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.
The Spirit of Mother Jones festival will broadcast a discussion between two activists of the Cork Survivors and Supporters Alliance (CSSA) which has campaigned to get the relevant authorities to locate and protect the burial ground of hundreds of babies born in the Bessborough Mother and Baby ‘Home’ during its operation from 1922 to 1996.
The discussion will be broadcast on Saturday evening 27th November at 7.30.
Catherine Coffey O’Brien and Maureen Considine discuss how their organisation located a 1950 Ordnance Survey map which showed the location of the Children’s’ Burial Ground at Bessborough and used it as the basis of their campaign to protect the site from an apartment development.
They also discuss efforts to achieve healing for those who suffered. The memorialisation of the women and children who died in these institutions should be a priority. The class structures within the homes need to be examined in greater detail in order to ensure that the full oral and written testimony of survivors and the archival legacy of the period be secured and open to all in perpetuity.
Background to the planned development.
By order dated 25th May 2021, An Bord Pleanāla, (ABP) the Irish Planning Board refused planning for an apartment complex of 179 residential units at Bessboro, Ballinure in Cork City. Its decision stated that it is
“not satisfied that the site at Bessboro was not previously used as, and does not contain, a children’s burial ground and considers that there are reasonable concerns in relation to the potential for a children’s burial ground within the site associated with the former use of the lands as a Mother and Baby Home over the period 1922 to 1998.“
An Bord Pleanála
A second planning application for 67 apartments nearby was later refused by both Cork City Council and An Bord Pleanàla on environmental grounds and the fact that the overall design was no longer coherent without permission for the other blocks in the complex.
While many survivors, politicians and others objected to the original planning application submitted in late 2020 under the Irish planning fast track Strategic Housing Development legislation, in the subsequent oral hearing conducted online by ABP over three days from Wednesday 21st April to Friday 23rd April 2021, the active participation and detailed arguments made by the Cork Survivors and Supporters Alliance (CSSA) ensured that ABP had no choice but to reject the development.
Through the research and determination of the CSSA, it had discovered an Ordnance Survey original map drawing, dated 1950, clearly marking the site of the “Childrens’ Burial Ground”. Although contested fiercely by the developer, the Alliance’s legal team convinced ABP to reject the planned development which would have effectively desecrated, through ground works, most of the burial ground as shown on the map.
Earlier, the closing date for public submissions to ABP was the 12th January 2021, coincidentally the same day as the Final Report of theCommission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes (M&B CHOI) was published.
As the CSSA needed to include remarks on the commission’s final report members were left no option, but to hand-deliver and electronically submit objections to the Cork City Council and ABP before close of business on the same day. No extensions or allowances could be made by the planning system.
According to the Commission of Investigation;
“the proportion of Irish unmarried mothers who were admitted to mother and baby homes or county homes in the 20th Century was probably the highest in the world”.
An estimated 100,000 Irish women may have given birth in the various institutions during the 20th century. Of the estimated 56,000 mothers who were sent to those 18 institutions investigated by the above Commission, an estimated 9,000 of their babies (15% of the children born) died in them.
Bessborough in Cork was one such institution. Established in 1922, it was owned and run by the Congregation of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Mary nuns, based at Chigwell in London. Later in 1933 a maternity hospital was opened. Some mothers were treated privately, but most were paid for by the public assistance/health authorities.
From 1922 to 1998, 9768 mothers were admitted and approx. 9000 babies were born. Of these, at least 921 children associated with Bessboro died, 761 died in Bessboro itself. Between the years 1940-44, 330 children died there or a third of the total. The burial place of 856+ children and 14 women has not been identified to date. Stillborn infants are not included in any final number of Bessborough dead.
“in spite of serious efforts, it has not been able to establish where the majority of the Bessborough children are buried”.
The Executive Summary Report is blunt;
“The Congregation of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Mary are unable to identify where the children from Bessboro are buried. The Commission finds it very hard to believe that there is no one in the congregation who does not have some knowledge of the burial places of the children.”
Further planning applications under the Strategic Housing Development legislation for residential development of the Bessborough grounds are expected shortly.
Catherine Coffey O’Brien is a graduate of University College Cork. She describes herself as a tin-smith’s granddaughter and an intergenerational survivor of industrial schools institutions. She was tricked into going to Bessborough in 1989 when pregnant, but soon ran away. She did not want another generation of her family to be lost to the system.
Maureen Considine is a graduate of Fine Art from CIT Crawford College of Art and design and a Master graduate of Art History in University College Cork. She is now a PhD candidate and funded Excellence Scholar in the College of Arts, Celtic Studies and Social Sciences UCC. From Mayfield, she specialises in art history and critiques consultative engagement with marginalised communities.
During the Spirit of Mother Jones 2021 Festival programme, we will show a recorded interview with Adoption Rights campaigner Mari Steed conducted by John Barimo of the Cork Mother Jones Committee on Saturday 27th November at 6.30 pm on Cork Community Television. (www.corkcommunitytv.ie).
Mari Steed was born in the Bessborough Mothers and Babies Home in Cork in 1960 and was just two years old when she was adopted from Ireland by a family from Philadelphia. Years later, her search for her birth mother Josie led to the Magdalene Laundries’ story where her birth mother was confined as a young girl.
She describes her reunion with her mother and how she visited her each year in the UK. During her difficult search for information about her family, Mari also discovered that she had also been included in a vaccine trial in the early 1960s at Bessborough.
Her growing activism led to her becoming one of the founder members of Justice forMagdalenes (JFM) in 2003 which was mainly responsible for the successful campaign to obtain a State apology for the survivors. Today she is the US coordinator for the Adoption Rights Alliance and is challenging the recent Commission of Investigation into the Mothers and Babies Homes Report.
She remains disappointed that the survivors of the Mothers and Babies Homes are still not being believed by the State nor have they received “restorative justice” even to the extent of the failure to provide all survivors with basic needs such as advanced medical cards. A full State apology is awaited. Mari wants the State to enshrine the real story of the tens of thousands of women who were placed in the Magdalene Laundries and the Mother and Babies Homes in the 20th century by its permanent inclusion in the school curricula.
Spirit of Mother Jones Festival 2021.
Cork Community Television, Saturday 27th November, 6.30pm.
The 2021 Spirit of Mother Jones Festival will contain an interview with Anne Twomey, teacher and historian on the life of Muriel MacSwiney. This will be shown on Cork Community TV on Thursday, November 25th at 8:00 pm followed by a Q&A with Anne at the Maldron Hotel.
Anne is a member of the Shandon Area History Group which recently published “Ordinary Women in Extraordinary Times”.
The Cork Mother Jones Committee through the Spirit of Mother Jones Festival has attempted over the past decade to research and promote the cause of women, especially strong independent women whose life stories have sometimes been ignored, silenced or deleted from the public discourse. In the following article Muriel MacSwiney … an Unlikely Revolutionary, we take a brief look at her eventful path through life.
Mary Harris and Muriel Murphy were both born on the north side of Cork City, but unlike the poverty of Mary Harris, Muriel Murphy was born to wealth and privilege at Carrigmore in Montenotte, a future heiress to the huge riches of the Cork merchant prince and unionist supporting Murphy family.
In Muriel’s statement to the Bureau of Military History (BMH) dated December 1951 she wrote “My family, of course, were completely imperialist, conservative, capitalist and roman catholic”.
The youngest in a family of six, she complained of being kept isolated from the “common people” and claimed to have left her snobbish convent at seventeen where she had “learned literally nothing”. Muriel received little formal education and author Angela Clifford in Letters to Angela Clifford suggested that as a result “her originality was left unfettered, she thought and then she did what her thinking suggested”.
Instead of a well-trodden pathway whereby she could have kept her head down and along with many former unionist families who simply blended into the new Free State then in its birth pangs through violent revolution, Muriel took a different path and boldly embraced the early Republican cause and later married Cork Volunteer leader Terence MacSwiney in 1917.
It was the ultimate love story of the beautiful girl sacrificing everything for a poor imprisoned playwright, poet and revolutionary. Her small wedding at Bromyard in Herefordshire on 9th June 1917, on her twenty fifth birthday was conducted through the Irish language at an open prison where the groom wore his military uniform was highly unusual.
Her forty months of married life was interrupted regularly by the absence of her husband either through his organizing work for the Irish Volunteers or as a result of his harassment or imprisonment by the British authorities. Terence’s later role as Teachta Dāla (TD) in the new Dāil Eireann or his position as Lord Mayor of Cork City could not save him from the harsh treatment of the British which in effect also victimised their families.
Terence was in jail when Muriel gave birth to Māire and his first meeting with their two month old baby daughter, involved Muriel making the long journey to a prison in Belfast in August 1918 and staying in that city for several weeks. The newly married couple had just a few months of normality together in places such as Ballingeary and Youghal in Co Cork.
Muriel too endured the pain of the ceaseless attempts to break her husband’s spirit. She did not agree with hunger strikes, but supported her husband to the very end of his strike. In the full glare of worldwide publicity on 25th October 1920, Cork Lord Mayor, Terence MacSwiney died. His death caused a massive growth of support for the Irish Republican cause, but it also mortally wounded the resolve of the British establishment to enforce it’s rule in Ireland.
Very few observers subsequently considered the human trauma, stress and acute loneliness of the young widow with responsibility for a baby. Nor did they empathise with her personal reaction to her husband’s slow painful death over 74 days, the enormous impact of which was such that Muriel collapsed from sheer exhaustion and grief and was unable to attend her Terence’s funeral in Cork.
Yet exactly a month later, Muriel boarded the Celtic in Cobh (Queenstown) along with her sister in law Mary MacSwiney and arrived in New York on 5th December to a huge welcome from thousands of supporters including some 300 women who ignoring formalities simply mobbed her.
She provided searingly honest evidence at an American Commission On Conditions In Ireland hearing in Washington on 9th December.
The New York Times front page article referred in patronising terms to her as “a mere girl, with brilliant eyes and a quick engaging smile”. ‘A perfect picture of Irish beauty” gushed the New York Evening World.
Muriel spent the entire Christmas holiday period being introduced to hundreds of Irish people in political and business circles. Later on New Years Eve, New York Mayor Hylan presented her with the formal Freedom of the City at a ceremony in City Hall, the first woman to receive this honour.
Muriel was followed by huge crowds and by today’s terms was a media poster girl for the Irish Revolution. She was serenaded by the “Fighting Sixty Ninth” regimental band that night and the band turned up again to accompany Muriel to the New York quay as she sailed for home on New Year’s Day 1921. Sister in law, Mary MacSwiney stayed on in America until after the truce. One must wonder whether Muriel’s media role as the grieving widow of a Republican martyr was exploited by some within the increasingly powerful movement for independence.
Soon after returning from America, she headed briefly to Germany for medical treatment.
Displaying great courage and resilience, she worked ceaselessly for the Republic in spite of health difficulties. She witnessed at close quarters the murder and mayhem around the transfer of power to her comrades and then experienced the growing bitterness between those former friends. As some revolutionaries conformed, others were marginalised. The old unity and loyalty disappeared. Muriel took the Republican side and was present at the heart of the initial fighting during the first days of the Civil War madness.
She returned to the USA in September 1922 and stayed for almost a year trying to gather financial support for the anti-treaty side. Her daughter Māire was looked after by Madame O’Rahilly as part of the O’Rahilly family in their home in Dublin. Māire in her memoir History’sDaughter (2005) described this period as “one of the happiest years of my childhood and the longest period that I spent in a family situation.”
The book covers in great detail the relationship between mother and daughter. They spent the early summer of 1924 together at the old Murphy family home at Carrigmore which seems to have been their last period together in Cork before their emigration to Germany. Māire discusses in some detail her various German schools and the long absences of Muriel in this memoir. However as Muriel gave birth in 1926 to her second daughter Alix may well have contributed to these long absences from Máire.
One may never know the full circumstances behind the sudden appearance of Māire back in Cork in the summer of 1932. Māire describes her return from Germany as voluntary if somewhat unorthodox. Muriel always contended that it was a well-planned kidnap by Mary MacSwiney and her friends in the Church and State. Her poignant description of her desperate efforts to get support in Dublin, are very raw. She spoke with Jim Larkin, Linda Kearns and many other friends and she describes how she cried tears for her child in front of Ēamon De Valera.
Māire was made a ward of court in Ireland after informing the judge that she wished to stay with her aunts in Ireland. It was argued that her aunt Mary was already her legal co-guardian. It remains unclear to this day if this legal paperwork was actually produced as the full court papers and decision have remained sealed. Maire was then raised and educated by the MacSwiney sisters, Mary and Annie at their Scoil Íte school located off Wellington Road in Cork City.
The end result was the 50 year long tragic family estrangement of Muriel and Māire who never spoke or met again. Muriel felt deeply wounded by what she felt was a total betrayal by the MacSwiney family and its cover up by the State. An immediate result was that she became quite ill with flu and pneumonia and was depressed for a period after her vain attempts to get back her daughter failed.
In her BMH statement Muriel states how she left the Catholic Church as early as the outbreak of the Civil War. The Church emerged from the War of Independence as the most powerful institution in the new State (similar to the earlier post Famine period), however Muriel was beginning her break from its influence. “I consider everyone has the right to whatever religious beliefs they think right or to the freethinker ideal which is mine”. Ironically two of her sisters, Nora and Edith joined convents. A third sister Mabel married her second cousin James Murphy and lived at Ringmahon House, near Blackrock in Cork.
Muriel seems to have embraced European communism and socialist ideas from the mid-20s onwards and moved freely in the German and Parisian left wing circles. Her second daughter Alix was born in May 1926 following a relationship with Pierre Kaan, a writer and independent communist intellectual. Very little is known about this relationship as there is no available reference to Muriel discussing it.
Later, Kaan became a Liberation Sud Resistance leader operating in the town of Montlucon in Central France during the Nazi occupation of nearby areas. Following betrayal in 1943, he was imprisoned, tortured and locked up concentration camps such as Buchenwald and Gleina. He died soon after liberation by the Czech resistance on 18th May 1945.
Muriel left Germany in 1933, as the Nazi takeover of Germany got underway.
She initially lived in France, spent the Second World War in the UK and then moved between Brittany and the UK. Her house in Brittany was named Ty Connolly.
Muriel kept some contact with Ireland and came and went and had extensive correspondence with the Sheehy Skeffington family, while she said she had met Tom Hales in 1953/54. Earlier Māire had married Ruairí Brugha in July 1945 and Ruairi had made great efforts to build bridges to no avail.
She was very friendly with Mrs. Kathleen McDonnell of Bandon, who had German connections, knew all the parties including Mrs. Stockley and Mary MacSwiney and who attempted to organise a reconciliation between Māire and Muriel. Muriel would not agree to any meeting.
Muriel campaigned against homelessness in Dublin and actively supported the Dublin Housing Action Committee especially praising the activities of housing activist Dennis Dennehy. She expressed “complete confidence” in Dr. Noel Browne.
Her letters and writings clearly display expressions of her socialist views and she was somewhat involved in the complicated discussions and rows within the Left during that period. Her available correspondence demonstrates her sympathy on the side of the underdogs in society to the very end of her days. Muriel not alone fought bravely for the Irish Republic, but also fought against international fascism and the control of the Catholic Church in Ireland throughout her life.
Utterly fearless, she challenged the Bishop of Southwark in 1957 when he tried to raise ten thousand pounds for a MacSwiney Chapel in the cathedral where Terence’s body reposed after his death….she told the Guardian newspaper that the money would be better spent in Ireland “where children are suffering from bad conditions caused by unemployment and lack of proper health services”. This may refer to the present Chapel of St. Patrick, which lies on the southside of the cathedral and was rededicated in 1958. There is reference to the cathedral receiving with honour, the body of Terence MacSwiney, “which rested here on the 27th and 28th October 1920”.
In a prescient comment about Muriel, her daughter Māire contended that “one of the main reasons for her falling out with the Roman Catholic Church was its attitude to and treatment of unmarried mothers”. However, it took a further century for the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Home reports to be published in the Republic of Ireland. These reports exposed to some degree in stark detail the treatment experienced by at least one hundred thousand Irish women who either gave birth to children in these institutions or who worked unpaid in the Magdalene laundries in the new State which Muriel witnessed being created in 1922. Thousands of children died in the institutions and the whereabouts of their burial continues to be a source of controversy to the present day.
Ruairí Brugha died on 20th January 2006, while Māire MacSwiney Brugha died in May 2012. They were married for over 60 years.
Muriel later lived in England with her daughter Alix Blakelock (1926-2009), and her family at Tonbridge in Kent. Members of the family including Alix’s son Adrian (1948-2014) were active in Labour politics and Adrian supported the miners in the 1984/5 strike. On the 25th October 2020, at the commemoration outside of Brixton Prison, of the 100th anniversary of the death of Terence MacSwiney, among those who gathered were members of the Brugha family and Nigel Blakelock, grandson of Muriel MacSwiney.
Muriel died in the Oakwood Hospital Maidstone on 26th October 1982 almost 62 years to the day after Terence MacSwiney.
Angela Clifford who met and corresponded with Muriel regarded her as “a free spirit”. Cork journalist and author Mary Leyland in An Irishwoman’s Diary in the Irish Times September 2012 considered her to “have been charismatic in her own way, purposeful, original and fearless”.
From the few holidays she spent with her mother, Máire remembered her as “a warm and loving mother and I dearly loved her”. Terence MacSwiney himself, long resigned to bachelor hood expressed his intense love for this unusual, wealthy young lady who had innocently entered a closed circle of conspirators in Cork and took a shine to him.
In a chapter of Letters to Angela Clifford in 1996, Ms Clifford deals in chapter four with what she terms the “Character Assassination” of Muriel. Certainly, as Muriel had refused to play the grieving republican widow, she appears to have been largely removed from republican history and was rarely discussed openly in her native Cork. She was disappeared into the knowing silence of the new establishment.
Her refusal to bring up her child as a Catholic, her antipathy to the Church as an institution (Māire referred to it as “an obsession”) and her association with communists did not fit well with the prevailing conservative orthodoxy and double standards applied to her as a woman.
What is very apparent is that Muriel as an activist revolutionary woman/widow/ patriot was not allowed the same freedom or latitude in relation to her personal family life decisions as her male revolutionary counterparts. Nor were the doctrinaire positions of some in her republican circles commented on to the same degree as the conventional wisdom of Muriel’s perceived obduracy.
Muirgheal, (muir gheal…Irish for “bright sea”), the name by which she preferred to be known and with which she signed letters, is worthy of full inclusion as a serious Irish and international patriot, not solely as the wife/widow of Terence MacSwiney, but in her own right as a woman who took her own difficult path in a long revolutionary life.
In Principles of Freedom, originally a series of articles written in 1911, Terence MacSwiney considered womanhood; his heroic ideal woman was Matilda Tone, wife of Wolfe Tone because of her bravery. He also advised that “a man should learn to let his wife and children suffer rather than make of them willing slaves and cowards”.
In his poem The Path he acknowledged that the life of a revolutionary would place a harsh demand on any woman whom he wished to marry.
“I dreaded asking thee to take my hand lest on a path regretted it should lead, And lest thy heart in after years should bleed, if then ‘mid scenes unwelcome thou shouldn’t stand, And thou shouldst think: “It is a harsh demand this path makes on my labour””.
Muriel bravely survived these harsh demands.
Gerard O’Mahony of the Cork Mother Jones Committee.
The interview with Anne Twomey will be shown on Cork Community TV on Thursday November 25th at 8:00 pm followed by a Q&A with Anne at the Maldron Hotel.
Anne is a member of the Shandon Area History Group which recently published “Ordinary Women in Extraordinary Times”
Manus O’Riordan wrote of meeting Muriel in Dublin when she visited his family home and they later exchanged correspondence. In his last visit to the Spirit of Mother Jones Festival in August 2019, his parting words were “Never forget Muriel”. His assistance is very much appreciated.
Muriel MacSwiney: Letters To Angela Clifford, by Angela Clifford Athol Books 1995.
History’s Daughter: A Memoir From The Only Child of Terence MacSwiney, by Māire MacSwiney Brugha.
Enduring The Most: The Life and Death of Terence MacSwiney (1995) by Fergus J Costello.
Ordinary Women in Extraordinary Times. The Shandon Area History Group.
An Irishwoman’s Diary, Irish Times, September 18th 2012 by Mary Leyland
Muriel MacSwiney On Ballingeary, and Her Letters To A Grandson of Ballingeary. Ballingeary & Inchigeela Historical Society 2016 by Manus O’Riordan.
The 2021 Spirit of Mother Jones will present an interview with local historian and teacher Anne Twomey of the Shandon Area History Group, in which we explore the life of Muriel MacSwiney from the available information. The interview will be shown on Cork Community TV on Thursday evening 25th November at 8:00 pm.
Cork Community Television, Sunday 28th November at 7:00 pm.
We are proud to present Dr. Sean Pettit’s lecture entitled “The Cork City of Mary Harris” which he gave to the 2016 Spirit of Mother Jones festival. Sean was a much loved and respected teacher and UCC lecturer who became widely known as a writer, broadcaster and a man with an intimate knowledge of the people and streets of Cork.
His publication This City of Cork1700-1900 (1977) is long regarded as a classic. He believed that the best way to appreciate and experience the City was to go out and about on the streets. In his introduction he argued that “the main emphasis is on the people who made it, and on how they lived”. He did not neglect giving a raw and realistic account of the sick, the poor and the social problems through history in the City especially in the context of the Famine era into which Mary Harris was born in 1837.
Dr. Pettit with the aid of his large collection of photographs and prints captivated the vast attendance on that lovely Friday afternoon in July 2016 on the north side of Cork city. Sadly Sean passed away suddenly just a few months later on November 23rd 2016.
The introduction to “The Cork City of Mary Harris” will be given by his good friend Richard T Cooke. Richard is a founding member of the Cork Mother Jones Committee, himself a writer, singer and broadcaster and the author of many publications including My Home By The Lee (1999).
Dr. Sean Pettit……..An Extraordinary Teacher will be shown on Cork Community Television, livestream on www.corkcommunitytv.ie or Virgin Media 803 on Sunday evening 28th November at 7:00 pm as part of the Spirit of Mother Jones Festival 2021.
The 2021 Spirit of Mother Jones festival will include an interview with Donal Ō Drisceoil, author of Utter Disloyalist: Tadhg Barry and the Irish Revolution. This will be shown on Cork Community Television (www.corkcommunitytv.ie) on Friday evening 26th November beginning at 7:00 pm.
Tadhg Barry…….”always keeps in the background”.
RIC Intelligence report
On Tuesday 15th November 1921, at Ballykinlar internment prison, known by some as the “World’s End Camp” close to the Co Down coast, a rifle shot suddenly split the afternoon silence. A man standing near the prison fence, waving farewell to departing friends fell backwards, mortally wounded near the heart. Unarmed, of no threat to anyone, Tadhg Barry lay dead.
Young sentry, Barrett’s single bullet ended in a shocking manner the life of man who had been 20 years in the engine room of the Irish revolution. He was the final IRA fatality of the brutal regime in this camp, in which at least eight internees died (three shot, and five from malnutrition) during 1921. These included Patrick Sloan and Joe Tormey, two friends from Moate, Co Westmeath both killed on 17th January by the same bullet.
Barry was older than most of the two thousand or so internees, a father figure in the transition of Cork from a Union Jack bedecked city at the turn of the 20th century, towards the ungovernable rebel cockpit of the War of Independence by 1921. From the strategic framework of constructing a revolution beginning with Gaelic culture and language to Gaelic games, from secret brotherhoods to Sinn Fēin, from journalism to socialist ideas, from trade union organisation and negotiation to developing the military hardware and intelligence around the dirty business of fighting a war in the streets and laneways of his native city, his fingerprints were obvious to those who knew.
Historian and author Donal Ō Drisceoil, who has constantly shone a light on Tadhg Barry describes him as “a doer”.
To observers he seemed to have been around forever, always smiling, low key, unassuming yet possessing the razor sharp wit of his native streets, his progress through the myriad groups and local activist alliances in the political ferment always gathering momentum.
The Royal Irish Constabulary intelligence reports were very uncomplimentary and vindictive; Barry was variously described as “a leading Cork City extremist”, “notorious Sinn Feiner”, “in touch with all the leaders prior to the (1916) rebellion”, “mischievous, socialist, bolshevist……generally of the Napper Tandy type”. And most of all, Barry “always keeps in the background”. Tadhg Barry was a marked man!
Born in 54 Blarney Street on 25th Feb 1880 into a working class family, Barry was educated at the local Blarney Street school and the nearby North Monastery. Afterwards he worked at various jobs and then in 1903, he emigrated to London for a while.
Soon after his return, he became very active in the Gaelic Athletic Association (G.A.A.). He engaged in reorganising the GAA County Board and helping to establish the various playing competitions as well as the infrastructure of the main playing ground along the Marina known as the Cork Athletic grounds, now the home of the impressive Pāirc Uí Chaoimh stadium!
His efforts to promote hurling at his rugby playing alma mater resulted in the North Mon School becoming by 1916 established as a vital hurling nursery for the game for the future decades. He also encouraged the playing of camogie in the city and even found the time to manage a ladies team. Tadhg was especially associated with encouraging hurling in the Sundays Well, and Blarney Street areas, and was involved with the original Sundays Well/St. Vincent’s GAA Club in Cork.
A voracious reader, he worked as a journalist writing as “An Ciotóg” (a left-handed person!) for the Cork Free Press, the newspaper of the All For Ireland League (AFIL), which dominated Cork politics at the time.
Although deeply embroiled in the local rivalry in Cork between the Irish Party led by John Redmond and All For Ireland League (AFIL), led by William O’Brien who had a strong labour base in Cork, Tadhg Barry later abandoned O’Brien who had supported the British recruitment efforts at the outbreak of the First World War.
Barry spent much time strategically subverting this recruitment for the Great War effort from 1914 onwards. He had been among the first in Cork to join the Irish Volunteers and worked alongside Terence MacSwiney, Tomas MacCurtain and Sean Hegarty who were active following the split of the Volunteers from John Redmond.
As the political ferment in the city increased, his contribution to the separatist organisations along with his pleasant demeanour and approach engendered a better collective and cooperative spirit among the various activists. Following the failure of the Cork volunteers to rise in 1916, Barry refused to give up his gun and, although dismayed at events, he simply continued working for the revolution in practical ways. He openly advocated military options and his “seditious” speeches resulted in jail terms yet he kept working to reactivate a “new” Sinn Fein and organise the companies of volunteers into a fighting force.
He began to realise more and more that organised Labour provided the key element to the coming revolution. Barry had helped to arrange meetings for socialist trade union leaders such as James Larkin and James Connolly in Cork back in 1914 – 16. Now one leader had been executed after the 1916 Rising and the other was in America. Having returned to journalism, he wrote weekly for the Southern Star, newspaper under the pen name of “Neath Shandon’s Steeple”.
Tadhg’s increasingly radical left wing analytical articles for the Irish Transport & General Workers Union (ITGWU) Voice of Labour along with his urgings for independent Irish led trade unions combined with workers growing militancy across the country suggests that he was more and more exploring this avenue of potential for revolution. The effective general strike of 23rd April 1918 against conscription organised by the Labour Congress, even if that particular bus carried many passengers, clearly pointed to the latent power of organised Irish workers.
As a full time trade union organiser from 1919 in the rapidly growing ITGWU, he concentrated on organising rural and town workers and travelled throughout the county of Cork as the One Big Union enjoyed a huge growth in membership and challenged the power of the traditionally unionist business community to set wages for a once subservient and cowed workforce. Barry’s left wing views developed and he openly wrote of the day when the workers would govern Ireland in “the interests of Irish workers” but managed to reconcile this with his Catholic beliefs.
The Catholic Church actively opposed socialism and god-less communism, and Barry as a union negotiator seems to have identified with an element of the Church’s social teachings, which justified the payment of fair wages by responsible employers. However this approach by the Union and the Church sought to reduce the potential growth of awareness of class conflict and the analysis of the fundamental basis of capitalism. Whether Barry’s revolutionary language and actions would have developed or indeed survived in the new state is unclear?
In the local elections of January 1920, Barry was elected on a Sinn Fein/ITGWU slate as an Alderman to the Cork Corporation for the north west of the city, where he lived. He carried out his many work roles through 1920 as his comrades, MacCurtain and MacSwiney and others died in the bitter war between the Crown forces and Republicans in Cork. (Barry and MacSwiney were both 40 years old when they died, Barry lived just over 50 days more than his comrade.)
Tadhg Barry was arrested for the final time on 31st January 1921 and was detained at Ballykinlar Camp on the north east coast of Ireland. Each of his three extended periods in jail after 1916 were spent in appalling prison conditions. He missed out on the final months of the War of independence and was shot dead only twenty four days before all prisoners were released after the signing of the Treaty on 6th December of that year.
Following his death, the entire Sinn Fein/IRA/Trade Union/GAA/ Gaelic societies and Catholic Church united for what turned out to be the last time to provide Tadhg Barry with arguably the largest Irish funeral ever seen as his remains were transported from Co Down, through the many towns on the way and the streets of Dublin and Cork to St Finbarr’s cemetery in Cork. Photographs of the enormous funeral march from Dublin and Cork show densely packed streets everywhere.
He was then largely forgotten, except by his own family and close friends!
Tadhg was the main earner in the Blarney Street household which contained his deceased sister’s three children and he also supported his brother Patrick who had health issues. While some monies were paid out to the family following Tadhg’s death, the official military correspondence about military medals and pension penny pinching reflects poorly on the new Irish State. Tadhg’s active invisibility to those who did not know and his more vocal public socialist views were perhaps a convenient excuse for deliberate bureaucratic inertia!
The tragedy is that Tadhg’s voice was never heard in the independent Ireland taking shape when voices advocating social justice were so badly needed!
Dr Donal Ō Drisceoil has recently penned ‘Utter Disloyalist: Tadhg Barry and the Irish Revolution’ published by the Mercier Press which tells the full story of the life of Tadhg Barry. In 2011 he had also produced an excellent booklet Tadhg Barry (1880-1921) The Story of an Irish Revolutionary.
The Cork Mother Jones Committee will commemorate the 100th Anniversary of the death of Tadhg Barry in November 1921. Donal has provided an extended interview with committee member Ann Piggott about Tadhg Barry which will be broadcast during the 2021 Spirit of Mother Jones Festival. In addition we will show the documentary Tadhg Barry Remembered, produced in 2013 by Frameworks Films in collaboration with the Cork Council of Trade Unions.
Both films will be shown on Cork Community TV on Friday evening 26th November commencing at 7:00 pm.
It will be followed by a Q&A with Donal Ō Drisceoil for those attending at the Maldron Hotel. (subject to existing Covid-19 regulations at that date).
The official launch of the tenth annual Spirit of Mother Jones Festival will be held in University College Cork on Thursday 14th October 2021 in conjunction with the UCC Department of Community and Civic Engagement and Community Week.
The Cork Mother Jones Committee is also delighted to collaborate with The Center for Earth Ethics in New York for a special Zoom event hosted by University College Cork later that evening at 5pm local time on Thursday 14th October featuring an interview with Mona Polacca, a Native American spiritual elder from Arizona. All are welcome to register for this event.
According to James Nolan of the Cork Mother Jones Committee.
“We are very happy to work with the UCC Department of Community and Civic Engagement and The Center for Earth Ethics in New York to help bring this outstanding and interesting event to Cork.“
“We hope it will attract a large audience of young people and students to the ideas and thoughts of the Native American community as to the way we are treating the Earth. Mona Polacca will explore our connections to Mother Earth and the Environment from a Native American perspective. We wish to thank University College Cork for its cooperation to present this relevant and challenging discussion, which will be repeated later at the Spirit of Mother Jones Festival in November.“
“The tenth Spirit of Mother Jones Festival will be held from the 25th November to 28th November and it will be largely available to all as it will be shown on Cork Community TV (see www.corkcommunitytv.ie). We are optimistic (subject to the Covid-19 provisions at that time) to have a number of live events in and around Shandon during the period.“
“Among the topics which will be discussed at this year’s festival will include an account by UCC historian and author, Donal Ó Drisceoil of the life and death of Cork republican, trade union organiser and socialist Tadhg Barry of Blarney Street who was killed on the 15th November 1921, just over 100 years ago.“
“In addition, historian Anne Twomey will discuss the life of Muriel MacSwiney in an interview “Muriel MacSwiney….an Unlikely Rebel”. From the Mother Jones archives, Richard T Cooke will introduce the late Dr Sean Pettit’s presentation about his beloved Cork to the festival on 29th July 2016.“
“Many other talks and documentaries from the last nine years of Mother Jones festivals will be shown on Cork Community TV over the weekend. The full programme of events will issue later”.“
Keep your calendar clear! The Cork Mother Jones Committee wishes to announce that the 2021Spirit of Mother Jones Festival will take place on the final weekend of November (Thursday November 25th – Sunday 28th November.). This will be our tenth festival and we are eagerly looking forward to it.
“We are absolutely delighted to announce that our tenth annual Spirit of Mother Jones Festival will be held later this year. The dates for the four-day festival will be from Thursday 25th November until Sunday 28th November 2021 inclusive.
We are aiming to have the festival at venues in and around Shandon as usual although this is dependent on the Government Covid-19 rules which apply by November, however we remain very optimistic that these will permit gatherings and meetings by this time.
In case there remain issues with Covid-19, we can confirm that as a contingency we will also prepare a full online festival.
The Cork Mother Jones Committee is determined to ensure there will be a Spirit of Mother Jones festival in 2021 and we are working towards achieving that outcome.”
James Nolan spokesperson for the festival
Full details of our festival partnerships, music and many other events will be announced over the summer/ autumn as they are confirmed.
The President of Ireland, Michael D Higgins in a recent letter to the Cork Mother Jones Committee sends his best wishes to all involved in organising the 2020 Spirit of Mother Jones Festival. He praises Mother Jones as a catalyst for change and an emancipatory figure to whom we all owe a great deal of gratitude.
On the eve of first conference of the festival, entitled The Dynamic Role of theLabour Unions in the wake of Covid-19 and the Safe-keeping of Front LineWorkers in partnership with University College Cork Civic Engagement, President Higgins in his message to the organisers expresses his solidarity with all those workers whose contribution is so vital during the current Covid-19 pandemic.
President Higgins expresses the hope that their protection, job security and decent working conditions will prevail and that work as an enriching human activity will be the version of work that prevails.
Welcoming the President’s letter of support for the 2020 Spirit of Mother Jones Festival, James Nolan of the Cork Mother Jones Committee stated
“We are delighted with this very positive message from President Higgins to the organisers of the festival and for his warm tribute to the powerful, gritty and sustained contribution of Cork born Mother Jones to the labour movement in the United States.
The President’s visionary call for this Covid-19 crisis to provide an opportunity to rethink the connections between climate neutrality, a sustainable economy, social welfare and labour itself is very welcome.
The ninth Spirit of Mother Jones festival opens online on Friday 27th November at 3pm with University College Cork hosting a webinar with a number of trade union speakers participating. Among those taking part are Phil Ni Sheaghdha, General Secretary of the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation, Ann Piggott, President of the Association of Secondary Teachers of Ireland and Edward Lahiff of the Irish Federation of University Teachers. (Click to register this event only)
He expresses solidarity and support for the thousands of front-line workers who continue to put their lives at risk for the benefit of fellow citizens and calls on people to commemorate the thousands of workers throughout the world who in the service of others have already lost their lives. ”
Cork Singer Club on Sunday 8.30pm live on the Cork Singers’ Club Facebook page.
May I send my best wishes to all those involved in organising the 2020 ‘Spirit of Mother Jones Festival’, as well as all those attending the event. This year we gather together virtually with our fellow workers across the globe to mark the 90th anniversary of Cork-born Mary Harris’s death on 30th November 1930.
In the great, significant moments of the labour movement, we can identify moments when a single individual becomes a catalyst for positive change. Mary ‘Mother’ Jones is one such figure, among those emancipatory figures, to whom we all owe a great deal of gratitude. A survivor of the Great Famine, the Yellow Fever Epidemic of Memphis and the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, which robbed her of her home, family and livelihood, as well as the so-called ‘Spanish Flu’ Pandemic of 1918/19, Mother Jones was a woman of enormous grit and vigour. Yet, despite the toll of such personal struggle and tragedy, she found and mustered the resolve that enabled her to contribute so much to the labour movement in the United States over a period of several decades.
We gather together at a time of unprecedented risk for those who work tirelessly and selflessly in our health services, and those who ensure the continued delivery of essential services and utilities on which our citizens depend. Your conference is taking place as we face the challenge of dealing with a pandemic that is having such devastating personal, social and economic consequences.
However, out of such a crisis we are presented with perhaps a once-in-a-generation opportunity to do things better, to embrace and bring to fruition a new paradigm of existence with each other, in relation to work and living, and with the world itself; a renewed and healthier symbiosis of society, economy and ecology. The pandemic provides an opportunity to rethink the connections between climate neutrality, a sustainable economy, social welfare and labour itself.
The appropriate role Mother Jones would seek for trade unions, the labour movement and egalitarians of every hue is working together to give a lead. Work, above all else, is a human activity and given that in its form, conditions and purpose must have the participation, thought, design and sense of collectivity that comes from being a trade union member and activist.
Today let us commemorate the many thousands around the world who have, through their generous and willing efforts in the service of others, lost their own lives to COVID19, giving their lives for others with whom they shared the public world. Let us remember and celebrate also the many thousands more who continue to put their lives at risk in order to continue their important work, work that is for the benefit of their fellow citizens.
To all those workers who have responded to the Coronavirus crisis with such a generous spirit of solidarity, we owe an enormous debt of gratitude. However, gratitude, whose expression is so important, cannot be, and must never be, perceived as any adequate substitute for the dignity, well-being, and security of employment which is the right of all workers in any fair and inclusive society for which Mother Jones fought tirelessly.
As we navigate our way towards a shared and better future, we must resolve to build a lasting memorial to those brave and selfless workers who have been too easily left out of the pages of history. Let it be our battle cry, too, that battle cry of Mary ‘Mother’ Jones, and the motto that lies at the heart of this important day: “Remember the dead, fight like hell for the living”.
Today, as we reflect on the dynamic role of trade unions in the wake of the pandemic and the safe-keeping of our front-line workers, let us all commit to continuing our appreciation by standing in solidarity with all those whose contribution is so vital during this difficult time, recognising and enabling their right to protection, to be represented, to participate, to job security and decent working conditions now and into the future, where work will, in an enduring way, be recognised for the enriching human activity that it can be, and must in post-pandemic society be the version of work that prevails.
The full Spirit of Mother Jones Festival 2020 programme from Friday 27th November 2020 to Monday 30th November 2020 is now available. All events are free to view on Cork Community TV and everybody is welcome over the course of the weekend. We hope that you enjoy the 2020 programme.
Friday 27th November
3:00 p.m. The Dynamic Role of Labour Unions in the Wake of Covid-19 and the Safe Keeping of Front-Line Workers” A Partner Event with University College Cork Civic Engagement and the Spirit of Mother Jones Festival Speakers: Phil Ní Sheaghdha (INMO), Ann Piggott (ASTI), Dr Edward Lahiff (IFUT) Co-ordinated by Dr John Barimo. Click Here for direct webinar access at the time of the event. 7.30 p.m. Introduction by Cllr Joe Kavanagh, Lord Mayor of Cork “What Did the Women Do Anyway?” A discussion with Anne Twomey of the Shandon Area History Group
Saturday 28th November
11.00 a.m. Tadhg Barry Remembered Documentary film by Frameworks Films in collaboration with the Cork Council of Trade Unions. 2:30 p.m. “Ahawadda to Dáil Eireann: the amazing story of Sean Dunne, union organiser” Discussion with historian Diarmuid Kingston 3:30 p.m. “And the World Turns Away” Discussion with Peadar King 7:00 p.m. “Cork Burning” A power point presentation by Michael Lenihan 8:00 p.m. An evening with Jimmy Crowley at the Firkin Theatre Sunday 29th November Mother Jones Festival Archives 11:00 a.m. 2:30 p.m. 4:00 p.m. 8:10 p.m. “The story of Hillsborough” with Margaret Aspinall (2013) “Error of Judgement” with Chris Mullin (2015) “One Woman’s Fight for Justice” with Louise O’Keeffe (2018)
Sunday evening with the Cork Singers’ Club
(Zoom and live on Cork Singers’ Club Facebook page) If anyone wishes to participate email John Murphy firstname.lastname@example.org
Monday 30th November Mother Jones Commemoration Day: 90th Anniversary 3:00 p.m. 4:00 p.m. 7.00 p.m. 8:00 p.m. “Ellen Cotter and Inchigeela in the 1800s” by Joe Creedon (2019) “The story of Mother Jones” by Professor Elliott J Gorn (2019) Mother Jones and her Children Documentary by Frameworks Films “Shandon in the time of Mother Jones” Narrated by Kieran McCarthy 8:30 p.m. Mother Jones: America’s Most Dangerous Woman By Rosemary Feurer 8:45 p.m. “Mother Jones visits Shandon in 1920” With Joan Goggin 9:00 p.m. The legacy of Mother Jones. Tributes to Mother Jones Times and Link at http://www.corkcommunitytv.ie or Virgin Media 803 on the box. Check the schedule on Cork Community TV for final times and repeats.