The campaigners who helped to save a mother and baby home children's burial site from development are to receive a special award for their “bravery and determination”.
Ann O’Gorman, Maureen Considine, and Catherine Coffey O’Brien will accept the Spirit of Mother Jones Award on behalf of the Cork Survivors and Supporters Alliance (CSSA) from the organisers of the Mother Jones Festival in Cork on Saturday.
Cork Mother Jones Committee spokesman Jim Nolan said they were delighted to recognise the efforts of the CSSA which has campaigned for the proper memorialisation of the women and children who were buried on the grounds of the former mother and baby home at Bessborough on the city’s southside, for their efforts to organise a voice for the mothers of the dead 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.
Mother Jones, or Mary Harris, was born in Cork in 1837 and moved to Canada after the Famine where she went on to become a labour and union activist from the 1890s, particularly with the United Mine Workers of America. She also organised the March of the Mill Children in 1903 to highlight the exploitation of young children in mines and factories.
She is recognised worldwide for her contribution to workers’ rights.
When development plans emerged for a portion of the former Bessborough site, the CSSA discovered an Ordnance Survey Ireland map from the early 1950s which clearly shows that the proposed apartments would overlap a 1.63-acre site marked ‘Children's Burial Ground’.
The CSSA’s legal team, and the experts they called, presented detailed evidence to a Bord Pleanála oral hearing into the development plans earlier this year.
Mr Nolan said their arguments helped to convince the planning inspector of the merits of their argument to protect the sensitive site.
The inspector later ruled it would be premature to grant permission for the proposed development prior to establishing whether there is a children’s burial ground located in the site and the extent of any such burial ground.
But Mr Nolan also said the CSSA was also being honoured for its continuing campaign to seek the human right in accordance with common Irish tradition for a dignified burial place for those who died, for the preservation of the burial grounds, for the right of access to those grounds, and for the creation of an appropriate memorialisation garden for the mothers and children at Bessborough.
“They have displayed the courage of their convictions and are worthy of the Spirit of Mother Jones Award for 2021,” he said.
Ms Considine said it is humbling to be recognised for the campaign.
“We’d like to thank all our supporters and the survivors for their strength and determination to see this campaign through, and our legal team for their work during the oral hearing,” she said.
But she said all involved believe they have done what they can to highlight the issues linked to this site and that the State now needs to step in.
“The state must CPO this 1.63-acre site and protect it from development so that people involved in our campaign can move on with their lives,” she said.
Previous Spirit of Mother Jones Award winners include Margaret Aspinall and Sue Roberts of the Hillsborough Family Support Group in 2013, solicitor Gareth Peirce in 2014, Fr Peter McVerry in 2015, and Louise O’Keeffe in 2019.
A discussion about the role of the CSSA and its contribution to the planning hearing will be shown on Cork Community Television at 7pm on Saturday as part of the online Spirit of Mother Jones Festival.