On Friday July 29th at about 11:00 am we will gather at the magnificent North Cathedral of St Mary and St Anne and known affectionately throughout Cork with some understatement as the ‘North Chapel’. It was originally dedicated in 1808 on the site of an earlier church.
Anne Twomey will give a brief history of the Cathedral with particular reference to its connections with the baptism of Mary Harris on the morning of 1st August 1837.
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.
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.
General background to the treatment of some women during 1916-1923 and afterwards by all sides in the conflict.
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 sidelined 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.
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. They sacrificed their health and took huge personal risks to ensure the functioning and integrity of the secret revolutionary infrastructure of the Irish Republican Army, challenging the British army 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 British forces.
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”
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 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 by the IRA of Mary Rawson, known as Mrs. Lindsay, following her betrayal of the planned Dripsey Ambush, resulted in the execution of five IRA men and the death from wounds of a sixth in February 1921. This action clearly declared that women were not immune to execution. This elderly woman’s long period of detention as a hostage and her eventual execution in the middle of March 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. In ‘A Hard Local War’, William Sheehan references Nellie Carey’s and Essie Sheehan’s deaths for ‘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.
He 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.
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, many of the women revolutionaries were fighting for real social change, and one is forced to question the real motives and ideals of the now comfortable male leaders of the new Irish State. Did they really desire any real social change in light of their fierce hostility to many women activists who had fought alongside them?
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, led by James Connolly, who were a very socially aware group. Ann Matthews lists twenty-eight members of the female auxiliary of the ICA “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 in the Rising.
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?
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 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.
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.
Many of 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, Winifred Carney (the last woman to leave the burning GPO!) and many others were in the forefront of the subsequent efforts over the decades to bring about a more equal, fairer and compassionate society.
If the powerful 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 shocked at the general level of violence in the Cork area. 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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 freeand 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 diedin 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)
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 Americaand her arguments that they should receive an education instead will still resonatewith 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.
Congratulations to the Cork Survivors and Supporters Alliance (CSSA) on being the recipients of the Spirit of Mother Jones Award for 2021.
CSSA members, Catherine Coffey O’Brien, and Maureen Considine, accompanied by Sheila O’Byrne, and Phil Kinsella received the award from James Nolan of the Cork Mother Jones Committee during the recent festival. The award itself is based on the story of the Children of Lir in Irish folklore.
Catherine expressed her delight for the recognition and community support which this award represents and stated that the CSSA felt honoured to have been nominated to receive it as it meant so much to the group.
The official citation from the Cork Mother Jones Committee is as follows.
“The Spirit of Mother Jones Award for 2021 is presented to members of the Cork Survivors and Supporters Alliance for:
· Their bravery and determination to ensure that development does not take place on sensitive burial areas of the former Mother & Baby ‘Home’ at Bessborough in Cork.
· Their efforts to organise a voice for the mothers of deceased children, and to publicly question where the remains of hundreds of babies are buried, and why the records of burials have not been produced to date.
· Their work in locating the OSI 1950 Map which has a marked location of a Childrens’ Burial Ground in Bessborough clearly displayed.
· Their resilience in defending and verifying the accuracy of this map at the oral hearing of An Bord Pleanala during April 2021 and for convincing the planning Board to reject the proposed development.
· Their continuing campaign to seek the right with the common tradition for a dignified burial place for those who died, for the preservation of the burial grounds, for access to the grounds and for the creation of an appropriate memorialisation garden for the mothers and children at Bessborough.
The members of the CSSA are the second Cork-based recipients of this International Award which is named in honour of Cork born Mary Harris known around the world as Mother Jones.
The Cork Mother Jones Committee is honoured that the CSSA has accepted the 2021 award which indeed is an acknowledgement of our admiration for their determination to honour the dead, and continue to fight for the living.
Tonight at 8.30 pm, there is a special Cork Singers’ Club Mother Jones Night. For a zoom connection email John Murphy at firstname.lastname@example.org as soon as possible or join in through the Cork Singers Club Facebook Page.
The online festival schedule on Cork Community Television (which can be located on any search engine using http://www.corkcommunitytv.ie) is as follows:
· 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,