Mary Harris was born in the Shandon area of Cork, on the north side of the River Lee. Since 2012, volunteers have organized a Cork Mother Jones Festival which celebrates and honors the legacy of Mother Jones. In August 2012 the first Mother Jones Festival was held in Cork to commemorate her baptism on August 1, 1837 in the North Cathedral, as a daughter of that city, born 175 years before. A plaque in her honor was mounted in the area near where she was born and baptized. In 2013, the Cork City Council declared August 1 “Mother Jones Day, in recognition of a famous member of the Irish diaspora who fought tirelessly to end child labour and to defend workers’ rights in America during the early part of the Twentieth Century.”
Left photos: In 2012 the Cork Mother Jones Festival erected a plaque in honor of Mother Jones on John Redmond Street in the Shandon area of Cork, Ireland, near where Mother Jones lived for the first 14 years of her life. Plaque is by Mick Wilkins at the Cork Sculpture Factory.
Cork is one of Ireland’s oldest cities, and the Shandon area has a distinct identity going back to the twelfth century. Cork was a major point of dissent in the Irish rebellion against the British Empire, the center of “Irish rights” independence fighters for years.
Left photo: Ribbons grace the streets of Shandon to celebrate the Mother Jones Festival in Cork, 2013. St.Anne’s Church(Anglican) is famous for the Bells of Shandon, which Mary Harris would have listened to as she witnessed the horrors of the famine in Cork’s streets, where starved bodies were regularly carted away. Photo by Marat Moore
The key event in young Mary’s life was the Great Hunger, which gripped Ireland and cast her sensibilities about class power. For Mary, witnessing the famine from Cork, a market city, was a crucial political awakening. While the immediate cause of the starvation was the potato blight, Mary would have witnessed starved corpses carted off while food was taken to the ports of the Cork Harbour to be exported. She would have lived in fear of being sent to the workhouse.
Left image: Records of the Cork workhouse during the famine. Note that during this week over 171 people, 75 of them under 15 years of age, died. People were also starving to death in the alleys and streets, with the death carts omnipresent. Photo Courtesy CorkMother Jones Commemoration Committee
Survival for some depended on leaving, and for the Harris family it was to Toronto, Canada. Mary’s father and brother left in 1847, and Mary and her mother and two other siblings joined them in 1851. There she was embedded in an Irish community and was educated as a teacher.
After she became famous Jones sometimes referred to her “Irish spirit” as a key component of her tenacity in fighting for rights. She shared this vision in common with Irish rebels such as James Connolly, James Larkin, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, Big Bill Haywood, and many other Irish immigrants and emigres who fought in a transnational global movement to shape a “higher and grander civilization for the ages to come.”
Some people from the Shandon area hear a definite “Norrie” lilt to Mother Jones’ accent in the only live footage of her from 1930 featured in the Mother Jones: America’s Most Dangerous Woman film. Others found that certain of Mother Jones’ characteristics relate to the North Side and to Cork’s reputation as the “rebel city” of Ireland. Ger O’Mahony, an organizer of the Cork Festival, commented, “Mother Jones is a daughter of rebel Cork, but her unique characteristics and determination resonate particularly with those from the North Side. Many people can identify with the tragedy and suffering that she endured, and her