The Spirit of Mother Jones Festival will take place online on Cork Community Television from Thursday 25th November 2021 until Sunday 28th November 2021. We are hoping to have a number of live events, including Q&A’s with the interviewees as well as some live music at the Maldron Hotel in Shandon during the course of the Festival. These are subject strictly to the Covid 19 regulations specified at the time and the attendance will be limited.
Thursday 25th November – Sunday 28th November 2021
Programme of online events on Cork Community Television.
Thursday 25th November 2021
2:00 pm. The highlights of the 2020 online Spirit of Mother Jones Festival.
7.30 pm. Muriel MacSwiney………The Unlikely Revolutionary. An interview with Anne Twomey, historian and teacher, of the Shandon Area History Group.
Friday 26th November 2021
2:00 pm. The highlights of the first ten years of the Spirit of Mother Jones festivals.
7.00 pm. Commemorating the 100th Anniversary of the death of Tadhg Barry, of Blarney Street.
Tadhg Barry Remembered. Documentary by Cork Council of Trade Unions and Frameworks Films.
8.00 pm. Interview with Dr. Donal O’Drisceoil
Author of Utter Disloyalist: Tadhg Barry and The Irish Revolution.
Saturday 27th November 2021.
2:00 pm. Blood on the Mountain produced by Mari-Lynn Evans.
4:00 pm. Louis Tikas and the Ludlow Massacre produced by Lamprini C Tomas and Nickos Ventouras.
6:00 pm. Mother Jones: The Most Dangerous Woman in America by Rosemary Feurer.
6:30 pm. Interview (zoom) with Mari Steed, Adoption Rights campaigner.
7:00pm. Maureen Considine and Catherine Coffey O’Brien of the CorkSurvivors and Supporters Alliance, CSSA discuss their effort to safeguard the Bessborough Burial ground.
Sunday 28th November 2021
2:00 pm. The Mine Warsproduced and directed by Randall MacLowry.
4:00 pm. Mother Jones and Her Children by Frameworks Films.
7:00 pm. Dr. Sean Pettit…….An Extraordinary Teacher with an introduction by Richard T Cooke. This film features Sean’s final presentation “The Cork City of Mary Harris” at the Spirit of Mother Jones Festival on 29th July 2016.
8:00 pm. The Songs of Mother Jones.
Featuring Māire Ní Chēilleachair, Karan Casey, William Hammond, Mags Creedon, Richard T Cooke, John Murphy, John & Gearoid Nyhan and Mick Treacy.
The 2021 Spirit of Mother Jones Festival will also include Q&A sessions with the speakers at the Maldron Hotel after the broadcasts on Cork Community Television. The capacity is strictly limited in accordance with the Covid-19 regulations for the safety of participants. Full details on how to attend will be announced later.
Jimmy Crowley will again perform at the eighth Spirit of Mother Jones festival at the Maldron Hotel on Friday 2nd August at 1pm. In what has become a huge highlight of the festival Jimmy explained how much this gig means to him.
Jimmy Crowley (left) with fellow singer / songwriter and member of the Cork Mother Jones Committee Richard T. Cooke
Writing in the Evening Echo on August 11th 2018, Jimmy said of his 2018 Mother Jones gig,
“I somehow attain my almost perfect audience for this little gig; people there for the right reasons; they’re patient with me if I want to introduce some new material; not too demanding of the “old stuff” and I get, perhaps, the most gentle, genial gentleman in Cork to introduce me and MC the event – the irrepressible Richard Cooke. “
Jimmy Crowley has been performing and singing ballads in Cork for almost 50 years. He was born in Douglas in Cork, began writing songs in the early 70s and ran the folk club at Douglas GAA club for many years. His band Stokers Lodge was known throughout Ireland.
Jimmy likes to talk and sing songs of Cork characters such as hunters and drag hunting, of harriers and the Shandon foot beagles and sportsmen such as legendary road bowler Mick Barry from Waterfall, and the immortal hurler Christy Ring, of stupendous deeds of valour, local rivalries and personalities, great and little events, and the real everyday topics of conversation of the people.
His first album “The Boys of Fairhill” released in 1997, contained such classics as The Pool Song,Johnny Jump Up, Salonika, the Armoured Car and of course The Boys of Fairhill. This was followed by a second album “Camphouse Ballads” and “Some Things NeverChange”. Later still “Uncorked” was released in 1998, while “The Coast of Malabar” appeared in 2000.
These songs live on now in the soul, the streets and the singers of Cork regardless of cultural and musical globalisation. Just imagine where else in the world would you get an uplifting song about Connie Doyle’s legendary Fair Hill harrier dog known as The Armoured Car?
Jimmy has played all over Ireland, Europe and America and is a familiar face on the streets of Cork. He is known as the Bard of Cork as his unique style of singing and his love of his native City, especially the local Shandon area is central to his musical imagination.
In 2014, Jimmy Crowley produced *“Songs From The Beautiful City… The Cork UrbanBallads”. Now generally considered to be his greatest work, Jimmy proclaims this collection as “the true history of the people of Cork City through their only resource of expression: the humble ballad.” So after many hard years of research, much ferreting out of local traditional ballads, elusive song writers and reclusive characters, collecting of lost and half remembered words which portray a lively, progressive and earthy narrative of our priceless history, our folklore and bealoideas, Jimmy delivered his masterpiece!
The book contains such classics as Marilyn Munroe (words by the late Paddy O’Driscoll, the much loved Bard of Ballinure), Cheer, Boys,Cheer (words by the late Helen O’Donovan for many years bean an tí with the Cork Singers Club) and The Old Skellig Lists (words by Teresa Mac Carthaigh, who also wrote and sings the hugely inspiring Ballad of Mother Jones). Jimmy has ensured not just the survival but the vitality of umpteen Cork ballads for future generations of singers.
In the preface to this book, Mick Moloney, of the New York University Department of Music stated;
“It’s hard to compare him to anyone else; but if there was just one singer I would place alongside Jimmy in the matter of flair, delivery and style it would be another County Cork native; the magnificent irrepressible Maggie Barry. It’s no surprise that Jimmy and I are both admirers of this trailblazing woman operating very much in a man’s world who sadly did not get the affirmation she deserved in her lifetime”
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 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-ApartheidStriker”, 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 FightAgainst Fascism- Bob Doyle, will consider this topic on Friday afternoon 4th August at the Maldron Hotel at 2.45.
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.
“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.
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.
The Cork Mother Jones Committee will show the Cork premiere of The Limerick 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
Cork born Chartist leader to be remembered at the Spirit of Mother Jones Festival
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.
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.
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.
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).
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!
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”.
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 “FeargusO’Connor – The Corkman behind a British Revolution” on Saturday 5th August 2017 at 2.30pm at the Maldron Hotel.