Recollections of Spirit of Mother Jones Festival and Summer School 2019

Louise O’Keeffe with the 2019 Spirit of Mother Jones Award


The Cork Mother Jones Committee is very proud of our choice of Louise O’Keeffe as the recipient of the 2019 Spirit of Mother Jones award. An extraordinary fighter, an inspirational woman who had stunned the 2018 summer school with her lecture, “One Woman’s Fight for Justice”. Louise is unique and Cork people should be so proud that we have such fighters for justice in our midst.

The theatrical recreation of the March of the Mill Children organised by the wonderfully creative Cork Community Art Link through the historic streets of Shandon, also captured headlines. The parade was staged and directed by two talented artists Elisa Gallo Rosso and Beibhinn O’Callaghan. The stylish Cobh Animation team provided the classic New York backdrop for the marchers arrival at Shandon Bells.

A scene from the reenactment of the March of the Mill Children (Photo by Claire Stack)

The redoubtable Joan Goggin, Cork’s own Mother Jones, led the children who carried the same relevant messages as the original young marchers in 1903. And yet the economic exploitation of children continues in many countries……. ever wonder who makes the mobile phones on which you read this article or the clothes you wear?

Lord Mayor Dr John Sheehan accompanied by Aedemar joined in the March festivities and later performed the official opening at the Maldron Hotel having been piped in the traditional manner by Norman O’Rourke.



Still Relevant! – One of the young re-enactors with the slogan attributed to Mother Jones over 100 years ago (Photo: Claire Stack)





Elliot Gorn

The atmospheric Cathedral Visitors Centre saw author Séan O’Tuathaigh discussing his new book, Outlanders – Stories of the Displaced, and pleaded for people to realise that migrants and refugees are just like us (Some 70 million people are now displaced across the world). Quoting Muslim philosopher Ibn Rushd…… Ignorance leads to fear, fear leads to hate and hate leads to violence. This is the equation. How true!

The opening night lectures featured Joe Creedon and Elliott Gorn as they discussed the origins and legacy of Mary Harris/Mother Jones. As the Inchigeelagh Lass rang out around the Firkin Crane Theatre, no one could be in any doubt about the fighting qualities of the men and women of Uibh Laoire. Elliott then discussed the fighting qualities of Mother Jones.

The unique Cork Singers’ Club sang out the night as many singers remembered our late Bean A Tì, the great Helen O’Donovan. Helen remains in our hearts, she so loved the Spirit of Mother Jones festival and was missed. To Mick and family we extend our sympathy.

Lorraine Starsky receiving presentation from Ann Piggott on behalf of the Cork Mother Jones Committee.

Retired public health nurse Lorraine Starskey from Pittsburg told the story of the Rebel Girl, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn on Thursday morning. A visitor to the festival Nancy Wallach, daughter of Lincoln Brigadista Hy Wallach, (1914-1986) described to the attendance how as a young woman she had met Elizabeth Gurley Flynn and how Elizabeth had later joined Nancy on vacation. Nancy had been named Nancy Elizabeth Wallach after Elizabeth. Living history!

The sadly ignored Irish Radical diaspora ensures we only celebrate politicans and business people who made good, rarely those who like Mother Jones who actually assisted the millions of forgotten Irish emigrants.


Dr. Kieran Groeger

Another member of the ignored Irish radical diaspora was John Swiney who fled to France. Youghal based author and historian Dr Kieran Groeger has rescued the Shandon based United Irishman from obscurity and provided substantial evidence to show that Swiney was indeed a very senior figure in the United Irishmen organisation. Why does Swiney not feature on the National Monument on the Grand Parade?

Liam Cahill (left), author of Fogotten Revolution, Limerick Soviet 1919, with Mike McNamara, President of Limerick Trades Council.

The author of Forgotten Revolution – Limerick Soviet 1919, Liam Cahill introduced the documentary The Limerick Soviet. It is noteworthy that the pivotal role of Cobh born Jack (Sean) Dowling friend of James Connolly in the Limerick Soviet, is at last receiving renewed attention.

Later on Thursday evening before a packed attendance, historian Anne Twomey of the Shandon Area History Group gave a very vivid and comprehensive account of Ballintemple born humanitarian Mary Elmes who will be honoured by the latest bridge across the River Lee.

On the same evening, Cork-based street artist Paddy D’Arcy unveiled his mural painting tribute to local heroes Mother Jones and Michael O’Riordan on the Widderlings Lane gable of café Myo with the assistance of it’s owner Liam Mullaney. Michael’s son Manus O’Riordan attended the festival, the O’Riordan family lived a few doors from Myo’s.

LUke Dineen

An early start on Friday for historian Luke Dineen whose fascinating account of the role of Craftsmen and the craft unions in the War of Independence was a revelation to many of the attendance, which in turn led to an animated discussion. This is Luke’s seventh summer school presentation and his original research into labour history is very revealing.

Dr. John Barimo presented the facts on Climate Change and its potential impact on the poor nations. His frightening analysis should be a catalyst for action, as the clock is ticking past the point of no return. Hope may rest with the young people who attended and the presence of Micah Neilson and Alicia O’Sullivan whose optimism in the power of an invigorated youth may yet provide a key element for the solutions. The discussion uniquely witnessed three generations of activists participating in the examination of what is required to save our planet.

John Barimo, Michah Neilson and Alicia O’Sullivan receive presentation from Ann Piggot of Cork Mother Jones Committee

The world of work and working relationship and community was portrayed by the classic Frameworks Films documentary Fords – Memories of the Line and Bill Daly led the discussion.

The continuing impact of the explosion of the Total Oil tanker, the Betelgeuse at Whiddy Island on January 8th 1979, in which 50 people died was laid before the large attendance present by Michael Kingston, whose father Tim was among those who died. We were honoured to have his mother Mary attend the presentation. Michael described how he had just celebrated his fourth birthday with his father a few days earlier. His emotional pleas for compassion, humanity and justice from those in authority carried far beyond the confines of the Firkin Theatre. He announced the commencement by the relatives of court action to obtain justice and everyone can help him to achieve this by contributing through the Whiddy GoFundMe page.

Whiddy Disaster talk

Whiddy talk: (left-to right)Tom MacSweeney, Rory Warner son of Whiddy victim, Capt. David Warner, Michael Kingston, Mary Kingston and Cllr. Alan Coleman

Tom MacSweeney , who presents This Island Nation on radio, reminded everyone that we are “An Island Nation”and our neglect of the sea and seafarers is to our detriment. Placing the Whiddy disaster in this context, he mentioned that there had been 25 earlier incidents connection to the Gulf operation in Whiddy yet still the regulatory powers were not put in place.

More official silence remains over the Dublin/Monaghan car bombs in 1974, Frank Connolly in his book A Conspiracy of Lies uses the worst incident of the “troubles” as a backdrop for this interesting thriller.

Briege Voyle and Eileen McKeown (2nd and 4th from right respectively) with members of the Cork Mother Jones Committee

In their quiet and dignified matter, Briege Voyle and Eileen McKeown, the daughters of Joan Connolly and Joseph Corr who were killed by the British Parachute Regiment during the Ballymurphy Massacre from 9th to the 11th August 1971, described the raw and devastating results of these murders. Fifty seven children immediately lost a parent, generations lost their innocence and the trauma of this period have placed a huge personal toll on all the families over the almost 50 years since. No one has been brought to justice. The Inquest continues in Belfast.

Later on Saturday afternoon we learned what Rosa Parks was thinking about when she refused to give up her seat in the front of the bus in Montgomery in Alabama on December 1st 1955. Professor Elliott Gorn returned to tell the story of young Emmett Till whose face looking out from his open casket still haunts America. His mother Mamie, demanded to let the people see it and they did!

The festival had featured local Cork groups such as Club Ceoil Ballyphehane Ballad Group, and Vocalic. Jimmy Crowley had again displayed his unique ability to entertain a crowd with new and old songs each with a story. William Hammond and Linda Quinlan played a lively traditional set. The songs of Pete Seeger sounded as fresh as ever in the hands of John Nyhan, Mick Treacy and Pat Kelleher. Conal Creedon packed Maureen’s and the laughter could be heard down on Christy Ring Bridge.

The toast at the Mother Jones plaque featured Rory MacCarthy and John Murphy winner of the 2019 Mother Jones Song contest with ‘Mine Workers Angel’. The annual toast was also to absent friends.

Rory McCarthy who sang the ballad of James Connolly

Once again the last gentle sinking rays of the early August evening sun appeared from over the empty historic Butter Market building and illuminated the limestone plaque as the crowds slowly dispersed until 2020.

The four days and nights of rememberings, celebrations, talks and discussions were over. We had experienced a lot emotionally and yet the spirit of solidarity and connectivity with living history and the ongoing campaigns for justice was never more alive. The Spirit of Mother Jones festival 2019 had remained challenging, relevant and interesting.


Betty Cook (left) and Ann Scargill of Women Against Pit Closures with their Mother Jones banner which they brought with them from Barnsley, South Yorkshire (Photo: Claire Stack)


The Spirit of Mother Jones Festival 2015……”Unforgettable”!

The 2015 Spirit of Mother Jones Festival and summer school was again a highly successful and uplifting event. Four days and nights of talks, debates, films, singing, poetry and music concluded at the Maldron Hotel on the Saturday night 1st August with a rousing and spectacular musical tribute to labour leader Joe Hill, who was executed one hundred years ago.
Earlier actress Kaiulani Lee had brought Mother Jones to the streets of her childhood when she performed her play Can’t Scare Me…The Story of Mother Jones at the Firkin Crane before an appreciative and amazed audience. It was a triumph for Kaiulani, a tribute to the professionalism of everyone at the Firkin Crane and the fulfilment of a long cherished dream of the Cork Mother Jones Committee to have Ms Lee come to Cork to perform. We acknowledge the support of Ms Becky Bartovics in bringing this about. We thank Ms Lee on an amazing performance and for her insightful contributions to several other elements of the festival.
According to Jim Nolan of the Cork Mother Jones Committee

“We were delighted with the 2015 festival, the lectures and debates were outstanding with capacity attendances, morning, afternoon and evening. It was a real privilege to present Fr Peter McVerry with the 2015 Spirit of Mother Jones award, no one deserves it more for his brave determination to question the causes of homelessness and do something about it”
It was memorable to hear Chris Mullin give a very personal, frank and objective account of his role in the campaign to free the Birmingham Six and later describe in amusing detail his affection for the late Tony Benn as well as his forthright views on the election of a new British Labour Party leader. Dave Hopper and the Durham Miners’ Association contributed so much to the ground breaking Mother Jones lecture and later their description of the injustice of what took place at Orgreave”

Historians and writers such as Luke Dineen, Ann Matthews, Leo Keohane, Scott Millar, Theo Dorgan and John Jefferies presented papers on the political and historical flux and lesser known personalities of the first decades of the 1900s, which had 1916 Rising at its core. The extraordinary life of Cork woman Ethel Boole was critically examined by author Alannah Hopkin while Margaret O’Keeffe presented a very wise and thoughtful paper on a current topic of water and democracy.
Music, singing, poetry, a garden party and everything in between was as usual an integral element of the event and under the direction of William Hammond and Richard T Cooke, the very best of Cork talent was well represented throughout. Johnny Nyhan organised the emotional tribute to Joe Hill. Films were also central to the festival and Frameworks Films ensured a professional presentation.The staff and management of the Maldron Hotel kept the show working at all times in spite of the crowds. The local Shandon community provided magnificent logistics support, a colourful backdrop and a wonderful historic setting to the 2015 Festival which again showed to all what an organised community in the very heart of Cork City can achieve.
Jim Nolan continued
“So many people contributed to the success of the festival, especially those in the trade union movement across Ireland, north and south. This support combined with that of the City Council, the local community, the media and the huge international support of the Mother Jones groupsand individuals in Britain and America, the festival provides a fitting and appropriate celebration of a famous and uniquely Cork rebel…….Mary Harris……known to the world as Mother Jones.  Long may it continue”

The dates for the 2016 Spirit of Mother Jones Festival and Summer School will be announced shortly, all will be welcome to come along and experience the unique atmosphere which it generates.