Memories of the Spirit of Mother Jones Festival 2022

Yes! We did it again!

Mother Jones returned to sprinkle her unique magic over this our eleventh festival gathering in and around Shandon from 28th July till Saturday evening 30th July. Following two years of Covid-19 where the events were mainly pre-recorded for television which allowed our festivals to continue and be enjoyed although human contact was at a minimum, it was a great relief to meet up with people again and witness the interaction and discussions at a real event. Our heartfelt thanks to Cork Community Television for covering both the festivals for 2020 and 2021.

Prior to this festival, an extremely worried committee wondered would people come along, would they attend, did they remain apprehensive, how would they react to the real-life presentations by speakers, enjoy music and songs by musicians and singers?

The answer was definite and yes, they did! People came in huge numbers and participated actively and eagerly.

Each year there is something very special about the recipients of the Spirit of Mother Jones awards, their endless efforts to demand justice or to seek a better and fairer society create such a positive energy field at the festival.  

Antoinette Keegan with Don O’Leary.

The sheer dignity, passion and joy of Antoinette Keegan and her family, who lost her sisters Mary and Martina is humbling. Year after year since the 1981 Stardust tragedy, the Keegan family and many other families bereaved by the fire that Valentine’s night continue to seek the truth for the loss of their 48 children who never came home. The Spirit of Mother Jones Award for 2020 was to have been presented to Christine Keegan however Christine (Antoinette’s Mam) sadly passed away on 14th July 2020 and Covid-19 had prevented the presentation to Antoinette since then.  

Phyllis and Maurice McHugh, whose beautiful daughter Caroline died in the fire also attended and it was a privilege for everyone to listen to and hear their heart-breaking stories. Their resilience and quest for the truth is awesome.

Likewise, the Spirit of Mother Jones Award for 2022 went to Don O’Leary and all at the Cork Life Centre. Their vision and practical support for young people who fall through the education system and the cracks in society has been shown to work and work effectively. Yet the support of the educational establishment for this vision often fails to provide the resources necessary to ensure the continuation of the extraordinary work being done for the young people who enter its protective doors. 

A theme of many of the festivals has been the failure to acknowledge the role of women in history, something Mother Jones would have been familiar with. The role of five Cork women during the revolutionary period was examined in the latest Shandon Area History Group/Frameworks Films production Ordinary Women in Extraordinary Times documentary was examined. Sisters Nora and Sheila Wallace and Mary and Annie MacSwiney along with their sister-in-law Muriel Murphy. One day soon Cork will surely acknowledge properly all of them and so many others. The Cork City Council documentary Endurance and Engagement introduced us all to four other Cork women who made a huge contribution to the city.

Professor Maggie O’Neill in collaboration with Traveller Pride launched the Feminism Walking Tour of Cork which as it expands and develops will highlight the huge role of women in history and society and will become a highlight of a visit to Cork city. Rain on the evening proved no obstacle to the inaugural walkabout.

Cork Feminist Walk

As the Decade of Centenaries reaches a close, the work of a few historians continues to explore with a critical eye the experiences of many women during the period. Anne Twomey certainly did not hold back as she detailed the shocking treatment meted out to some women by all sides during the War of Independence and Civil War. The idea that Irish wars are different and that women were treated with a civility and respect by all sides in those wars certainly needs to be examined and discussed. The violence perpetrated on women remains unspoken about as the accounts remain untold or hidden away in the silence and omerta of the participants and the files. The truth needs to be told before the Decade of Centenaries fades away, otherwise it may never be! 

Looking to impacts on Irish society from earlier years, Angela Flynn in a presentation in which past events influenced current failures, gave a forensic analysis of what our health service might look like had Dr Noel Browne’s Mother and Child Scheme been successfully implemented in the 1950s. Her forensic presentation was a perfect way to honour the efforts of this visionary doctor and politician on the 25th Anniversary of his death.

Angela Flynn with Mary Crilly, Freewoman of Cork City.

Cork’s own Mother Jones, Joan Goggin had earlier honoured her own father’s friend, labour leader James Larkin for the 75th anniversary of his passing. Historian Luke Dineen delivered a fascinating account of the General Strike in Cork in 1923, another forgotten labour battle lost in the midst of the Civil War and its aftermath, although the outcome of the strike had a hugely negative impact on thousands of Cork workers and their families.

We learned about Red Tom Hickey from Westmeath, we visited the magnificent North Cathedral and in the company of Anne Twomey, we examined the Baptism register for 1837 and the baptism font where Mary Harris was baptised on August 1st of that year.

Baptism Font in the North Cathedral, Cork
Cllr. John Sheehan, acting Lord Mayor with speaker Peter Buckingham.
Denis Wilson, Shandon Area History Group, Liam O’hUigin, with Ann Piggott.

Visions of what a united Ireland might look like were debated with trade union representatives from TUNUI and later with author Frank Connolly. Liam O hUigín took us out on an early morning tour of Shandon.

What a wonderful night we had with the legendary Cork Singers’ Club and to hear again singers such as Therese MacCarthaigh and her husband Sean from Blarney Street and so many others was a special treat, our thanks to everyone especially Jim Walsh and William Hammond.

Therese and Sean McCarthaigh

Eve Telford and Jimmy Crowley showed just how good they can be for the traditional Friday festival lunchtime gig, while the legendary John Nyhan and his son Gearoid provided further practical evidence as to just how relevant the songs of Woody Guthrie still remain after more than eight decades.

Eve Telford with Jimmy Crowley

The traditional final toast at the Mother Jones Plaque allowed us all the opportunity to remember absent friends. We honoured committee member John Jefferies (RIP) and so pleased that his sister Monica was on hand to receive a special presentation from everyone who worked with John on the Cork Mother Jones Committee. We remembered Manus O’ Riordan, Liam Cahill and Helen O’Donovan and other absent friends also. 

Monica Jefferies with Joan Goggin.

So many people and organisations helped to bring the eleventh Spirit of Mother Jones Festival to fruition. Frameworks Films, Cork Community Tv, the Shandon Area Renewal Association, Shandon Area History Group along with the Shandon Maldron Hotel and Dance Cork Firkin Theatre.

Cork City Council Heritage and Tourism Departments along with the City and County Libraries and Cork City and County Archives have been hugely helpful and supportive. We wish to thank Cllr. Damian Boyle, Cllr. Colette Finn, and Cllr. John Sheehan who attended the festival as acting Lord Mayor of Cork. Also, we are grateful to Cllr. Kieran McCarthy and Cllr. Ted Tynan for their assistance.

Our sponsors in the Irish Trade Union movement ensure the unique festival takes place and guarantee that it remains open and free to all to attend. SIPTU at Liberty Hall has sponsored the festival from its very beginning and we are very grateful. Likewise, the Association of Secondary Teachers in Ireland, especially the Cork South Paddy Mulcahy Branch. IFUT, the INTO and Connect are also valued sponsors. Local sponsors include the Cathedral Credit Union and Cllr Ted Tynan.

Special mention to Mary Dineen, Joan Goggin, Eadaoin and Aoife, Anne Twomey, Jimmy Crowley, Luke Dineen, John Nyhan and the Cork Singers’ Club for their support. Finally, to all our speakers from far and near who come and speak and engage in debate and enjoy the wonderful atmosphere on the north side of Cork. The festival remains relevant to people, it must remain when necessary willing to challenge the accepted orthodoxy and above all we wish to remain interesting.

Let us know by email what you wish to discuss at next year’s summer school. Our email is motherjonescork@gmail.com.

Our thanks too to Friends of Mother Jones around the world for their encouragement especially those in Chicago, Mount Olive, Washington, Colorado and elsewhere. Cork may have given Mother Jones to the world, now Mother Jones is bringing the world to Cork.

Provisional dates for the 2023 festival are Thursday 27th July to Saturday 29th July 2023.

Hope to see you there.  

Cork Mother Jones Committee 2022.

Richard T Cooke, James Nolan, Ann Piggott, Dominic O’Callaghan, Ann Rea, William Hammond, Geraldine McCarthy, Shannon Smyth, John Barimo, Angela Flynn and Gerard O’Mahony.                   

Presentation of Spirit of Mother Jones 2022 to Don O’Leary of the Cork Life Centre.

Don O’Leary, director of Cork Life Centre is presented with the 2022 Spirit of Mother Jones award in an emotional ceremony during the Spirit of Mother Jones Festival.

The award was presented by James Nolan and was followed by a sustained standing ovation from the large number of people present. 

Don O’Leary receives the award from James Nolan.

Don is the first Cork man to receive the award and he commented afterwards that it meant so much to him as Mother Jones was one of his heroes for seeking to prevent the exploitation of children in the mines and mills of America and ensure they received an education and also that he and the Cork Life Centre had been selected by the ordinary people of Cork. This represents the ultimate recognition for his efforts and the wonderful work of the staff and volunteers of the Cork Life Centre.

Don O’Leary and Rachel of the Cork Life Centre with the Cork Mother Jones Committee
Left to Right: Rachel Lucey, Don O’Leary and Sharon O’Neill of the Cork Life Centre.

The Spirit of Mother Jones citation for Don O’Leary and the Cork Life Centre was read. 

For his courage and determination to ensure that children and young people are not left behind by the Irish education system.

For his Trojan efforts and that of the volunteers and staff at the Cork Life Centre to create a positive and practical community of learning which is welcoming, supportive and encouraging of young people.

For his advocacy of human rights and social justice especially in relation to children’s rights and their opportunities to progress to the best of their creative abilities and individual talents which contribute so much to a better community and world.

For his refusal to accept that one size fits all in the Irish education system and for his refusal to compromise in relation to this fundamental student centred approach focused on authentic inquiry and experiential learning and measures success in a radically different way to the standard competitive exam system.

For his practical approach to providing a structured base and a supportive network which has established an educational home for the young people to use their talents and visualize opportunities to fulfil their dreams in life and become productive members of society.

For his encouragement of young people to walk the road of life using their own unique abilities, independence of spirit, critical observation and an appreciation of their own self-worth.  

CORK MOTHER JONES COMMITTEE 2022
Don O’Leary being congratulated by Caitriona Twomey of Cork Penny Dinners.
Left to Right: Don O’Leary, James Nolan and Antoinette Keegan.

A Message from Charlie Bird to Antoinette Keegan for the Spirit of Mother Jones Award 2020

Antoinette Keegan received the following goodwill message from Charlie Bird on the occasion of her visit to the Spirit of Mother Jones Festival 2022 in Cork.

Charlie Bird message to Antoinette Keegan (by permission of Antoinette).

The Award for 2020 which was to have been presented to Christine Keegan of the Stardust Justice Campaign  was presented to her daughter Antoinette  on Friday 29th July 2022 at the Firkin Crane, by James Nolan on behalf of the Cork Mother Jones Committee..

James Nolan presents the Spirit of Mother Jones Award 2020 to Antoinette Keegan.

Sadly Christine passed away in July 2020. Antoinette was accompanied by her sisters Lorraine and Suzanne and uncle Frank and Phyllis and Maurice McHugh who lost their only daughter Caroline in the Stardust Fire on Valentine Day 1981. 

Suzanne, Antoinette and Lorraine Keegan.

The Citation reads as follows:

“The Spirit of Mother Jones Award is awarded this year to Ms. Antoinette Keegan of the Stardust Victims Committee for her determination, resilience and longstanding efforts to pursue truth, accountability and justice for the Stardust victims and their families over almost 40 years.   

Antoinette and her late mother Christine and father John have pursued answers to what happened at the Stardust fire on 14th February 1981, where 48 young people lost their lives, including Antoinette’s sisters Mary and Martina. 

In spite of her own injuries, the loss of her sisters, and the failure of the Public Authorities to provide answers, Antoinette has continued to actively campaign to uncover the full truth of the events of that night. She is an inspiration to so many! 

For her bravery, courage and commitment, Antoinette Keegan is a very worthy recipient of the 2020 Spirit of Mother Jones Award.”

CORK mOTHER jONES committee for antoinette keegan.

They Never Came Home!

Antoinette Keegan will be formally presented by the Cork Mother Jones Committee with the 2020 Spirit of Mother Jones Award on Friday 29th July at 3pm at the Dance Cork Firkin Crane theatre.

Antoinette and her late parents Christine and John along with other families and survivors have campaigned for justice and answers as to why 48 young people including Antoinette’s sisters Mary (19) and Martina (16),lost their lives at the Stardust Fire in the northside of Dublin on Valentine’s Day 14th February 1981. Over 200 people were treated in hospital for injuries sustained in the fire.

Christine and Antoinette Keegan (Sam Boal)

In spite of her own injuries, the loss of two of her sisters and the failure of the State Authorities to provide answers, Antoinette has campaigned to uncover the full truth of the events of that night.  What caused this fire and who was responsible?

Her resilience and commitment to pursuing justice for the 48 children who never came home to their families remains an inspiration to many people. 

In 2019, the Attorney General approved the holding of new inquests to establish the full facts. After 41 years of the campaign for justice, the inquests should finally begin this year.

We wish to express our thanks to Antoinette and members of her family for coming to Cork and speaking about the long standing efforts of the survivors to seek the facts. 

All are welcome to the presentation and discussion. 

The Stardust Complex after the fire.

Antoinette Keegan is the Spirit of Mother Jones Award recipient for 2020.

The late Christine Keegan and her daughter Antoinette. Photo courtesy of Sam Boal


The Cork Mother Jones Committee is proud to announce that the 2020 Spirit of Mother Jones Award will be presented to Antoinette Keegan of the Stardust Victims Committee.

Antoinette and her mother Christine Keegan were due to speak in Cork at this year’s Spirit of Mother Jones Summer school. Sadly, Christine passed away in July after a lifetime of fighting for justice for the Stardust victims.

The Keegan family have been central to the efforts for the past 40 years to investigate the causes of the fire. The recent announcement of a new inquest into the victims of the Stardust Fire is testament to the determination of Antoinette and her family and the Stardust Victims committee to pursue the truth of the night of the 13/14th February in 1981. 

“The Spirit of Mother Jones Award is awarded this year to Ms. Antoinette Keegan of the Stardust Victims Committee for her determination, resilience and longstanding efforts to pursue truth, accountability and justice for the Stardust victims and their families over almost 40 years.  

Antoinette and her late mother Christine and father John have pursued answers to what happened at the Stardust fire on 14th February 1981, where 48 young people lost their lives, including Antoinette’s sisters Mary and Martina.

In spite of her own injuries, the loss of her sisters, and the failure of the Authorities to provide answers, Antoinette has continued to actively campaign to uncover the full truth of the events of that night. She is an inspiration to so many!

For her bravery, courage and commitment, Antoinette Keegan is a very worthy recipient of the 2020 Spirit of Mother Jones Award.”

The Cork Mother Jones Committee

The award has been presented each year since 2013 by this committee to the person we feel most represents the fighting spirit of Mother Jones, who was born Mary Harris here in Cork in July 1837 and went on to become known throughout the world as Mother Jones. She fought for the rights of workers and the trade union movement and was involved in numerous campaigns

We will arrange to present the award representing The Children of Lir to Antoinette as soon as it becomes safe to do so in view of the current Covid-19 situation. It is hoped Antoinette will be able to come to Cork to speak at the Spirit of Mother Jones summer school in 2021. 

For details of the 2020 Spirit of Mother Jones Festival which will take place online between the 27th and the 30th Novembersee www.motherjonescork.com. The full programme of events will appear this coming weekend.

https://www.irishtimes.com/news/ireland/irish-news/stardust-campaigner-honoured-with-the-spirit-of-mother-jones-award-1.4412466?mode=amp

Previous recipients of this award have been

2013, Margaret Aspinall of the Hillsborough Family Support Group.

2014, Gareth Peirce, Solicitor

2015 Fr. Peter McVerry.

2016 Dave Hopper, RIP Durham Miners’ Association

2017 Ken Fleming, International Transport Workers Federation

2018 Mary Manning, (Dunnes Stores Workers)

2019 Louise O’Keeffe.

2020 Antoinette Keegan.