The Spirit of Mother Jones Festival 2017

  • Jimmy Crowley

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Spirit of Mother Jones Festival 2017: Lectures and Speakers

Films and Music at the Spirit of Mother Jones Festival 2017