The Peterloo Massacre – some Cork connections

Peterloo, a film by Mike Leigh has been released.  Starring Maxine Peake, Rory Kinnear, Neil Bell and Peter Quigley, and some 150 other actors along with thousands of extras, director Mike Leigh brings the events of that infamous day in Manchester to life.

Peterloo plaque

Plaque at the site of the Peterloo massacre, Manchester

On a sunny Monday afternoon, 16th August 1819, a large four-wheeled carriage adorned with flags and banners made its way slowly through the loud cheers of massed crowds towards the stage at St. Peters Field in Manchester. Seated at the front alongside the coachman was a small yet striking figure in a white dress waving a rectangular white banner, depicting a woman holding the scales of justice, while crushing a serpent, the banner of the Manchester Female Reform Society (MFRS).

Cork born Mary Pritchard (1789), now Mary Fildes, president of the newly formed MFRS cut an impressive figure as she proudly displayed her Society’s new banner to the vast crowd. She intended to present the banner and an address to one of the occupants of the carriage, Henry Hunt, the main speaker at the forthcoming monster Reform meeting about to commence. Reaching the small platform, the speakers along with Mary Fildes stood awaiting silence from the vast throng of working class men, women and children who had walked and marched in from the nearby towns across Lancashire seeking reform of the corrupt and elite electoral system. .

Henry Hunt

Henry Hunt

As the expectant gathering pressed closer to the platform and Henry ”Orator” Hunt began his speech, a band of Yeomanry advanced through the nearby streets, led by an Irishman Edward Meagher.

Mike Leigh’s film builds slowly up to a reconstruction of the 1819 Peterloo massacre. This peaceful pro-democracy rally attended by some 60,000 people who had gathered to hear the radical charismatic speaker and gentleman farmer Henry Hunt, was then attacked by British Yeomanry and Hussar Cavalry.

Using sabres wildly and viciously against unarmed people, they killed fifteen people (including a two year old child by the name of William Fildes) and injured upwards of 600 in this brutal and bloody massacre which became known as Peterloo (after the recent battle of Waterloo!). Later many suffered and died from infections brought on from the savage cuts received at the meeting.

Jacqueline Riding in her comprehensive publication Peterloo (with a foreword by Mike Leigh) states that women were very prominent in the attendance at St Peters Field. Four were among the dead or died later, upwards of a quarter of those injured were women and many including Mary Fildes were especially targeted by the Yeomanry. Mary herself was attacked initially on the platform by the special constabulary and later sabred by a yeoman. She managed however to escape from the field.

Upon her recovery, Mary continued to work for the rights of women. She was arrested while campaigned for birth control in the 1830s and later became a leading Chartist and influenced the original suffragettes. Ever the rebel she had named one of her children Henry Hunt Fildes. A grandson, Luke Fildes painted numerous social realism images of poverty, homelessness and injustice. She ran a pub in Chester and died around 1875/76 in her mid-80s.


The massacre caused outrage at the time, and led to a seismic shift in public opinion against the ruling clique and elites. It contributed to the founding of the Manchester Guardian in 1821 and later encouraged other Chartist newspapers as the clamour for democracy and reform grew.  Over in Livorno in Tuscany, the poet Percy Shelley raged on being informed of Peterloo and wrote The Mask of Anarchy………. “Rise like Lions after slumber in unvanquished number – Shake your chains to earth like dew, which in sleep had fallen on you, – Ye are many – they are few.”


Mary Fildes

Mary Fildes with her banner (to left of platform)

The events of 16th August 1819 influenced the later development of the grass roots Chartism in the 1830s and lead to the People’s Charter. Henry Hunt, who died in February 1835 was regarded as a hero by many in Chartism. This in turn stimulated the later growth of the trade unions and the political mobilization of the working class into the Labour Party.

Indeed the events at Peterloo may well have aroused West Cork born Feargus O’Connor to stand for the post reform election in 1832, when he was surprisingly elected MP for Cork. Alongside reformer William Cobbett in the House of Commons, they supported what eventually became the Chartist demands. Both Fergus O’Connor and Daniel O’Connell organised the “monster meetings” based on the Peterloo example.

According to author James Epstein in his book “The Lion Of Freedom….Feargus O’Connor and the Chartist Movement, 1832-1842, Chartist leader O’Connor regarded Henry Hunt as his hero and declared himself to be a “Huntite”.

“Year after year he travelled to Lancashire to celebrate the anniversary of Hunt’s birth with local radicals, and often took the platform at the annual meeting at St Peters Field held to commemorate the ‘never to be forgotten’ 16th August.”

Feargus O'Connor

Feargus O’Connor, Chartist

As with so much of history, the massacre has been largely forgotten and the story of Peterloo disappeared from classrooms, schools and universities. Many have never heard of the events which took place at St Peter’s Field. Few visiting Manchester and St Peter’s Square even notice the red plaque on the nearby Hotel. Most pass by and not realise that they tread on the very birthplace of British democracy and the roots of Chartism and the British Labour movement.

At that time, only a tiny minority of people, possibly 3% had the vote. Dorothy Thompson, author of The Chartists estimated that even later in the 1830s just 653,000 men from an English and Welsh population of 13,000,000 could vote and just 80,000 men in Ireland from a population of 7.8 million and that was after the Reform Act of 1832. All had to vote by open polling in public whereby each vote was recorded.

As we approach the two hundredth anniversary of Peterloo, Mike Leigh’s dramatic film should encourage people to examine the source struggles for reform and democracy and to perhaps ask again how a small increasingly wealthy and powerful elite can control political and technological structures across the planet and can dictate the working and living conditions for countless millions of ordinary people barely surviving under austerity and poverty.

The film arrives to a bitterly divided Britain….. Yet Leigh’s stark history and political lesson for those who hark backwards to a glorious past British epoch might remember the bloody sacrifices made by the innocent people on that field at Peterloo.


Note: If anyone has further information about the Cork roots of Mary Pritchard born in 1789, who married William Fildes, a reed maker in Cheshire in 1808, please let the Cork Mother Jones Committee know. It is not clear if the child William Fildes was related to Mary’s husband.  You can email us at




Vote for Cork’s new bridge to be renamed Mother Jones Bridge!


Artist’s Impression of what the new bridge will look like

Cork City Council is constructing a new bridge across the River Lee.

This bridge will link Merchants Quay to St. Patrick’s Quay close to the existing Harley Street which runs alongside the Metropole Hotel.   The new bridge will provide improved pedestrian and cycle connectivity between the centre “island” of Cork and the Northside of the River Lee.
The City Council is seeking a new name for this bridge and is looking for nominations from all interested persons and groups. One can submit a nomination using the attached nomination form (see link below). Please read the guidelines.

Completed nomination forms should be returned directly to the Cork City Council 

to (note underscore) or go to
Also the forms can be posted to Fiona Dinneen, Administrative Officer, Roads and Transportation Directorate, City Hall, Cork,
T12 T997.
All nominations have to be submitted by Thursday 15th November 2018.
The Cork Mother Jones Committee intends to nominate Mother Jones as the name for this new bridge and is urging all friends of Mother Jones to consider submitting and supporting her nomination before 15th November.
Mary Harris was born in Cork in 1837, baptised in the North Cathedral and lived through the Great Famine until 1852, when she emigrated with her family to join her father in Canada. In spite of huge personal tragedies in her early life; later as Mother Jones she overcame adversity to fight for social justice, and to defend exploited workers, including women, men and children across the United States of America for the final four decades of her life.
Renowned in song and story, Mother Jones is the most famous Cork woman in the world and she has become an international symbol of hope for people fighting for social justice. She was a proud, brave and passionate Cork woman, a skilled and fiery orator, a brilliant union organiser and a fearless leader of many thousands of men and women.
A true rebel, Mother Jones represents the very best attributes of  Cork people with their proud independent spirit, their passionate support for the underdog and their rebellious yet joyful nature. By now recognising Mother Jones, Cork will finally acknowledge the importance and contribution of countless Irish women who were forced to leave Ireland in Famine times and who by their subsequent actions to support exploited people elsewhere in the world have ensured a positive legacy of honour and pride for their historic achievements back in their own native places and among the wider Irish diaspora.
We ask you to honour the enduring spirit of Mother Jones in her own place by completing and sending a nomination form to call this new bridge, 
The Mother Jones Bridge.   

Dates for your Diary!

The Cork Mother Jones Committee is pleased to announce that the next annual Spirit of Mother Jones Festival will be held from Wednesday, 31st July to Saturday, 3rd August 2019.

We will post further details of the event nearer to the time and as usual all will be welcome

The August sun goes down on the Spirit of Mother Jones Festival for 2018

The seventh Spirit of Mother Jones Festival floated away gently to the sweet sounds of ukulele music and songs at the sunny Shandon Plaza on Saturday evening. Earlier a large crowd had assembled at the Mother Jones plaque to serenade and toast in the traditional manner “the most dangerous woman in America”……………not really an inaccurate description for Cork woman, Mary Harris!


Dominic O’Callaghan of Cork Mother Jones Committee with his miner’s helmet at the opening of the festival

A proud accolade for a Cork woman!

Events began on Wednesday afternoon when the Lord Mayor, Cllr Mick Finn had declared the festival open. Style was the order of the day when Joan Goggin, Eadaoin and Aoife along with Loretta Williams (America’s Mother Jones) attended along with the glamourous Cobh Animation team and the singing Shandon Shawlies under the direction of Richard T Cooke.

The annual American connections remain strong as two perceptive speakers, John Barimo and Emily LB Twarog discussed the rise and reasons for Trumpism. Their solid work, sensible comments and statistics ensured a better understanding of the current political situation in the USA.

Geraldine McCarthy and Ann Rea of the Cork Mother Jones Committee with Jo Gazely, Head of Cork City Council Tourism Section (centre)

A packed attendance viewed the Irish premiere of Fords – Memories of the Line. A theatre thronged with ex Ford workers reverberated with talk, tales and fun. Ninty four year old Gus who was present summed up his views “Henry Ford might have owned our hands………but he never owned our minds”. Frameworks Films, Bill Daly and the ex-Ford workers have made a classic documentary by simply allowing the workers to tell their own story! A rare gem!

Cork’s gentle giant and Irish Citizen Army hero, Thomas Corkie Walsh was brought to life by Luke Dineen, whose work reveals his all too short life.  Corkie has recently been remembered by fellow Cork stone masons, spearheaded by Jim Fahy, who have erected a permanent headstone.

Another full house at the Firkin heard Anne Twomey tell the complicated story of Cork’s MacSwiney sisters and their sister-in-law Muriel Murphy. Following a sensitive and empathic presentation, Anne opened the pages on their lives and with every page they became all the more extraordinary. In a room with several people who had known the women, layers of history were peeled away. Is Muriel MacSwiney forever to remain like Mother Jones once was…… another forgotten Cork woman?

More recent Irish history was unveiled by investigative journalist Frank Connolly in his review of some of the activities of the National Asset Management Agency.

The ongoing revelations of the huge role played by women in the early 20th Century continued with Micheline Sheehy Skeffington outlining the role of her grandparents Hanna and Francis in the events of those turbulent days. Louise Ryan further revealed the workings of Ireland’s suffrage movement through the priceless historical treasure trove of the Irish Citizen newspaper.

The documentary Up to the last Drop – The Secret Water Wars of Europe also attracted another capacity crowd, the Cork and Irish elements in this disturbing story aroused huge interest. Pride on the final evening led to many tears as the unique act of solidarity between members of the London LGBT community and the Welsh striking miners was celebrated. The wondrous dynamism of the late Mark Ashton left one feeling a sense of loss even at a 30 year remove.

Cork Singers Club under bean a tí Helen O’Donovan provided a unique traditional opening to the festival. Their pure singing voices are in stark contrast to the ubiquitous background music now permeating our very existence. John Nyhan and Mitchelstown man Mick Treacy unearthed many of Ewan MacColl’s songs, while the tender rendering of his 1958 classic The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face by Sean Roche, returned from Australia, will live long in the memory of those attending. Jimmy Crowley was in mighty form on Friday afternoon, while the duo of William Hammond and Linda Quinlan added traditional Irish music and songs.

Louise O'Keeffe with Ann and Ger

Ann Piggott and Ger McCarthy of the Cork Mother Jones Committee with speaker Louise O’Keeffe

A highlight of this year’s summer school was the stunning personal account of her long fight for justice by Louise O’Keeffe. Her emotional description of her difficult and lonely journey through the inhumane and soulless Irish Court system left many listeners angry. A callous Government immediately demanded full costs amounting to many hundreds of thousands of euro from this brave woman and this attitude continues today with others in the same boat. Ministers hide behind legal jargon, replicated in scandal after scandal.  In an absorbing account, devoid of bitterness, Louise’s riveting talk illuminated our souls by her painful honesty and her wondrous strength of character.

Louise O’Keeffe is an exceptional West Cork woman!

Mary Manning told her story of the Dunnes Stores Strikers. It is a magnificent story, the account of how ten union shop workers changed a whole country’s perception of Apartheid, and how they changed Irish Government policy. These young women and Tommy Davis and their union official Brendan Archbold gave the future South African President, then locked in prison, hope and inspiration and ensured that the African people knew they were not on their own. They are all worthy recipients of the Spirit of Mother Jones Award 2018.

We salute Mary Manning and the Dunnes Stores Strikers!

And so the curtain falls on the 2018 festival. The Cork Mother Jones Committee thank all who helped. Thanks to all associated with our venues, the new Cathedral Visitor Centre, the Firkin Crane and the Maldron Hotel. To our many sponsors and the Trade Union movement, to our participants, regulars and visitors, we say thanks and we will announce the dates of the 2019 festival shortly.

Any ideas for speakers or topics, email your suggestions, meanwhile please continue to………..

Pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living.”








Photos from the final day of Spirit of Mother Jones Festival 2018

The 7th Spirit of Mother Jones Festival & Summer School came to an end last evening (Saturday, 4th August) with a well-attended toast to Mother Jones at the plaque in her honour at John Redmond Street.   The 2018 festival has been a tremendous success with capacity crowds at all our events and and a combination of fabulous lectures, film and music.

We wish to thank all those who contributed to making the event such a success.

Here are some photos from Saturday’s events:

Micheline Sheehy Skeffington

Micheline Sheehy Skeffington who gave a fascinating insight into the life and activism of her grandmother Hanna Sheehy Skeffington

Micheline Sheehy Skeffington presentation

William Hammond of the Cork Mother Jones Committee makes a presentation to Micheline Sheehy Skeffington

Frank Connolly

Frank Connolly who spoke about his new book NAMA-land

Frank Connolly presentation

Frank Connolly after receiving presentation from Ann Piggott and Ann Rea of the Cork Mother Jones Committee.

Mick and Jennifer Treacy

Musician Mick Treacy with his daughter Jennifer


Ukelele band

Ukelele band providing some of the music at the Butter market plaza

Loretta Williams / Mother Jones

Loretta Williams as “Mother Jones” at the Mother Jones plaque


Rory McCarthy

Rory McCarthy sings at the Mother Jones Plaque



Some of the crowd at the annual Toast to Mother Jones at the Mother Jones Plaque


Loretta and Ann

Loretta Williams as Mother Jones with Ann Piggott of the Cork Mother Jones committee


Ladies in period costume at the Mother Jones Plaque

Spirit of Mother Jones Festival – Timetable – Day 4 (Saturday)

Spirit of Mother Jones Festival and Summer School

 programme 2018.


Saturday 4th August.

11.00  L   Frank Connolly,

NAMA-land…the inside story of Ireland’s property sell-off and the creation of a new elite”.

Firkin Theatre

2.30    L   Dr. Micheline Sheehy Skeffington

“Hanna Sheehy Skeffington, feminist, nationalist, socialist, pacifist – her activism in Ireland                                                           and the US”

Firkin Theatre

5.00    F    PRIDE

The true story of how a group of London-based gay and lesbian activists supported the                   families of Welsh miners during the 1984 miners strike. In association with the Quay Co-op and the support of Cork LGBT + Pride Week.

Firkin Theatre.

7.30    M  Toast and songs to Mother Jones at the plaque on John Redmond Street. Followed by music and festival closing events at the Shandon Plaza.

All are welcome.

Photos from Spirit of Mother Jones Festival Day 3 (3rd August)

Photos from the second day of the 7th Spirit of Mother Jones Festival and Summer School 2018. Today (Saturday, 4th August) is the final day of the festival.  Timetable to be uploaded on this site shortly.


Mary Manning presentation with James NOlan

James Nolan of the Cork Mother Jones Committtee presenting the Spirit of Mother Jones award 2018 to former Dunnes Stores striker Mary Manning at the Firkin Crane Theatre in Shandon last evening. The award was jointly made to Mary and the other former Dunnes Stores strikers who maintained their action in opposition to the sale of products from then Apartheid South Africa for almost three years

Dr. Emily Twarog

Dr. Emily Twarog at the Cathedral Visitor Centre

Video: Cork’s own Jimmy Crowley singing one of his own songs about the Spanish Civil War.


Jimmy Crowley

Cork’s own troubadour Jimmy Crowley was in fine form at the Spirit of Mother Jones Festival at the Maldron Hotel

Mother Jones Plaque

The Mother Jones Plaque at John Redmond Street. The final event of the festival will take place at this location at 7.30pm this evening (4th August) – the annual Toast and songs to Mother Jones. All welcome

Shandon Bells

St. Ann’s Church of Ireland, Shandon, Cork

Louise Ryan and Ger O'Mahony

Professor Louise Ryan with Ger O’Mahony of the Cork Mother Jones Committee

Mary Manning presentation with committee

Presentation to Mary Manning with members of the Cork Mother Jones Committee

Mother Jones 2018 Day 3 045