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.

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Origins and Lessons of the Spanish Civil War

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

Spain 1937

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

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

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

barricade

Republican forces barricade

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

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

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

Graham Coton painting of the bombing of Gernika / Guernica

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Guernica"

Pablo Picasso’s “Guernica”

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

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

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

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

 

“The Bolshevik Revolution – its Impact on Cork and the Irish Labour Movement”.

Petrograd

Russian Workers marching for bread and freedom, Petrograd 1917

On Friday morning 4th August at 11.00am at the Maldron Hotel, Historian Luke Dineen will present “The Bolshevik Revolution – Impact on Cork and Irish Labour”.

One hundred years ago, this Revolution changed the face of the world for the rest of the 20th Century, yet what impact if any did it have in Cork, in Ireland or indeed on the Irish labour movement? What did people know about it, how did they hear about it and did it make any difference to the revolutionary events unfolding here in this country?

Luke Dineen will bring his analysis to the 2017 Spirit of Mother Jones Summer School.

Luke Dineen

Historian Luke Dineen

“In July 1917, the third anniversary of the outbreak of the Great War, the situation looked hopeless for Europe’s working class. The ruling classes of Europe had needlessly sleepwalked the continent into the most destructive war the world had ever seen until that point, and it was the workers who suffered the most. Apart from provided the war’s cannon fodder, food shortages, unscrupulous employers and mass inflation had created a cost of living crisis that devastated their lives. But, little did they realise, all was about to change.

On 25 October 1917, Lenin’s Bolshevik Party, through its Red Guards, seized control of key government buildings in Russia. The following day, the Winter Palace was captured. The Bolsheviks had taken power in Russia – the course of history was profoundly changed forever. It was a move that shocked and inspired the world. Europe’s ruling classes trembled with fear at the prospect of the working class seizing power elsewhere. The workers of Europe, on the other hand, were inspired by the example of the Bolsheviks.

For a brief period, post-war Europe seemed to herald the beginning of a new dawn, where the injustices and inequalities of the past would be confined to the past. Russia, for so long Europe’s most backward, autocratic and oppressive country, was now a shining example of what could be achieved.

Dublin meeting

Contemporary poster advertising Dublin meeting to welcome the Bolshevik Revolution

 

The impact of the revolution was seismic. It spread to other parts of Europe when workers in Hungary, Italy and Germany rose to cast off the shackles of capitalism before they were violently suppressed by a reactionary alliance of state and fascist paramilitaries. But the revolution’s influence on the rest of the world did not die with these failed uprisings.

Indeed, it would have a deep impact on a revolution that was brewing on the other side of Europe, where the forces of imperialism were all too familiar and had been for centuries. In Ireland, the October Revolution left a deep imprint on the psyche of a labour movement that had been radicalised by the war years. Furthermore, imperialist intervention in Russia to crush the revolution resonated with a republican movement that had won popular support through its promise of casting off the yolk of British domination.

As we approach its centenary, it is timely to examine the influence of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution on Ireland, both in the immediate aftermath and in the subsequent years. This talk will outline that influence on the Irish labour movement, which was struggling for working-class emancipation amidst national revolution. It will also examine how the Bolsheviks influenced labour’s participation in a war that delivered partial independence.

Frank Ryan and the Limerick Brigadistas

Spain

On site with the film crew Angelo Vernuccio, (Sound Man) Ger McCloskey, Eddie Noonan,(Frameworks Films) Tom Collopy and Alan Warren.

The Cork Mother Jones Committee will show the Cork premiere of TheLimerick Brigadistas – From the Shannon to the Ebro…a film documentary by the Limerick International Brigades Memorial Trust (LIBMT) and Frameworks Films on Friday 4th August at 7.30 at the Firkin Theatre in Shandon on Cork’s Northside.  All are welcome.

LIBMT logo

Logo of the Limerick International Brigades Memorial Trust (LIBMT)

The Limerick Brigadistas – From the Shannon to the Ebro’ tells the story of six men from Limerick who went to fight fascism in the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939).  Approximately 240 Irish volunteers fought with the International Brigades during the war and the documentary depicts the lives of the six men from Limerick who fought with the XV International Brigade – Maurice Emmett Ryan, Jim Woulfe, Frank Ryan, Gerard Doyle, Paddy Brady and Joe Ryan. 

It explores what motivated these men to leave Ireland to fight in another country and what subsequently happened to them. The documentary follows members of the Limerick International Brigades Memorial Trust as they travel to Spain to find the final resting place of some of their fellow Limerick men and to look at the relevance of their story in today’s world. The documentary was produced by Frameworks Films and the Limerick International Brigades Memorial Trust. 

Ger McCloskey, Emma Gilleece, Tom Collopy of the Limerick International Brigades Memorial Trust

Frank Ryan

Frank Ryan

Best remembered is Frank Ryan, born in Elton, near Knocklong in Co Limerick on 11th September, he spent from 1916 to 1921 at St Colman’s College, Fermoy. Ryan led some 80 volunteers from Ireland to Spain in 1936, he was wounded in March 1937, recovered in Ireland but returned to Spain where he was captured in March 1938. He endured Franco’s prison camps before eventually arriving in Germany. He died in Dresden,Germany in June 1944. His story in Spain is told in this documentary.

 

 

 

On location

Documentary reenactors on location including Alan Warren

Spirit of Mother Jones Festival Brochure published

The programme for the Spirit of Mother Jones Festival & Summer School 2017 is now available with the publication of the official brochure today (23rd June).

The programme covers a comprehensive range of events which will take place during the Festival and Summer School.  These will include lectures, music, film showing and commemorative events over the five days of 2017 event which runs from 1st to 5th August in the Shandon area of Cork city.

You can download the 2017 brochure by clicking Mother Jones Cork Programme 2017.

 

Karen Underwood sings the Blues in Cork

The Cork Mother Jones committee announces that singer Karen Underwood will appear for the first time at the Spirit of Mother Jones Festival on Wednesday night 2nd August at the Maldron Hotel, Shandon, at 9.30 pm.

Karen Underwood

Karen Underwood concert at Spirit of Mother Jones Festival

Karen was born in Chicago in the early 60s at a time when the Civil Rights movement was gaining momentum. Her home was full of music and song and she absorbed many musical influences as a young girl from Nat King Cole to Church and Gospel music.

She arrived in Cork in her 30s around 1997 and settled in the city. Here she experimented with various musical genres however the music of her heroine Nina Simone was celebrated in her show “The Nina in Me” where she sings many of Nina Simone’s songs interspersed with commentary of life, her memories of America and the tragedy, joys and experiences of her life in Cork.

Karen’s version of “Mississippi Goddamn” is awesome while “Strange Fruit”, with its echoes of lynching in America resonate the growing fear in today’s Trump’s America. Her live performances are a tribute to her extraordinary versatility and her embracement of what life throws at one.

Karen has performed all over Ireland, including the National Concert Hall, the Olympia, the Gaiety and she has appeared on numerous TV and radio programmes.

Karen Underwood Image processed by CodeCarvings Piczard

Tickets for this festival fundraising show are €15 euro each (limited to 70) and are available from the Maldron Hotel, or from Nolan’s (Victuallers) 21/22 Shandon Street or phone 086 1651356. This show is highly recommended.

Feargus O’Connor – The Lion of Freedom

Cork born Chartist leader to be remembered at the Spirit of Mother Jones Festival

Feargus O'Connor

Feargus O’Connor (1796-1855)

Born on 18th July 1796 at Connorville close to Ballineen in Co Cork, Feargus O’ Connor was the son of Roger O’Connor and Wilhelmina Bowen. Both his father and more famous uncle, Arthur (a Barrister, former MP and High Sheriff of Cork) were arrested in 1798 for activities connected to the United Irishmen. Arthur was exiled to France, where Bonaparte welcomed him as an official representative of the Irish people. Roger’s family were also dispersed for some time as a result of his ongoing brushes with the law.

After some teenage adventures in England and Ireland, Feargus acquired Fort Robert, Dromidiclogh near Ballineen in West Cork from his uncle Robert Connor in 1820 and worked the attached farm alongside over 100 of his tenants. At this time, rural areas of County Cork were hotbeds of Whiteboy actions led by the infamous and mysterious Captain Rock and O’Connor may have become mixed up in these activities. He had also addressed his first public meeting at the original Catholic Church in Enniskean but due to the treasonous nature of his comments, he disappeared to England in 1822, where he later qualified as a barrister.

Connorville

The ruins of Connorville, Ballineen, birthplace of Feargus O’Connor

Returning to Cork he defended many ordinary people in the courts at the time. However his experiences led him to become angry at the lack of civil rights, a critic of tithes (payments to the Protestant church) and more active in politics. He did not support Daniel O’Connell’s Catholic Emancipation campaign contending that it was limited emancipation and O’Connell was “the only Irishman to have benefitted”. In any event he was more interested in the Repeal of the Union movement and his brilliant oratory skills helped him to sway huge crowds at public meetings. He addressed a crowd of some 50,000 people in Dunmanway in 1832, while also holding a large campaign dinner for 500 in Enniskean village.

Kennington meeting

Chartist Meeting, Kennington Common, London 1848

Large in stature, fiery and red haired, self-confident, charming, defiant and passionate, he engaged huge crowds and was a natural leader. Occasionally these meetings could be rather robust affairs and O’Connor became involved in many altercations. He was described by his friend and neighbour William J O’Neill Daunt as being “indefatigable in agitation”. His increasingly radical views gained many supporters among disenfranchised tenants, labourers and working class people of no property.

He challenged openly the aristocratic Tory grip of politics across County Cork and in 1832 surprised all when he was elected MP for County Cork, breaking the political glass ceiling of the landlords, (although one himself!). His victory sparked mass evictions of hundreds of tenants along the Bandon Valley by Lord Bandon. The landlords never forgave him and those evicted never forgot either. Yet he continued to engineer electoral victories in a corrupt system by somewhat pragmatic methods in many Cork towns against a backdrop of increasing anti tithe violence. (In December 1834, 12 people were killed when troops opened fire in Rathcormac, Co Cork).

In the House of Commons, O’Connor was very isolated and gradually split from Daniel O’Connell accusing him of selling out the Irish people on Repeal, especially after the Liberator’s agreement to the Lichfield House Whig Compact. O’Connor and the working classes became alienated even further from O’Connell due to O’Connell’s regular attacks on the emerging trade union networks.

Re-elected in January 1835 as MP for Cork, he was soon disqualified from the House of Commons in June when a Select Committee found he had not enough property or income to qualify in the first place. Being unable to contest the Cork election again he then turned most of his attention to English politics.

Later in England in September 1835 O’Connor helped found the Great Radical Association, which united many radicals and agitators and which sought universal suffrage (for men), voting by ballot and the removal of property qualifications for MPs. He possessed ferocious energy and spoke at huge meetings in support of working peoples’ rights and is regarded by many as one of the founders of Chartism based on the later People’s Charter which also sought the earlier principles espoused by O’Connor. Feargus was becoming the “Lion of Freedom”, adored by countless thousands, yet remaining a very divisive figure to others.

Northern Star

The Northern Star

He founded the Northern Star newspaper in 1837 in Leeds, which was hugely popular and which promoted the ideas of Chartism throughout Britain and supported the People’s Charter announced by the London Working Men’s Association in June 1838. O’Connor was a vigorous campaigner, an accomplished orator, a smart agitator and he spoke at meetings attended by hundreds of thousands of people. Unfortunately he also became involved in the many irrelevant disputes which weakened the Chartist movement. Yet he always raised the Irish grievances whenever he could.

The authorities ensured he was charged and imprisoned for 18 months for seditious libel in May 1840 in York Castle. While weakening his direct control over the Chartist revolution, O’Connor became a martyr for the now huge movement. In spite of many setbacks, widespread violence arising from industrial strikes especially in 1842, the rejection of parliament petitions, an over ambitious land plan, O’Connor and others kept Chartism central to the political agenda throughout the 1840s. He was elected as an MP for Nottingham in 1847 and became an even bigger thorn in the side of the Establishment (both Whigs and Tories in Parliament).

Grave

Detail from Feargus O’Connor’s gravestone at Kensal Green Cemetery (via Findagrave.com)

Eventually worn out by years of campaigning, wounded by arguments within the movement, lack of finances and the ongoing efforts of the Establishment to be rid of him, O’Connor experienced poor health and mental difficulties, he was eventually sent for treatment to an asylum where he remained for several years. He died at his sister’s house in Notting Hill on 30th August 1855 and is buried at Kensal Green Cemetery. Vast crowds attended his funeral in London and the gates of the cemetery were “unceremoniously broke open” by the throngs. A large monument was erected over his grave. Another monument was erected in Nottingham by his admirers.

Chartism, riven with disputes between reformers and militants receded in the 1850s and much of its vision in education, parliamentary and land reforms and universal suffrage came to nothing in the short term. However the awakening working classes proceeded to organise and consolidate trade unions, co-operatives and friendly societies and absorb new socialist and democratic ideas. Wage negotiations commenced. While political reform took longer…… for many on the ground, O’Connor had led the way across the revolutionary Rubicon!

Southern Star (Chartist)

The Southern Star – British Chartist newspaper (not related to the West Cork paper of the same name)

As early as February 1838, O’Connor as quoted in the Bolton Free Press (Dorothy Thompson The Chartists) had declared that society is divided into two classes….  “The rich oppressors and the poor oppressed. The whole question resolved itself into the battle between labour and capital”.  He emphasised the need to create independent working class organisation.

Feargus had introduced powerful ideas to the workers and he would not be silenced as he understood how to promulgate these ideas fearlessly through his newspaper, through vast meetings and through Chartism. Establishment attacks tried to destroy his character portraying him as a colourful and dangerous eccentric of this period yet the West Corkman remains the one innovative, questioning and radical voice in the complex tapestry and history of agitation for full political rights for all in Britain and Ireland.

Today, O’Connor appears to have been consigned to occupying a marginal role in Irish and British history, although he was a central and significant figure in the British Revolution. In his publication “Feargus O’Connor …a Political Life” by Paul A Pickering (published by Merlin Press 2008), Professor Pickering contends that O’Connor has not been “treated kindly by history” and his book is a plea for a place in Irish and British history for Feargus, as “he had earned it”.   

Carrickmore

Carrickmore House – extension of the original Connorville at Ballineen – both in ruins now.

Today, Connorville and the later Carrigmore House shamefully lie in ruins alongside the present day Carbery Milk Products factory at Ballineen. Cattle graze beneath the walls of Feargus’s old home Fort Robert (built in 1787) which is nearby. Very little remains of the old church at Derrigran, Enniskean where he made his first speech, and today a parochial house stands on the site.

Alongside the “Idle Bridge”, on the main Bandon/Dunmanway road (a bridge built by Roger to carry water from a never completed Blackwater river diversion on the O’Connor lands at Manch), a small plaque unveiled in 1999, commemorates Roger and Arthur O’Connor and their role in the United Irishmen.

For Feargus O’Connor…the Lion of Freedom… there is no monument in his native county!

 

Cllr Warren Davies, is a Labour Councillor, who represents Baird Ward in Hastings in East Sussex. For 27 years he has taught history, politics, Sociology and anthropology. Warren will speak of “Feargus O’Connor – The Corkman behind a British Revolution” on Saturday 5th August 2017 at 2.30pm at the Maldron Hotel.