke. John Swiney had earlier distributed handbills among the militia asking them to refuse to execute their colleagues. Swiney’s importance was such that he was immediately transported to Dublin on 29th March.

One of the many plaques erected by Comorodh ’98 in 1998 to recall the bi-centenary of the 1798 rebellion. This one remembers United Irishmen James Murphy and Patrick Halvey who were executed on Cork’s Mardyke in March 1798.

Swiney was eventually sent to the bleak Fort George outside Inverness in Scotland along with 20 other leaders of the United Irishmen including Roger O’Connor (the father of Chartist leader, Feargus O’Connor) and Arthur O’Connor of West Cork, Thomas Russell (born in Dromahane, Co Cork) and Thomas Addis Emmet, whose father Dr Robert Emmet worked among the poor of Cork for many years.

Robert Emmet – leader of the abortive 1803 rebellion

His shop on Shandon Street was purchased by Cornelius Swiney of Coolroe who continued to trade in woollen goods from the premises. After more than 3 years in prison Swiney was released and banished from Ireland and sent to Hamburg in Germany. However he had not given up on his dreams of a rebellion.

A year later, Swiney slipped quietly back to Cork following an invitation from Robert Emmet to lead Cork in the 1803 uprising. Amidst the disaster and retribution which followed the brief uprising in Dublin, the authorities arrested over 40 people in and around County Cork.  Swiney found refuge in Cork city, probably with the help of Cooper Penrose at Woodhill (Sarah Curran and Lord Edward Fitzgerald both found refuge there) and fled again from Crosshaven in Cork Harbour to France where he delivered the news to Thomas Addis Emmet in Paris of his brother’s recent execution in Dublin.

Panels from the National Monument in Cork’s Grand Parade. Unfortunately it contains no mention of John Swiney.

Along with many other Irish refugees after the failed rebellions, he joined the Irish Legion established by Napoleon in 1803 and was given the rank of captain.

In 1804, Captain Swiney took part in a celebrated duel with a fellow Corkman Thomas Corbett in which Swiney was wounded but recovered while Corbett was mortally wounded.

In 1805 he married a French woman, became a property owner and made at least one visit to America on business and settled in the Bordeaux area. His naturalization papers dated December 1818 described him as a former captain and merchant of Morlaix, department of Finistere.

He died in October 1844 and is buried in the cemetery of St Martin in Morlaix.

 

The talk entitled “The Extraordinary Life of John Swiney, the United Irishman from Shandon” will take place on Thursday 1st August 2019 at the Cathedral Visitors Centre. (See later festival programme for further details).

Dr Groeger is the author of the Trial and Execution of James Cotter, and the Little Book of Youghal and has recently published The much-maligned Mary Pike, which takes people back to events in Cork city in the 1790s. He is a retired headmaster and writes articles on local history and “delights in stripping away the layers of a story and revealing the truth.”

If anyone has further information in relation to John Swiney, please email motherjonescork@gmail.com

 

 

 

 

James Connolly’s encounter with Mother Jones in New York

Our thanks to US Labour activist Saul Schniderman and Si Kahn for supplying an interesting article written by Professor L.A.O’Donnell from 1987 on the role of Irish emigrants who were active in the US Labour movement. Entitled “Irish Yeast in the Trade Unions” it was published in Talkin’ Union No 16 in September 1987 and makes reference to Mother Jones and James Connolly as well as Jim Larkin and Elizabeth Gurley Flynn.

The 1987 article as it appeared

The source for the description of the meeting with Mother Jones in 1908 in the Bronx is “Rebel Girl”, the autobiography of Elizabeth Gurley Flynn.  Among the speakers at the 2019 summer school will be Lorraine Starkey who will discuss the life and work of Elizabeth Gurley Flynn.

 

Irish Yeast in the Trade Unions

By L.A. O’Donnell

Irish immigrants escaping to the United States from famine and oppression in their native land came, not only to nourish their hunger, but also out of thirst for freedom and independence. Mostly poor, they filled the ranks of unskilled labor but quickly began organizing to protect their rights as workers and advance their wages and working conditions. From Terence Powderly of the Knights of Labor to George Meany of the AFL-CIO, Irish-Americans fought the good fight to secure their human rights and further the cause of social justice.

Powderly

Terence Powderly, leader of the Knights of Labor

Irish-Americans in the labor movement did not forget the cause of independence for their native land either. In 1920 they campaigned successfully for a resolution at the AFL convention demanding independence for Ireland. As recently as 1981, the Pennsylvania AFL-CO expressed “vigorous support for the cause of freedom in Northern Ireland” in a resolution adopted at its convention.

In Irish history, the movement for independence and the union movement were closely entwined. James Connolly and James Larkin were Ireland’s outstanding labor leaders as well as champions of Irish independence.  Connolly was executed for his important role in the Easter Week Revolt of 1916. Larkin founded the Irish Transport and General Workers Union, largest in present day Ireland. Connolly collaborated with him in his efforts to get the union firmly established.

Both men were born in Irish ghettos outside Ireland. Connolly in Edinburgh, from which he escaped at age fourteen by joining the British army for seven years, Larkin in Liverpool from which he escaped by going to sea. Both of them were gifted organizers who put their talents to work on both sides of the Atlantic.

James Connolly

James Connolly

Each of them spent considerable time in the United States attempting to raise money and campaigning for labor organizations and other causes. They found most trade unionists in America a good deal less radical than they themselves were. Connolly came over for a four month speaking tour in 1902 at the invitation of the Socialist Labor Party. He returned a year later for a seven year stay.

During his stay in America, Connolly brought his family over and scrounged a bare living at various jobs including one at Singer Sewing Machine in Elizabeth, New Jersey.  He was actively engaged in the Socialist Labor party until he tangled with its guiding genius, Daniel DeLeon, the “Socialist Pope”.  At one time he worked for the IWW organizing longshoremen on the New York docks.  His efforts were instrumental in the expulsion of DeLeon from the IWW. At the time he lived in the Bronx.

E. Gurley Flynn

Elizabeth Gurley Flynn addressing strikers at Patterson, New Jersey in 1913

In the Bronx, the Connolly’s were neighbours and close friends of the Flynn family whose best known daughter was Elizabeth Gurley Flynn – then still a teenager, but soon to become a famous rouser and organizer for the Wobblies. At an outdoor rally on a warm summer evening in 1908, Connolly, the Flynn girl and her husband listened to a fiery old Irishwoman scold her audience for failing to help the Western miners in their strike.

The speaker was Mary Harris “Mother Jones.”  Her tongue was so sharp, and she described the bloodshed and violence so vividly that Flynn – then pregnant – fainted. Connolly, luckily, caught her as she was about to fall. Mother Jones interrupted herself long enough to command “get that poor girl some water” and continued her scold. Jones was a United Mine Workers organizer and close friend to many labor leaders but particularly John Fitzpatrick, head of the Chicago Federation of Labor and Terence Powderley. Thereafter she took a maternal interest in James Connolly and Elizabeth Flynn, (a young trade union radical born in New York of Galway parents in 1890).

Mother Jones J. Fitzpatrick

Mother Jones with John Fitzpatrick, Chicago. From collection of George R. Rinhart

Returning to Dublin in 1910, Connolly became associated with James Larkin in establishing the Irish Transport and General Workers Union. In 1913 he was involved along with Larkin, in the great labor dispute of that year which reached its climax in the “Bloody Sunday Riot of August 31. The dispute dramatized the poverty, disease and overcrowding of slum dwellers in Dublin and convulsed the city entirely.  Connolly assumed leadership of the Transport Workers Union when Larkin left for America in October of 1914, ostensibly for a short fundraising trip, but one that actually kept him out of Ireland for nine years – the last four of which were in Sing Sing prison serving a sentence for “criminal anarchy” until pardoned by New York Governor Al Smith.

 

 

 

When James Larkin arrived in New York in 1914, haggard and exhausted from the 1913 upheaval he immediately called upon the Flynn’s, announcing simply, “James Connolly sent me.”  Thereafter, he was a frequent visitor to the Flynn household, delighting to drink tea with the family since he, like Connolly, was a teetotaller.  But Larkin did much more than drink tea in the United States. Until 1919, James Larkin actively engaged in the work of the IWW, especially in its efforts to oppose World War 1. His socialism and his hatred for Ireland’s subjugation combined to make him a passionate opponent of the war. He was a thundering, explosive and unpredictable public speaker who could bring a crowd to its feet at will.  He travelled all around the country demanding justice for the poor and an end to the war. For his efforts he was tried and imprisoned for “criminal anarchy.” Upon his return to Ireland in 1923 he discovered his union was in the hands of charismatic leaders who thwarted his attempt to resume leadership of it.  He died in 1947.

Lockout 1913

Scenes from Dublin’s “Bloody Sunday” during the 1913 Lockout.

In the course of the 1913 upheaval in Dublin, Larkin’s union organised a force to defend workers against police attacks. Though numbering only in the hundreds, it was called the Irish Citizen Army and Connolly’s experience in the British military was drawn upon to train it. Though small, the ICA played a significant role in the Easter Rising of 1916, making up much of the soldiery which occupied the General Post Office in Sackville Street (now O’Connell St).  At the time Patrick Pearse, although proclaimed President of the Provisional Government and Commander in Chief, deferred to Connolly’s superior military knowledge and experience and permitted him to direct the operation. Connolly proved a decisive tactician but was able to hold out only one week before surrendering to the overwhelmingly superior numbers of British forces. In the action Connolly had sustained a bullet wound in the ankle which then grew gangrenous.

Leaders of the insurrection numbering over one hundred were methodically tried and sentenced to death for treason by the British. Connolly was the fifteenth to be executed in Kilmainham Prison (14th actually) after having been received back into the Catholic faith, shriven, given communion and last rights. His wife, Lillie and daughter Nora visited with him on the eve of his execution and found him calm, without illusions and resigned to his fate – perhaps anticipating release from a life of poverty and frustration.  Seated on a box before the firing squad because of his wound, he met his death on Friday, May 12th 1916 and entered the pantheon of martyrs for Irish freedom.

Public opinion in Dublin and throughout Ireland had seriously mixed feelings about the uprising in view of the many Irish sons who had enlisted in the British army and the belief that the rising was conducted by a small number of radicals. When, however, English authorities began systematically executing its leaders – especially the wounded Connolly – the tide of opinion shifted dramatically, and momentum for independence became irresistible.  Sobered by the response, the British halted all executions after Connolly’s. But it was too late.

Note: The late L.A. O’Donnell was professor of economics at Villanova University, USA and author of  Irish Voice and Organized Labor.  He wrote many articles on labor and economic history, emphasizing the contribution of Irish immigrants. He died in 2011. 

 

Saul Schinderman published 17 editions of this magazine from 1981-1988. He continues to publish Fridays Labor Folklore regularly which details items of interest in the labour movement in the USA. Copies of Saul’s regular publication are available at;
We are also including an article by Professor Rosemary Feurer of the Mother Jones Heritage Project entitled  Get off your Knees”: James Connolly, Jim Larkin and Mother Jones in the fight for a Global Labor Movement. This paper was presented at the 2014 Spirit of Mother Jones summer school on Friday 1st August.

Cork’s new footbridge not to be named after Mother Jones

The new footbridge which is to be named after Mary Elmes (1908-2002)

The Cork Mother Jones Committee is very disappointed that the bridge across the River Lee was not named after Mary Harris/Mother Jones.
However, we are extremely heartened by the huge levels of public support we have received from many quarters and especially from Cork City and the United States for our efforts to have this local woman honoured in her native city.
We thank very much the eight councillors who voted for Mother Jones:

 

Cllr. Mick Finn (Lord Mayor, Non-Party)
Cllr. Tony Fitzgerald (Fianna Fail)
Cllr. Kieran McCarthy (Non-Party)
Cllr. Lil O’Donnell (Non-Party)
Cllr. Marion O’Sullivan (Solidarity)
Cllr. Fiona Ryan (Solidarity)
Cllr John Sheehan (Fianna Fáil)
Cllr Ted Tynan (Workers’ Party)

 

Mother Jones will remain an inspirational figure in the hearts of millions of ordinary people and she will continue to encourage children, women and men to fight for their rights, for the labour movement and for social justice.

 

According to James Nolan of the Cork Mother Jones Committee
“The name of Mother Jones may not yet appear on a public edifice in Cork city, her native place, but her call for people to “pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living” will always live on “

 

The Cork Mother Jones Committee is working away to organise our eighth annual Spirit of Mother Jones festival in the Shandon community this year (from 31st July until the 3rd August) and everyone will be most welcome as we will again have an interesting, challenging and relevant line up.

Mother Jones continues to draw huge interest in the USA

Some news in from our friends at the Mother Jones Heritage Project in Illinois with thanks to Prof. Rosemary Feurer.

Firstly there’s an update on two exciting musical events

Tickets go on sale tomorrow, 4th February for what promises to be a highly impressive performance of the 2019 Siamsa na nGael – a Celtic Celebration of the Arts, Song, Dance and Stories.

Tickets are on sale beginning February 4. Post performance and sponsorship packages are available by calling 312-798-2348. The event takes place at the Old St. Patrick’s Church in Chicago.

Next there’s the equally exciting performance of the musical Mother Jones in Heaven by the inimitable Si Kahn who performed at the Spirit of Mother Jones Festival in Cork in 2014.   The musical will be performed on Wednesday, March  27th 2019 at 7.00pm at the Irish American Center in Chicago.

There’s also the Mother Jones May Day Birthday Party on May 1st celebrating Mother Jones unofficial “American birthday” at the same venue, followed by the opening of a brand new Mother Jones exhibition by artist Lindsay Hand.  The exhibition and works are funded by the Government of Ireland.

Announcing “The Song for Mother Jones” competition.

Plans are underway for the eight annual Spirit of Mother Jones festival and summer school in Shandon, Cork which takes place this year from Wednesday July 31st until Saturday 3rd August.

 

In an exciting new development, the Cork Mother Jones Committee is planning to hold an international song competition to select a new “Song for Mother Jones”.

 

Entries can be submitted at any time up to the commencement of the festival.

 

The theme of the song should reflect Mother Jones or associated issues such as social justice, mining or the labour movement.

 

The song has to be your own song, or played by yourself or someone you know or nominate. It has to be an original composition.

 

The song must be played live and with no more than one accompanist and must be performed during the festival.

 

If you want to submit a song or wish to take part please contact the festival committee or submit an MP3 to motherjsong@gmail.com.

 

“We are encouraging and calling on songwriters and performers everywhere to participate and come up with an original work which reflects the life and work of Cork born Mother Jones.

 Already there is a vast repertoire of Mother Jones songs and ballads from Gene Autry, Si Kahn to our own Andy Irvine. The song “She’ll Be Coming Round the Mountain” is reputed to have been used following Mother Jones trips to isolated mining communities.

Now we want to enhance the Cork imprint on some further songs and these new songs will be performed at the forthcoming Spirit of Mother Jones festival.

 We will announce full details of prizes, dates and venues closer to the festival on the festival website (www.motherjonescork.com) itself but we are asking potential songwriters to begin working on the songs which they propose to submit. “

 

The full programme for the 2019 festival and summer school in Shandon is in the course of preparation but will contain some new and interesting elements to involve increased public participation. If anyone has any ideas or suggestions for the inclusion of material or topics please contact the Cork Mother Jones Committee as soon as possible at motherjonescork@gmail.com.

Mother Jones – “She fought like a lion”

 

Mother Jones………”she fought like a lion.”

Blazing a trail cover

Blazing a Trail cover

Congratulations to Sarah Webb and Lauren O’Neill authors of Blazing a Trail…Irishwomen Who Changed the World on being chosen by Irish readers, writers, publishers, book sellers and librarians as the National Book Tokens Children’s Book of the Year – Senior at the recent An Post Irish Book award ceremony in Dublin,

This book published by The O’Brien Press Ltd contains details of 28 Irishwomen who changed the world in their fields of endeavour.

Cork born Mary Harris/Mother Jones is included among this list and described as a “Labour Organiser and Champion of Child Workers”.

Beautifully illustrated by Lauren O’Neill, it shows a passionate and inspirational Mother Jones in her Victorian dress and bonnet leading The March of the Mill Children in 1903 and comments “Mother Jones may have looked like a gentle old lady in her dark Victorian dresses and bonnets, but she fought like a lion”.

The book includes Dr Kathleen Lynn, Mary Robinson and Eileen Gray and among the other Cork born women selected are Dr James Barry, Nellie Cashman, Hannah Sheehy Skeffington and Sonia O’Sullivan.

Author Sarah Webb states……”At school I was taught that men were the history makers, the doctors, the artists, the scientists. Later, when I was older, I discovered this simply was not true. There have always been remarkable women shaping our world, and in this book I wanted to shine a light on some of the amazing Irish pioneers.

In selecting the women, I had two main criteria: they had to be remarkable in their field, and they had to encourage and support other women along the way. These women didn’t have to be good, they had to be outstanding.”

This is a very timely, innovative and outstanding book. Sarah Webb and Lauren O’Neill are themselves trailblazers!