Yes! We did it again!
Mother Jones returned to sprinkle her unique magic over this our eleventh festival gathering in and around Shandon from 28th July till Saturday evening 30th July. Following two years of Covid-19 where the events were mainly pre-recorded for television which allowed our festivals to continue and be enjoyed although human contact was at a minimum, it was a great relief to meet up with people again and witness the interaction and discussions at a real event. Our heartfelt thanks to Cork Community Television for covering both the festivals for 2020 and 2021.
Prior to this festival, an extremely worried committee wondered would people come along, would they attend, did they remain apprehensive, how would they react to the real-life presentations by speakers, enjoy music and songs by musicians and singers?
The answer was definite and yes, they did! People came in huge numbers and participated actively and eagerly.
Each year there is something very special about the recipients of the Spirit of Mother Jones awards, their endless efforts to demand justice or to seek a better and fairer society create such a positive energy field at the festival.
The sheer dignity, passion and joy of Antoinette Keegan and her family, who lost her sisters Mary and Martina is humbling. Year after year since the 1981 Stardust tragedy, the Keegan family and many other families bereaved by the fire that Valentine’s night continue to seek the truth for the loss of their 48 children who never came home. The Spirit of Mother Jones Award for 2020 was to have been presented to Christine Keegan however Christine (Antoinette’s Mam) sadly passed away on 14th July 2020 and Covid-19 had prevented the presentation to Antoinette since then.
Phyllis and Maurice McHugh, whose beautiful daughter Caroline died in the fire also attended and it was a privilege for everyone to listen to and hear their heart-breaking stories. Their resilience and quest for the truth is awesome.
Likewise, the Spirit of Mother Jones Award for 2022 went to Don O’Leary and all at the Cork Life Centre. Their vision and practical support for young people who fall through the education system and the cracks in society has been shown to work and work effectively. Yet the support of the educational establishment for this vision often fails to provide the resources necessary to ensure the continuation of the extraordinary work being done for the young people who enter its protective doors.
A theme of many of the festivals has been the failure to acknowledge the role of women in history, something Mother Jones would have been familiar with. The role of five Cork women during the revolutionary period was examined in the latest Shandon Area History Group/Frameworks Films production Ordinary Women in Extraordinary Times documentary was examined. Sisters Nora and Sheila Wallace and Mary and Annie MacSwiney along with their sister-in-law Muriel Murphy. One day soon Cork will surely acknowledge properly all of them and so many others. The Cork City Council documentary Endurance and Engagement introduced us all to four other Cork women who made a huge contribution to the city.
Professor Maggie O’Neill in collaboration with Traveller Pride launched the Feminism Walking Tour of Cork which as it expands and develops will highlight the huge role of women in history and society and will become a highlight of a visit to Cork city. Rain on the evening proved no obstacle to the inaugural walkabout.
As the Decade of Centenaries reaches a close, the work of a few historians continues to explore with a critical eye the experiences of many women during the period. Anne Twomey certainly did not hold back as she detailed the shocking treatment meted out to some women by all sides during the War of Independence and Civil War. The idea that Irish wars are different and that women were treated with a civility and respect by all sides in those wars certainly needs to be examined and discussed. The violence perpetrated on women remains unspoken about as the accounts remain untold or hidden away in the silence and omerta of the participants and the files. The truth needs to be told before the Decade of Centenaries fades away, otherwise it may never be!
Looking to impacts on Irish society from earlier years, Angela Flynn in a presentation in which past events influenced current failures, gave a forensic analysis of what our health service might look like had Dr Noel Browne’s Mother and Child Scheme been successfully implemented in the 1950s. Her forensic presentation was a perfect way to honour the efforts of this visionary doctor and politician on the 25th Anniversary of his death.
Cork’s own Mother Jones, Joan Goggin had earlier honoured her own father’s friend, labour leader James Larkin for the 75th anniversary of his passing. Historian Luke Dineen delivered a fascinating account of the General Strike in Cork in 1923, another forgotten labour battle lost in the midst of the Civil War and its aftermath, although the outcome of the strike had a hugely negative impact on thousands of Cork workers and their families.
We learned about Red Tom Hickey from Westmeath, we visited the magnificent North Cathedral and in the company of Anne Twomey, we examined the Baptism register for 1837 and the baptism font where Mary Harris was baptised on August 1st of that year.
Visions of what a united Ireland might look like were debated with trade union representatives from TUNUI and later with author Frank Connolly. Liam O hUigín took us out on an early morning tour of Shandon.
What a wonderful night we had with the legendary Cork Singers’ Club and to hear again singers such as Therese MacCarthaigh and her husband Sean from Blarney Street and so many others was a special treat, our thanks to everyone especially Jim Walsh and William Hammond.
Eve Telford and Jimmy Crowley showed just how good they can be for the traditional Friday festival lunchtime gig, while the legendary John Nyhan and his son Gearoid provided further practical evidence as to just how relevant the songs of Woody Guthrie still remain after more than eight decades.
The traditional final toast at the Mother Jones Plaque allowed us all the opportunity to remember absent friends. We honoured committee member John Jefferies (RIP) and so pleased that his sister Monica was on hand to receive a special presentation from everyone who worked with John on the Cork Mother Jones Committee. We remembered Manus O’ Riordan, Liam Cahill and Helen O’Donovan and other absent friends also.
So many people and organisations helped to bring the eleventh Spirit of Mother Jones Festival to fruition. Frameworks Films, Cork Community Tv, the Shandon Area Renewal Association, Shandon Area History Group along with the Shandon Maldron Hotel and Dance Cork Firkin Theatre.
Cork City Council Heritage and Tourism Departments along with the City and County Libraries and Cork City and County Archives have been hugely helpful and supportive. We wish to thank Cllr. Damian Boyle, Cllr. Colette Finn, and Cllr. John Sheehan who attended the festival as acting Lord Mayor of Cork. Also, we are grateful to Cllr. Kieran McCarthy and Cllr. Ted Tynan for their assistance.
Our sponsors in the Irish Trade Union movement ensure the unique festival takes place and guarantee that it remains open and free to all to attend. SIPTU at Liberty Hall has sponsored the festival from its very beginning and we are very grateful. Likewise, the Association of Secondary Teachers in Ireland, especially the Cork South Paddy Mulcahy Branch. IFUT, the INTO and Connect are also valued sponsors. Local sponsors include the Cathedral Credit Union and Cllr Ted Tynan.
Special mention to Mary Dineen, Joan Goggin, Eadaoin and Aoife, Anne Twomey, Jimmy Crowley, Luke Dineen, John Nyhan and the Cork Singers’ Club for their support. Finally, to all our speakers from far and near who come and speak and engage in debate and enjoy the wonderful atmosphere on the north side of Cork. The festival remains relevant to people, it must remain when necessary willing to challenge the accepted orthodoxy and above all we wish to remain interesting.
Let us know by email what you wish to discuss at next year’s summer school. Our email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Our thanks too to Friends of Mother Jones around the world for their encouragement especially those in Chicago, Mount Olive, Washington, Colorado and elsewhere. Cork may have given Mother Jones to the world, now Mother Jones is bringing the world to Cork.
Provisional dates for the 2023 festival are Thursday 27th July to Saturday 29th July 2023.
Hope to see you there.
Cork Mother Jones Committee 2022.
Richard T Cooke, James Nolan, Ann Piggott, Dominic O’Callaghan, Ann Rea, William Hammond, Geraldine McCarthy, Shannon Smyth, John Barimo, Angela Flynn and Gerard O’Mahony.