New Documentary: Ordinary Women in Extraordinary Times.

The documentary ‘Ordinary Women in Extraordinary Times’ will be shown at the Cork Dance Firkin Crane in Shandon on Friday evening 29th July at 7.30 pm.

A new documentary about some of the women who played an important role in the revolutionary period in Cork will be screened at the Dance Cork Firkin Crane Theatre in Shandon, Cork on Friday 29th July at 7.30pm, as part of the Spirit of Mother Jones Festival 2022.

According to Lil Conlon, one of the members of the Shandon Cumann na mBan in Cork, a question that was often asked in the early years of the Irish Free State was“ What did the women do anyway”?  This documentary tells the story of what two sets of sisters did during the War of Independence and attempts to answer that question in part.

‘Ordinary Women in Extraordinary Times’ tells the story of five women –  Nora and Sheila Wallace and Mary, Annie and Muriel MacSwiney. These women played a vital role in the formation of the Irish state and yet the detail of what they did and how they managed to do these tasks whilst still playing their other roles as wives, mothers, teachers and shopkeepers has received little attention.

The documentary first tells the story of how the Wallace sisters ran a newsagents shop on Augustine Street in Cork city centre, which effectively became the unofficial headquarters of the No 1 Brigade of the Cork Volunteers after their own headquarters on Sheares St was closed after the Rising. Florrie O’Donoghue from the brigade is quoted as saying “If any two women deserved immortality for their work…they did!”  Their story is told by members of the Shandon Area History Group and also by Bill Murphy, grand-nephew of the sisters and by Bernadette Wallace, their niece.

The second family to feature in the documentary are the MacSwiney family. Mary and Annie MacSwiney were the sisters of Terence MacSwiney, former Lord Mayor of Cork, whose death by hunger strike whilst imprisoned in Brixton Prison made international headlines and Muriel MacSwiney, their sister-in-law, was his wife. This section will be told via interviews with  Anne Twomey and Maeve Higgins, members of the Shandon Area History Group and also with Cathal MacSwiney Brugha, the grandson of Muriel MacSwiney and grand-nephew of Mary and Annie MacSwiney.

The documentary has been produced by Frameworks Films in collaboration with the Shandon Area History Group and was funded by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland. It will also be broadcast at 8pm on Sunday 31st July on Cork Community Television, which is available on Channel 803 on Virgin Media’s digital cable package and online on www.corkcommunitytv.ie

For further information please email emma@frameworksfilms.com

‘Dark Times, Dark Deeds, Long Shadows:  the experiences of some women in the Revolutionary Years’  

Historian Anne Twomey will address the treatment of some women during the Revolutionary years on Thursday evening, the 28th of July, at 8.00 pm at the Cork Dance Firkin Crane on the opening day of the 2022 Spirit of Mother Jones Festival. This forms part of our coverage of the Decade of Centenaries at festivals over the past few years.

Speaker, Anne Twomey, at the Festival launch with Cllr. Damien Boylan, Deputy Lord Mayor of Cork.

General background to the treatment of some women during 1916-1923 and afterwards by all sides in the conflict from the Cork Mother Jones Committee. 

Starting in 1966, the fiftieth-anniversary celebrations of the 1916 to 1923 period almost ignored the role of the Citizen Army (ICA), rarely referred to the Civil War’s events and largely side-lined women’s contribution to the struggle. Observers at the time may have wondered why the 1916 Proclamation addressed to the people of Ireland’ IRISHMEN and IRISHWOMEN’ seemed to apply only to the Irish men.

1916 Proclamation

In 1966, it appears as if the women relatives of the men of 1916, were recognised and honoured. The actual women participants were largely ignored.

The conferring of honorary degrees on the nearest surviving relatives of the seven signatories of the 1916 Proclamation on the 14th of April 1966. (Source: Cuimhneachán 1916-1966),

Source: Cuimhneachán 1916-1966 Commemoration Booklet.

Rose McDermott, sister of Seán Mac Diarmada receiving an honorary Doctor of Laws in 1916, surrounded by President De Valera, Fr. O’Callaghan, and Sr. Mary Emanuel, and Sr. Mary Mercy. (Source: Cuimhneachán 1916-1966),

Fifty years later, in the current ‘Decade of Centenaries’, the essential contribution of women to the struggle for independence has been added to the narrative of the period.

Of further significance is the emergence from the silence and shadows of the war years of increasing evidence of the cruel and inhumane treatment of some women by all sides during the revolutionary years and in the new Irish Free State both during and long after the end of the Irish Civil War of 1922/23.

It can be argued that evidence of the participation of women was always to be found if one knew where to look and asked the right questions. However, as Sinead McCoole in “No Ordinary Women” discovered, many quiet, unassuming Aunt Bridies (Bridie Halpin) around the country existed. Their long-lost collections of personal materials in attics were found and revealed their vital and valuable contributions to the fight for Independence.

Additionally, the important work of Margaret Ward, Louise Ryan and Linda Connolly and many other academics and writers have highlighted and challenged the unacknowledged gender-based violence against women which occurred across the wars. 

For every high-profile Countess Markieviez, Kathleen Clarke or Mary MacSwiney, there were also hundreds of nameless women involved. Some sacrificed their health and took huge personal risks to ensure the day-to-day functioning and operational integrity of the secret revolutionary infrastructure of the Irish Republican Army was protected, while challenging the British forces and demanding a real democratic republic.  Kathleen Clarke, widow of Tom Clarke, one of the 1916 Proclamation seven signatures, while in Holloway Jail in London in 1918, detailed her inhumane treatment in the autobiography “Revolutionary Woman”.  

Mrs. Clarke was born into the Daly family in Limerick city. Her brother Ned was executed after 1916, two sisters, Nora and Laura, were in the GPO, and the family was regularly harassed by the British Army.

During a raid in October 1920, her two sisters, Una and Carrie, were physically attacked by the British raiding party. Una was dragged into the street where her hair was cropped, and her hand was slashed with a razor. The terror, shock and subsequent trauma of brutal hair cropping inflicted on many women by the male protagonists on all sides left an insidious lifetime mark on women treated in such a degrading and dehumanising manner.

Yet later, during the Civil War, following another disruptive Free State army raid on her home in 1922, Kathleen sadly comments. 

“Running through my mind was all I has suffered at the hands of the British, and now my own people were causing me more suffering, and it hurt more because they were my own” 

Eithne Coyne described her treatment in Mountjoy Prison, in Survivors in 1921 before and after the Truce.

“It was fairly tough that time in the Joy, with only four hours of exercise, and a lock up at half past four………the food was very bad; a tiny piece of meat twice a week, and for the rest of the time a thin soup. They came to your door accompanied by one of the ordinary female prisoners carrying these rusty two-tier cans that never seemed quite clean, with a small one sitting on top, in which was your tea, soup, cocoa or whatever was being served”

EITHNE cOYNE “sURVIVORS”

Publications such as “Ordinary Women in Extraordinary Times” detailed the arrest and imprisonment by British forces of seventeen-year-old Mary Bowles from Clogheen on the northside of Cork City in January 1921. Various reports suggest she was very badly treated. Regular raids took place by British forces, and their harsh treatment meted out to women in isolated farmhouses and homes all across the country, which were left wrecked or burned by the Black and Tans, went largely unreported at the time.

Kathleen Keyes McDonnell described a military raid on her family mill and home at
Castlelack near Bandon.

“One morning towards the end of January 1920, police and military forced an entry by the back door before 7 a.m. One soldier put a bayonet to my forehead ordering me to get out of bed; another seized my arm and shook me roughly”

Tom Barry’s memory of the Crowley family in Kilbrittain, especially of Mrs. Crowley “sitting on a stool in the yard, gazing thoughtfully at the ruins of her blown up and burnt-out house” with members of her family dead or in prison, following a visit by the infamous British Essex Regiment, leaves no one in any doubt as to the brutal actions of the military during the War of Independence.

The kidnap and execution by the IRA of Mary Rawson, known as Mrs. Lindsay, following her betrayal of the planned Dripsey ambush, which resulted in the execution of five IRA men and the death from wounds of a sixth in February 1921, clearly declared that women were not immune to the ultimate penalty. This elderly woman’s long period of detention as a hostage and her eventual execution during March 1921 in Rylane, Co Cork was extensively documented by local historian Tim Sheehan in his book ‘Lady Hostage’ published in 1990.

Around the same time, 45-year-old Bridget Noble (Neill) was executed as a spy by the IRA at Ardgroom in West Cork. From the available accounts, both executions of Mary Lindsay and Brigid Noble were particularly gruesome. Their deaths were followed by a total veil of silence and the remains of both women have not been recovered.

In ‘A Hard Local War’, William Sheehan references the deaths of Nellie Carey and Essie Sheehan, whose crime was that they were accused of ‘going out’ with British soldiers and ex-soldiers.

In the course of her paper to the Irish Civil War National Conference in Cork in June 2022, Dr. Mary McAuliffe spoke of the violence inflicted on Bridget Carolan in Longford, Margaret’ Ciss” Doherty in Donegal, the Walsh sisters in Kerry and Margaret Doherty of Co Mayo by the National Army during 1922 and 1923. These were just a few of those women who suffered. The attack on Eileen Biggs in Dromineer, Co Tipperary, in June 1922 by anti-Treaty IRA men, who escaped justice, was one of the violent events reported in the media.

Diarmaid Ferriter’s recent publication on the Irish Civil War ‘Between Two Hells’, provides an account of some of the suffering of women during the period. He tells of Cork Cumann na mBan members Ellen Carroll who, as a result of her wartime activities, contracted TB in 1924 and young Johanna Cleary and Mary Carey who both died in 1924 as a result of an earlier Civil War hunger strike in Kilmainham Gaol.

Pension Discrimination Experienced by Women.

Ferriter refers to the efforts of their families and Cork activist Nora O’Brien (Martin), who had been arrested and imprisoned several times after 1916, to submit applications for small pension gratuities, which often failed due to mean-spirited pension adjudicators. What is striking about this is the indifference and bureaucratic cruelty of the State pension adjudication system, usually manned by former male comrades. They regularly and coldly refused to award even paltry payments to many women who had endured deprivations, trauma and bad health arising directly from their wartime activities.

Women could only apply for the lower levels of pension payments, a grade D or E pension, the highest levels (A, B and C) were reserved for active men only. Hundreds of women across the country were refused pensions based on narrow criteria as to what constituted ‘active service’. This unfair treatment continued for many decades as the women aged and needed assistance.

Efforts to obtain pensions often resulted in women who had risked their lives and liberty being subject to bureaucratic ritual humiliation by those men in charge of decision making. Cork activist Siobhán Creedon Lankford applied for a pension on 28th December 1935 based on her service as an Intelligence Officer with the Cork No 1 and 2 Brigades.

On 13th November 1941 Siobhán was notified of the granting of a Rank E pension calculated at three and a half years service although she had been active from the age of 22 to 29. She immediately appealed and sought a Rank D pension, which was denied. Siobhan received just £17.10s per annum by way of pension. Her story is fully documented by Éamon and Máirín Lankford in Appendix 1 of the 2020 edition of The Hope and the Sadness.  It makes for sad reading indeed and reflects poorly on the attitude of the Military Pensions Board towards the role of women in the war years. 

A headline in the Irish Independent newspaper of Monday 30th May 1921 declared “Daring Cork Exploit”.  The news item gave a brief account of the escape of Dolly Burke from the Womens’ Prison in Sundays Well, Cork. Dolly Burke of Ballinure, Co. Tipperary was the first woman to break out of jail during the War of Independence. 

After being sentenced to four months in Cork Jail for her activism, on the evening of 27th May 1921, some local Cork activists including Peg Lawlor of Blarney Street and Brian Martin helped her to escape. She was not arrested again. 

From 1918 onwards, Dolly had set up and ran the IRA intelligence network in much of South Tipperary. She formed Cumann na mBan in the area and was harassed regularly by the British forces and her fiancé Tom Donovan was shot dead by them. Her brother Michael was on hunger strike in Cork prison, the same time as Terence MacSwiney. He was later wounded breaking out of Kilkenny Jail. They became the only brother and sister to escape from prisons during the War of Independence. Dolly maintained an arms dump near her home for the Republican side in the Civil War and later emigrated to the USA until 1934.

Yet when Dolly applied for her military pension in 1940, she was allowed only part service from 1920 and at the lowest E rank. Even a letter of support from Dan Breen did not budge the pension authorities.

Another prison escape involving women, took place on Halloween night in 1921 during the Truce, when Eithne Coyne, Linda Kearns, Mary Burke and May Keogh got over the walls of Mountjoy.

Women Fighting for Real Social Change!

Author Liz Gillis raises a fundamental point in her publication ‘Women of the Irish Revolution’ when she comments:

“Whereas the men were fighting for the Republic, the women while also fighting for that ideal, were additionally fighting for real change. They asked what exactly this Republic would mean for ordinary people, for the poorer parts of society”  

In reality, a large number of the women revolutionaries were fighting for meaningful social change, and one is forced to question the ulterior motives and ideals of the increasingly comfortable male leaders of the new Irish State. Did the leadership desire any social change or movement towards social justice in light of their fierce hostility towards the women activists who had fought alongside them in the War of Independence?

Sinēad McCoole provides a list of some eighty-three women imprisoned after the 1916 Rising; at least twenty were from the socialist Irish Citizen Army (ICA), led by James Connolly, who were a very socially aware group. Ann Matthews lists twenty-eight members of the female auxiliary of the ICA who were “in action” in 1916 in her publication The Irish Citizen Army.

In all, over 70 women were coming and going to the General Post Office (GPO) at some point during Easter Week, while at least 270 women were directly involved around Dublin during the week of the Rising. These figures clearly demonstrate the high level of activity by women activists over that period.

No Ordinary Women also contains a further prisoner list of women held in Kilmainham Gaol, Mountjoy Jail and the North Dublin Union during and after the Civil War. The extensive records list five hundred and fifty names of Republican women interned and imprisoned during this period, many of whom were kept in terrible conditions. Many of the names and addresses of those women make for stark reading in that they remain largely unknown, although women had become increasingly visible in the Civil War. Almost forty of the incarcerated women on that list were from Cork; who were they? Do we know their life stories?

Incessant verbal and media attacks on women activists by the Free State leadership leading to the mass imprisonment, ill-treatment and detention for many months of Republican women commenced soon after the Civil War began. Hundreds of women from all over the country were arrested on a mass scale, something which even the British authorities were reluctant to attempt during the War of Independence.  Eithne Coyne estimated that about forty women and girls in total, some of them as young as fifteen were incarcerated in prison by the British until the signing of the Treaty in December 1921, when they were released.

Some spent time on hunger strikes during this period and endured beatings and punishment. Several died soon afterwards due to illness and medical conditions arising at very young ages. Later following their release back into their families and communities, these traumatised women were often dismissed and described as simply “suffering from their nerves’.

The use of much of this violence was not accidental or down to rogue individuals. It appeared to form part of a systematic State policy intended to smash the resistance of the women, yet no one has been held accountable for the harsh treatment they endured while in custody. Few efforts were made to bring the elements of either the National Army or the Anti-Treaty forces responsible for the violence against women to justice. The policy of impunity permitting freedom from sanction enjoyed by those responsible created a de facto official immunity for male participants on all sides. In the absence of a truth and reconciliation commission, the cruel treatment of some women remains a stain on the birth of the State.

Wars are cruel and savage affairs where the normal rules of interaction, consideration, dignity and respect among some participants are lost. Passionate political views on both sides of the Civil War divide, when transformed into violent action, unleashed the dogs of war. This sundered the once solidly united Cumann na mBan and resulted in former friends and comrades becoming bitter enemies in the early years of the new State. The war cast a long shadow.

As the six female TDs rejected the Treaty along with the leadership of Cumann na mBan and most of their activists, one has to question if this opposition by the high-profile female revolutionaries, triggered the savage Free State hostility from the Pro-Treaty leaders to all Republican women activists? Was it due to this hostility that during March 1922 in Dail debates, both Michael Collins and Arthur Griffith, indulging in political opportunism, opposed the enfranchisement of women over 21 in the new Free State? In spite of their opposition, the Irish Free State Constitution enacted in June 1922 provided that all Irish citizens over the age of 21 were entitled to vote. 

As a result, Ireland developed into a mean-spirited place for many women in the subsequent decades as the ruling political and exclusively male establishment, closely aligned with members of the Catholic Church hierarchy, ignored and actively discriminated against women in employment, health and education.

The Republican women were eventually released yet the State assault on the rights of women intensified. Withdrawal of employment rights of women by Irish governments began immediately. By 1924, an effective ‘Marriage Bar’ was imposed on women working in the civil service, later extended to the public sector such as the Post Office and even to private sector employers such as Guinness and Jacobs. 

Under British rule a 1919 UK statute provided for most women to serve on juries, however by 1927, Minister for Justice Kevin O’ Higgins had excluded all women from “the horrors of criminal courts”. Under Eamon de Valera who came to power in 1932, divorce in Ireland was banned under the 1937 Irish Constitution, reflecting the socially conservative policies of the Catholic Church. Earlier in 1935, contraception was made illegal in Ireland. 

Tens of thousands of women who broke the Church’s moral teaching were incarcerated in the Magdalen Laundries and in the Mother and Baby Homes. Thousands more emigrated quietly due to economic necessity and local social stigma, to Britain and the USA, and continued to do so until progressive women’s voices began to rise again in the 60s and 70s.

Among those who stayed on in the new Ireland of the 1920s such as Kathleen Lynn, Helena Molony, Rosie Hackett, Charlotte Despard, Madeleine Ffrench-Mullen, Elizabeth O’Farrell, Hannah Sheehy Skeffington, Delia Larkin, Leslie Price, Dorothy Stopford Price, and Winifred Carney (the last woman to leave the burning GPO!), they and others were in the forefront of the subsequent efforts over the decades to bring about a more equal, fairer and compassionate society. 

The Casualties of War.

Although women were regarded as non-combatants during the wars, it may come as a surprise that so many lost their lives, especially in Cork during the five-year war period. If the records of University College Cork’s “Cork Fatality Index”, which covers some of the period of the Decade of Centenaries are examined, one cannot but be horrified today at the general level of violence throughout Cork City and County. Of the eight hundred and twenty-seven who died in Cork from 1919 to 1923, twenty-five were women, including eleven who were killed during the Civil War. 

Reading the accounts of their deaths, it is clear that the great majority were innocent victims of the fighting and general mayhem happening around them in Cork. The names of Albina Murphy aged 34, a member of the Irish Union of Distributive Workers, Madge Daly aged 24, Mollie Egan aged 24, shot in the neck; Kate Crowley; Lillie Gallagher, aged 8, killed by a bomb, May Hall, nineteen-year-old Josephine Scannell killed by a stray bullet while sewing and sitting by her window on Frenches Quay are probably unknown to most people.

The girls and women and others who died may be remembered only by their families today, yet they were the horrific casualties of the violent birth of our country and should not be forgotten. Their deaths should continue to remind everyone of the enormous price paid by many ordinary people during war.

To quote Cork woman Mary Elmes, speaking about World War Two on the cost of warfare:

“War is a terrible thing, which is never won. It’s always lost. Everybody loses.” 

Sources and Further Reading.

Diarmuid Ferriter, Between Two Hells, The Irish Civil War (Profile Books 2022)
Kathleen Clarke, Revolutionary Woman 1878-1972, An Autobiography (The
O’Brien Press Ltd 1991) Cuimhneachán 1916-1966 Commemoration Booklet.
Tim Sheehan, Lady Hostage Mrs. Lindsay (Cork 1990)
Sinēad McCoole, No Ordinary Women (The O’Brien Press Ltd 2015)
Liz Gillis, Women Of The Irish Revolution (The Mercier Press 2014)
Shandon Area History Group, Ordinary Women In Extraordinary Times (2019)
Louise Ryan, Drunken Tans: Representations of Sex and Violence in the Anglo-
Irish War (1919-21). Feminist Review 2000. 
Dr Mary McAuliffe, ‘Violence and indiscipline? The treatment of ‘die-hard’ anti-
treaty women by the National Army 1922-23. Irish Civil War National
Conference.
Ann Matthews, ‘The Irish Citizen Army’ (The Mercier Press 2014)
Kathleen Keyes McDonnell, ‘There is a Bridge at Bandon’ (The Mercier Press
1972)
Tom Barry, ‘Guerrilla Days in Ireland’ (The Irish Press 1949)
William Sheehan, ‘A Hard Local War’ (The History Press 2011)
Paddy Butler, ‘The extraordinary story of Mary Elmes, the Irish Oscar Schindler’
(Open Press 2017) Linda Connolly, Understanding violence against women in the Irish Revolution –
a global context. RTE.
Cork Fatality Index, University College Cork. Siobhán Lankford. The Hope and the Sadness (Celum Publishing of Cork 2020). First published by Tower Books 1980. Margaret Ó hÓgartaigh, Kathleen Lynn Irishwoman, Patriot, Doctor (Irish Academic Press 2011). Uinseann Mac Eoin, Survivors, Argenta Publications 1980, 20 Marlborough Road, Donnybrook, Dublin 4. Karen Minihane, Extraordinary, Ordinary Women: Untold Stories from the Founding of the State,

A Trade Union Vision for a New and United Ireland.

Discussion at the Maldron Hotel, Shandon on Friday 30th July at 11:30am.

Presentation by Trade Unionists for a United Ireland (TUNUI),  Christy McQuillan, Paddy Mackel, Conor McCarthy and Mags O’Brien.

The aim of the trade unionists behind this initiative is to “put the economic and social equality into the heart of the discussion on a New Ireland”

They further argue that workers should discuss what a ‘New Ireland’ might involve, and contend that it should be based on equality.

This means that economic and social justice, human rights, women’s rights, children rights should be at the core of any new Constitution.

“As the largest civic society movement in the country, trade unions have a particular responsibility to involve themselves in the ongoing debate.”

All are welcome to join in the discussion and the Q&A which follows this presentation. 

Come along and have your say.

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.

Endurance and Engagement. Cork City Women in the 1920’s

A documentary “Endurance & Engagement: Cork City Women in the 1920’s”  will be shown at the Dance Cork Firkin Crane on Thursday 28th July at 7.15pm.

The short documentary, commissioned by Cork City Council, as part of the Decade of Commemorations and  funded by the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts Gaeltacht, Sport & Media looks at the lives of ordinary women in Cork City during the turbulent period of the struggle for independence and how they were impacted by the violence and unrest. 

Peg Duggan

The women included in the documentary are Eilish MacCurtain, The Duggan Sisters, Geraldine Neeson and Dr Mary Hearn.

The research team on the project were Anne Twomey of Shandon History Group, Dr Helene O’Keeffe of UCC School of History, and Gerry White.  The documentary directors Ciara Buckley & David Slowo of Wombat Media. The  Executive Producer of this documentary was Christine Moloney of LW Management who will introduce it on the night.

We wish to record our thanks to Cork City Council and St. Peters Cork for making a screening available at the Spirit of Mother Jones Festival.

Christine Moloney will introduce the documentary and  there will be a brief Q&A. afterwards.

It will be followed at 8:00 pm by a talk by historian Anne Twomey. 

2022 Spirit of Mother Jones Festival is Launched.

The formal launch of the 2022 Spirit of Mother Jones Festival took place recently at the beautiful old Butter Market Gardens underneath the famous Bells of Shandon.

The Deputy Lord Mayor of Cork Cllr Damien Boylan officiated.

Welcoming everyone, the Deputy Lord Mayor stated how wonderful it was that the Spirit of Mother Jones festival was back in the community again after two years and he praised the resilience of Mother Jones and the Committee for enabling this famous Cork woman to be celebrated.

Cork Mother Jones Committee and friends with the Deputy Lord Mayor of Cork,

On behalf of the committee Ann Piggott  made a presentation to the deputy Lord Mayor of a framed photograph of Cork’s northside by Dylan Fitzgerald which is included in the 2022 programme.

Presentation to Deputy Lord Mayor of Cork, by Committee member Ann Piggott.

In addition a special ‘friend of Mother Jones Award’ was presented to Cork’s own Mother Jones, Joan Goggin for her long standing assistance to the annual festival. Joan is due to appear at the forthcoming festival where she will remember her father’s friend,  trade union leader Jim Larkin who died 75 years ago this year.

Anne Twomey of Shandon Area History Group then spoke about the screening of the new documentary film called Ordinary Women in Extraordinary Times produced by Frameworks Films which will be shown for the first time on Friday 29th July at the festival.

  

Barry and Rose from Cobh Animation.

The programme and poster for the 2022 festival was then introduced and all is now set for the eleventh festival which will be held at the Maldron Hotel Shandon and the Dance Cork Firkin Crane from the 28th July until 30th July. All are welcome.  

Spirit of Mother Jones Festival Programme.

The formal Launch of the Spirit of Mother Jones Festival 2022 will take place at the Shandon Butter Market Garden on Friday 1st July at 1pm.

Our eleventh annual festival takes place from Thursday 28th July until Saturday 30th July and contains a full programme of events, both indoors and outdoors.

Spirit of Mother Jones Festival 2022 Poster.

According to Jim Nolan of the Cork Mother Jones Committee

“We will have over 20 events ranging from talks and lively discussions, to walks and exhibitions, to presentations of awards and toasts as well as singing, poetry and music.

We wish to thank our sponsors in particular the Cork City Council, the SIPTU trade union, the ASTI Trade union and IFUT. With their assistance, it is possible to maintain the festival free and open to all.

Highlights will include the screening of the Shandon Area History Group/Frameworks Films documentary ‘Ordinary Women in Extraordinary Times’ at the Dance Cork Firkin Crane Theatre on Friday night. 

Of special interest this year will be the visit of Antoinette Keegan, whose two sisters Mary and Martina died in the Stardust Fire tragedy in 1981.  Christine her mother and John her father were instrumental in establishing the campaign of the Stardust Victims to seek justice for their loved ones over the past 40 years.  Antoinette was will be presented with the 2020 Spirit of Mother Jones Award in person on Friday afternoon 29th July at 3pm.

We hope the people of Cork will come along and show their support to the victims and survivors of the Stardust tragedy in their efforts to attain justice.

After two years in which the festival went online, we are very much looking forward to meeting people again, whether they are regulars or dropping in for the first time to the festival, all will be welcome at Shandon.”

All events are free and all are welcome. (But come along early)

“What would our health system be like now had Dr Noël Browne’s Mother and Child Scheme been successfully implemented?”

Angela Flynn

FREE IMAGE- NO REPRO FEE. Photo By Tomas Tyner, UCC.

Dr Angela Flynn is a lecturer in the School of Nursing and Midwifery in UCC. Having worked as a nurse in the NHS in London, she returned to Ireland in 1999. She was shocked at just how unfair and inequitable the Irish health system was and was taken aback by the stark two-tiered system. Over half the population of Ireland pay for private health insurance because they know that should they need to see a consultant or have scheduled surgery they will languish on waiting lists if they stay as public patients. Angela decided to examine the history of the Irish health care system that led to this inequity for her PhD, and she used Noel Browne’s Mother and Child Scheme as one of the case studies. She has published a number of papers from this research. Now in 2022, on the 25th anniversary of the death of Noel Browne, Angela will discuss an imagined world where his scheme had been successful and explore the potential health system we could have had.

Noël Browne was born in Waterford on 20th December 1915. He died in Connemara on the 21st May 1997.

A quarter of a century has passed since the death of Noël Browne, the most controversial Minister for Health in Ireland’s history. His courageous account of early life and a political career of over 40 years can be found in his autobiography ‘Against The Tide’ published in 1986. Written with a rare honesty and integrity, it portrays an often heartbreaking account of the ‘precarious survival’ of early family life against the backdrop of the deathly poverty, illness and the sheer awfulness of daily experience for many poor people in the new Irish State. His earliest memories of witnessing the savagery of the Irish Civil war ensured his abhorrence of violence.

Both parents, Joseph (1923) and Mary Therese (1929) died of tuberculosis (TB) and many of his seven siblings contracted the killer disease, Noel who also had TB was one of three to survive, while his sisters Annie, Eileen, Una and Jody, his brother all eventually succumbed.  

Official figures show that from 1921 to 1950, 114,000 Irish people died of the disease. Scarcely an Irish family remained untouched and many families were completely wiped out.

Browne was fortunate to be “adopted” by the Dublin surgeon Neville Chance and his family who ensured Noel gained entry to Trinity College and eventually became a doctor.

He realised quickly that the only way to change Ireland’s disastrous health system was to become directly involved in political action. Browne, by now a committed socialist was elected to Dail Eireann in 1948 as a Clann na Poblachta TD. The Clann, led by Sean McBride with ten TDs joined a Coalition government. To the surprise of many he was appointed Minister for Health on his first day in the Irish parliament.

He commenced a massive hospital construction project, free X-ray screening for tuberculosis patients and set in motion systems to eliminate tuberculosis with the aid of Streptomycin. The blood transfusion service was set up.

Browne set a frenetic pace within the department, he was indeed a man in a hurry witnessing the immediate and positive impact of the National Health Service (NHS) introduced by the UK Health Minister Aneurin Bevan in July 1948.

Unprecedently and uniquely for a politician, he decided to actually implement the health reforms contained in the Irish 1947 Health Act, fully aware that he would “only have one crack at it”. However his proposal to introduce free medical care for children under 16 and their mothers in order to reduce child mortality which became known as the Mother and Child Scheme was vigorously opposed by the Catholic Hierarchy which it described as ‘the free-for-all Mother And Child Scheme’ and Irish Medical Association (I.M.A) which condemned it as ‘the socialisation of medicine’.  

Browne refused to concede to the concessions demanded by the Church and the establishment and once he lost the support of his leader in Clann na Poblachta, Sean MacBride who requested his resignation he was eventually forced to resign on 11th April 1951.

Now a political outsider, he never regained access to political power again to drive positive structural change in the health system.

Later many of the changes Browne had helped to introduce made a real difference to ordinary people and the arrival of vaccines and new drug treatments helped to reduce significantly the death rate. This fell by half within a few years and was down to 15% of the 1940 levels by 1960. The death sentence of  a TB diagnosis was no more.  

While aspects of his health scheme were eventually put in place, his initial opportunity to construct a NHS type universal health care system for Ireland was lost and the two tier private and public health system remains in place.

Noël Browne. Source: Houses of the Oireachtas.

Noel Browne remained in politics, moving in and out of various political parties, marginalised by those in the political power, ignored by others, always controversial, passionate from the back benches, sometimes caught up in roundabout arguments of the Left yet adored by many radicals as an uncompromising advocate for the social justice and a universal free health system.

John Horgan’s book Noël Browne, Passionate Outsider portrays this complex man in a warts and all analysis with empathy, understanding and some criticism.

Browne’s love story with Phyllis Harrison, was told by Phyllis in her publication Thanks For The Tea, Mrs. Browne – My life with Noel.

Written with love and affection, sadness and struggle, courage and quiet passion, Phyllis describes their life together as “a stormy passage” and the difficulties they faced through over fifty years of married life. The couple even tried farming, an episode described with some humour in an Amateur Farmer’s Journal. Browne was originally informed that he had six months to live when they married back in 1944, he again suffered a relapse after his appointment as Minister and occasionally ran his department from his sick bed.   

Noël Browne retired from politics in the early 80s, daughters Ruth and Sue raised,  he and Phyllis moved to an isolated cottage in Connemara on the west coast of Ireland where he wrote his memoirs Against The Tide, which became a best seller. Some former political colleagues received blunt assessments of their actions and when coupled with a gripping narrative, the book remains a very rare and raw account of Irish life and politics.

His successful efforts to end the scourge of TB and his exposure to a new generation of Church control of the State remain his major achievements.

But his passionate dream of providing access to a decent health service for all citizens of the Republic of Ireland based on need remains to be achieved.

‘He lies in the clean sandy soil by the Atlantic shore, where he liked to sit every afternoon, seagulls and screaming curlews flying above him’

Phyllis Browne.

On Saturday afternoon 30th July at 2.30 Angela Flynn will discuss the Mother & Child Scheme, imagine if it had been successful and explore the potential health system we could have had.

Venue is the Maldron Hotel Shandon. All Welcome.

Historian Luke Dineen to speak at the Spirit of Mother Jones Festival 2022.

As 2022 signals a return to real festival events, we are happy to announce that Luke Dineen will once again speak at this year’s Spirit of Mother Jones Festival. 

Labour and trade union historian Luke has appeared at many of our festivals and is one of the most popular contributors. 

He brings to life the often forgotten history of the trade union movement in Cork and its proud contribution to bettering the lives of ordinary people.

Luke, who was awarded a PhD in labour history from UCC will speak on the “Cork General Lockout of 1923”.

The end of the Civil War in May 1923 encouraged the Cork Employers’ Federation (CEF) to demand wage reductions across a wide range of workplaces in the city. Discussions and negotiations with the unions failed to resolve the issues and by July 1923, the ITGWU dockers were on strike. The employers insisted on wage reductions of  up to 25% and further reductions in workers allowances which the unions refused to accept.

On 20th August 1923, most businesses in Cork closed, the Cork Lockout had begun, over 6000 workers were on strike. 

It was part of a wider effort by employers in other cities and towns across Ireland to bring about wage cuts.

Despite large marches, sackings, mass unemployment and growing signs of serious shortages of food and coal stocks, John Rearden, a solicitor and secretary of the CEF refused to compromise and the impasse dragged on in the city. 

Recently elected TD and UCC Registrar Alfred O’Rahilly acted as arbitrator in the dispute and agreed a resolution with Trade Union leader Jim Hickey.

Most workers went back on reduced wages by mid November and while at  the end of the day, both sides accepted compromises, the trade unions suffered most as the lockout used up much of their financial resources in strike pay, Payments to strikers by the ITGWU were almost 24,000 pounds representing 15% of all the union’s expenditure for 1923. (1919 was under 1%). Membership fell to a third of its 1923 level by 1928. Employers still retained the right to hire and fire at will. 

Most employees were back at work by early November. 1923 was an annus horribilis for the Irish Trade union movement.

The new Free State government had signalled that they no longer needed to encourage the acquiescence and support of organised Labour in the struggle for independence.

The government instead aligned with the new State’s established business class, whose pragmatic rapprochement with the new political order reflected the inherent conservatism of the real victors in the Irish Civil War. 

Luke Dineen will speak at the Shandon Maldron Hotel at 11.30 am on Saturday 30th July. All are welcome. 

Sources: 

Article by Luke Dineen ‘Class War in Cork’: The Cork General Lockout of 1923′ in Saothar 46.  (Journal of the Irish Labour History Society 2021).

Article by Francis Devine, The Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union in Cork City and County 1918-1930. (Journal of the Cork Historical and Archaeological Society Volume 124, 2019).

Mother Jones and Her Children is now available here to view online.

The documentary Mother Jones And Her Children is now available to view at the link below.

This 2014 documentary tells the exciting story of Mary Harris/Mother Jones from her birth in Cork in 1837 to her death in 1930. 

It features US Labour historians such as Rosemary Feurer, who administers the website www.motherjonesmuseum.org and who writes extensively on Mother Jones. Elliott Gorn, author of Mother Jones: The Most Dangerous Woman in America appears also along with interviews with authors Simon Cordery and Marat Moore. Larry Spivack of the Illinois Labour History Society and John Alexander of the Virden Monument Committee and US trade union activists such as Mike Matjelki, Dave Rathke and Terry Reed take part. In addition, there is an interview with Uibh Laoghaire historian, Joe Creedon regarding the birth place of Ellen Cotter, the mother of Mary Harris, while members of the Cork Mother Jones Committee (CMJC) provide details about her baptism in Cork, and the Spirit of Mother Jones Festival.

According to James Nolan of the CMJC

“This documentary is ideal for anyone who wishes to learn more about this amazing Cork woman, a woman who survived horrific personal tragedy and bravely supported the trade union movement and fought for social justice in America for over four decades.

Mary Harris’s efforts in the early 1900s to highlight the exploitation of children in the mines, mills and factories of America and her arguments that they should receive an education instead  will still resonate with school children across the world today. 

This documentary should be included in the Irish educational curriculum.”

Mother Jones and Her Children remains available on CD. The link to the documentary also appears above the main website masthead.

It was produced by Frameworks Films and the Cork Mother Jones Committee.