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. 

Red Tom Hickey: The Uncrowned King of Texas Socialism – and Mother Jones.

On Thursday 28th July at 4pm, the unusual story of Tom Hickey, the Dubliner and friend of Mother Jones who tried to convert Texas to socialism, will be told by Professor Peter Buckingham at the Maldron Hotel Shandon. All are welcome. 

Tom Hickey came to the United States from Ireland in 1892, became a machinist, and soon joined the Knights of Labor and the Socialist Labor Party. His party boss, Daniel De Leon, recognized the potential in this Irishman and even made him an “enforcer” against those who questioned the boss’s authority. The enforcer, though, eventually found himself forced out and moved west to start a new life. Ultimately, Hickey landed in Texas and saw an opportunity to use syndicalism as an organizing tool to build a state socialist party.

Tom Aloysius Hickey.

He did just that. Within a few years, Hickey transformed the faction-ridden Socialist Party of America in Texas into a force strong enough to threaten the Republican Party at the ballot box. He gained a large following thanks to a unique mixture of evangelical rhetoric and militant industrial unionism. He enlisted the help of many party comrades, including Mother Jones.

Biographer Peter H. Buckingham points out that Hickey failed to deliver his people into the Promised Land. Violence, poll taxes, voter suppression, and other forces made voting for socialist candidates problematic; the Democratic Party soon co-opted the more appealing elements of socialism into watered-down,  reformist planks for the Texan voter. By the time Hickey died of throat cancer in the mid-1920s, his moment in the spotlight had passed.

“Red Tom” Hickey is an important contribution to Irish, Texas and American history, capturing a time that Buckingham argues was the second sustained crisis in American history: a democratic society wrestling with the effects of industrial capitalism.

After presenting an overview of the life and times of Thomas Aloysius Joseph Hickey, Buckingham will examine the special bond that developed between Mother Jones and Red Tom. When no one else would dare to cross Party Secretary, Mahlon Barnes, she revealed his sexism and greed as only Mother could,  thereby saving Hickey from scandal and expulsion.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

PETER H. BUCKINGHAM is Professor of History Emeritus at Linfield University in McMinnville, Oregon, USA, and the author of several books, including Rebel against Injustice: The Life of Frank P. O’Hare and America Sees Red: Anti-Communism in America, 1870s to 1980s. He resides in McMinnville.

Note:

The Rebel Newspaper.

University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, https://texashistory.unt.edu; crediting UT San Antonio Libraries Special Collections.

The Rebel masthead 

The great appear great to us only because we are on our knees

Let Us Arise.

The Irish Times report of the talk by Peter Buckingham at the Spirit of Mother Jones Festival, 2022: https://www.irishtimes.com/history/2022/08/02/irish-man-tried-to-turn-texas-into-a-bastion-of-socialism-cork-conference-hears/

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)

Songs of Woody Guthrie for the 2022 festival.

Woody Guthrie (1912-1967)  highlighted the suffering of the rural poor and dispossessed in depression and dust storm America of the 1930s.

His many songs provide the backdrop for many of the reality of ordinary American life outside of the glamour of Hollywood and big City dreams.

Guthrie openly supported the trade union movement and promoted left-wing causes for several decades and campaigned on social justice issues while his battered guitar proudly displayed the message “This Machine Kills Fascists”. 

During the 50s he along with thousands of others experienced the cancelation culture of the communist witch hunts of Joe McCarthy. (McCarthy of Tipperary and Galway heritage was publicly praised by some Catholic bishops in Ireland.) 

Travelling incessantly when younger, his songs chart the daily lives of a hidden class of drifting migrant labourers and poor farmers driven from their lands and jobs by exploitation and natural disasters and faced with poverty, hunger and death. 

His autobiography,  ‘Bound For Glory’ published in 1943, which has sold millions of copies, brought his life’s work and ideas to a wide audience.  

Woody played and sang with many of the great artists such as Sonny Terry, Cisco Houston, Leadbelly and Pete Seeger. 

The song collector Alan Lomax also recorded Woody for the Library of Congress. 

Many regard his composition ‘This Land Is Your Land’  as the alternative anthem of North America. 

There is some debate about the words of two of the original seven verses which were critical of the political situation and are rarely sung these days but may still be just as relevant.

As I went walking I saw a sign there  And on the sign it said “No Trespassing”. But on the other side it didn’t say nothing, That side was made for you and me.

In the squares of the City, In the shadow of a steeple;
Near the relief office, I’ve seen my people.
As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking,
Is this land made for you and me?

His many songs include ‘Ye Shall Be Free”, ‘John Henry’, ‘Tom Joad’, ‘Pastures of Plenty’,  ‘So Long It’s been Good to Know Yah’, ‘Vigilante Man’, ‘ I Ain’t Got No Home’, while the Dust Bowl Ballads contains some of his finest work. He died after contracting Huntington’s Chorea, a degenerative disease. 

Poster from Kilworth, Co. Cork gig in 2012.

His son Arlo Guthrie with Marjorie Greenblatt (Mazia), is a well known folk singer and has visited and played gigs in Ireland and in Cork many times.

John Nyhan with Arlo Guthrie

The story and songs of Woody Gurthrie  will be told by John Nyhan, Mick Treacy and friends at the Maldron Hotel, Shandon on Friday night 29th July from 9.30, all welcome. Not to be missed.   

Mick Treacy

“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).

May Day Mother Jones Birthday Party in Chicago.

The May Day Party for Mother Jones will take place at the Irish American Heritage Centre at 4626 North Knox Avenue in Chicago from 4:00 pm to 6:00 pm.

Among those participating are: 

  • Kevin Byrne, Ireland’s Consul General to Chicago and the Midwest.
  • Sara Nelson President of the Association of Flight Attendants CWA, AFLCIO.
  • Don Villar, Secretary Treasurer Chicago Federation of Labour.
  • Also participating are singers and artists such as Paddy Homan, Kathy Cowan and the SAG-AFTRA singers while artist Lindsay Hand will sign posters.

All proceeds will go towards the Chicago Statue Campaign.

There are very few monuments which commemorate women in Chicago and as with most cities everywhere none of working class women.

Statue of Mother Jones.

Why not  assist the Chicago campaign to ensure that a beautiful statue is erected to honour Cork born Mary Harris who as Mother Jones worked ceaselessly to help immigrants of many nationalities to organise for decent wages and safe working conditions by joining the American trade union movement!. 

A broad based fundraising committee in the City has been active in fundraising to bring the dream of the Mother Jones statue to reality. 

Image of Proposed Statue of Mother Jones in Wacker, near Michigan Ave, Chicago.

With the help of the American trade unions and many others, the committee is close to achieving this ambition.  Let’s put this iconic Irish immigrant refugee and a founder of the American Labour Movement–the Mother of the working class–on a statue in the city she called home.

Go to the website www.motherjonesmuseum.org to see how you can help.   

https://www.motherjonesmuseum.org/event-details/mother-jones-may-day-birthday-party-may-1-2022-4-6-pm-chicago are hardly any sculptures of women historical figures in the city of Chicago.

https://conta.cc/3DzmU9T

Mount Olive Cemetery to honour the family of Mother Jones.

A commemorative bench honouring the memory of the family of Mother Jones will be unveiled on May Day 2022 at the Union Miners Cemetery in Mount Olive.

The grave of Mary Harris/Mother Jones lies in this unique cemetery, her memory forever immortalised in the large grave monument erected in 1936 to her memory.

Loretta Williams at the Mother Jones Monument.

During the forthcoming Mt. Olive International Mother Jones Festival 2022, the Union Miners Cemetery Perpetual Care Association along with the Illinois AFL-CIO and the UMWA Local 1613 will dedicate a memorial bench to her often forgotten husband George Jones and her children, Elizabeth, Mary, Catherine and Terence who died in Memphis during the Yellow Fever epidemic of September 1867.

Entrance to Mt. Olive Cemetery courtesy of Pat Schmeder.

To hear directly from the Mayor of Mt Olive John Skertich and Nelson Grman, a member of the Union Miners Cemetery Perpetual Care Committee, long-time union activist and promoter of Mother Jones please click on the following link. 

https://youtu.be/6wGmP2e5ZGk

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.