John McDonnell

A song about my gt gt granda, followed by my tune ‘Christmas Day’

words and music Michael Burns July 2014, all right reserved.

Well I’m known as John McDonnell and native of Armagh,
my father was a tailor, well respected near and far,
I thought his trade I’d follow till a hunger hit the land
and depression of all commerce brought to nothing all I’d planned

I wondered where my future lay, it seemed not in this isle
I’d cousins in far distant lands where fortune seemed to smile
but without the passage for Quebec or Adelaide
with starvation nipping at my heels, for Cumberland I made.

Well I worked my way to Durham, and there I found a wife
and soon three, in a single room, deserved a better life
We worked and saved each farthing and the future was our talk
till, at last, we’d saved the passage for the family to New York.

Well we landed in Americ’ and to Boston we soon went
a little house on Earle Street was the best that we could rent
young Catherine was christened at St Peter’s & St Paul’s
and we hoped our luck would alter as the summer turned to fall
We began to hear the rumblings of a war tween North & South
I’d had my share of ructions be in Consett, or in Louth,
the papers called for volunteers, I said d’y’se think I’m daft?
but very soon we Paddies were the target of the draft.

So we took ship for England, and to Consett we returned,
our friends and our relations glad that we’d not drowned or burned
Each makes their own decision, but of this I can be sure,
look out when politicians say that you must fight their war,
yes look out when politicians say that you must fight their wars.

Walking in the Steps of Michael Davitt

Michael Burns 15 June 2012
Copy right Michael Burns 2012

 

Michael_Davitt C1878 courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

Michael_Davitt C1878 courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As I walked out on the hills not far from Darwen
and paused to hear the curlew’s timeless cry
I listened to the gushing of the waters
watched the skylarks soar and warble as they fly.
My thought went back as we drove down the Grane Road
a boy was planted here in years gone by
and soon Haslingden arrived where they brought Michael
his childhood but the twinkling of an eye

I was walking in the steps of Michael Davitt
I was following his path through moor and wood
I was walking in the steps of Michael Davitt
I was standing on the ground where Davitt stood.

1850 saw the family leave Ireland
their house was flattened by a grasping rogue
so they settled in a strange town, a new country.
and Lancashire changed Michael’s Mayo brogue.
Michael practiced Gaelic with his family,
and music filled the family’s humble home,
But at nine he had to start work in a large mill
and there he lost his right arm in a mule
I was walking in the steps of Michael Davitt

I was following his path through moor and wood
I was walking in the steps of Michael Davitt
I was standing on the ground where Davitt stood.

In the library he read his country’s history
He walked the hills and thought about its plight
Joined with men who vowed they’d make a difference
He took up arms when taking them seemed right
imprisonment and  solitary didn’t break
him
Once free again he quickly took a stand
for land reform he organised and argued
Defender of the poor of every land

I was walking in the steps of Michael Davitt
I was following his path through moor and wood
I was walking in the steps of Michael Davitt
I was standing on the ground where Davitt stood.

Michael organised the Irish and the English
with Ann Parnell put women to the fore
He stood up for the Jews in Tsarist Russia
opposed the British forces in the Boer war
His memory inspired King and Gandi
his memory inspires some today
So for human rights, equality and freedom,
let’s join together so we all can say

That we’re walking in the steps of Michael Davitt
we’re following his path through moor and wood
we’re walking in the steps of Michael Davitt
we’re standing on the ground where Davitt stood.

Plaque on Haslingdon Library

 

H.H. Hyndman, a British Socialist, recounts that Davitt was pushed up against the mill machine that took his arm, by a bullying overseer.   I don’t know what sort of a machine it was so I hit on mule because it goes reasonably well with ‘home’.  In fact the machine known as a card was responsible for many of the amputations suffered by mill workers. Designed to take in and comb raw cotton it could easily catch the fingers pulling in the fingers and more with terrible results.

Davitt joined the Irish Republican Brotherhood, and was convicted for possession of arms and sentenced to 15 years in 1870.

Land War Poster courtesy of Wikipadia Commons

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After his release he began to work for land reform, ‘as a party, the IRB expelled me from its ranks in 1880, for having established the Land League’. [Michael Davitt The Report of the Parnell Commission (March 1890)

The Maryport Mystery


A barquentine making Maryport Harbour in a gale.  The picture, painted by William Mitchel in 1899, shows a scene before 1882, when the lighthouse in the picture was replaced. Throughout the 18th and 19th century, Maryport and Whitehaven exported coal to virtually every port on the Irish coast.  Consequently they became ports of escape for the Irish in times of trouble.  People sometimes travelled in colliers ships as human ballast, for free, or for a small fee.  Mitchel himself was an Irishman who settled in Cumberland, see below.

I recently got an email from the Ron Parkin who now owns the painting with some interesting information about the painter.
‘Hello Michael,
I have recently had the pleasure of finding your internet site which was very good and of much interest for me.

I am a Geordie from Gateshead and now a plastic Yorkshire man as we, my wife, family and I have lived in Littlecrakehall near Bedale for some years now.
‘Ref William Mitchell of Maryport.
Quite a character I understand, as he was originally from Ireland and set up home in Maryport , perhaps his parents bringing him to the UK, he worked on the railways for a long time and developed a skill as a painter, He completed paintings of Dogs for Gentry around the area and also painted portraits including John Peel, a picture which was used to make an engraving and then as advertising in the Workington brewery beer labels. He was noted as being married 3 times (the last marriage to an Italian lady) and had 11 children; so many paintings were completed using anything that came to hand and included table tops and drawer bottoms He made money to keep his taste for a pint going and having the sea at hand and the lake district at his back had plenty of painting subjects to chose from. I own now the Oil painting you quote in your web site and while it was in a distressed state (also painted on a drawer bottom) I’ve brought it back to a reasonable condition.’
Best Regards Ron Parkin (worked in William Press from 1977 and most fabrication shops on the Tyne Tees and Wear, Plus still working (73) in Italy in the steel game). – Sent from Milan.

The Maryport Mystery words and tune by Michael Burns

He‘d a lump in his throat and his coat on his arm
Setting out for the Cumberland pits.
Both his parents were gone, and John had the farm
He would try out his strength and his wits
With his neighbours’ ‘Farewell’ he made for Newry Town
Hoped his might fortune rise as all around went down
As they sailed from the land with a bob in his hand,
he vowed that he’d be back one day.

Well the crossing was rough on the Collier ’Brough’,
With the dirt and the stink and the cold
As he crouched on the deck with the spray on his neck
He heard cries from those down in the hold
There were sighs, prayers and sobs but they at last made land.
As they staggered ashore only the crew could stand
once his balance came back, with his stuff in a sack,
he walked into Maryport Town.

Well November passed bleakly, just jobs here and there
and he slept out in  shippens and  lofts.
As his thoughts turned to Camlough and friends on the land
And He vowed ‘make a change’, between coughs
but his spirits soon rose on seeing a friendly face
a niece of a neighbour from his native place
And her bond to the farmer was ending that May
They would strike out and find better days.

Well the crack started around there was work to be found
at the new iron works at Crookhall.
They were barrowing ore, there were Paddies galore,
And good money to earn in that town.
She was bound to the farmer until Whitsun time,
He was off to Crookhall and watch his fortune climb
As they parted that day they were both heard to say
‘till May at Shotley Bridge Fair’.

Well in Shotley Bridge town on that Monday in May
the pubs and the streets were all thronged,
there were fiddlers and pedlars of  pastries and pies
there were conmen and those they had wronged
there were black country lasses and girls from South Wales
there were  hinds from the countryside  and fops in tails.
There were Irish colleens and a pickpocket team
But no one had word of her love.

He had never left Maryport, that winter day,
He’d been hit o’er  the head with a stick.
He’d been thrown in the harbour, he was dead or he drowned
No one saw it, it happened that quick.
When they searched him they found a pipe and 1s and 2d
An address ‘Crookhall, Patrick Bloomer’, -no one knew.
As the verdict came in they had no name for him,
both victim and villain unknown.

 copyright Michael Burns 2010

The song is based on the cutting below, reproduced courtesy of the British Library.

Here’s evidence that the Irish were in the consett area well before the disasterous famine of 1847 -
The Freeman’s Journal, Dublin Tuesday 2 Sept 1845
The Loyal National Repeal Association (Daniel  O’Connell’s fund)

‘…. from Crookhall, Shotley Bridge, Northumberland (sic) £3 16 s per Mr. J Burke, who write that the 76 contributors are struggling for existence in the land of the Saxon – doomed to earn their bread in the bowels of the earth, where they seldom meet with anything but insult from their taskmasters: and they hope the time is not far distant when they can return to their native land, under the protection of a domestic parliament.’ (They went in for long sentences in those days!)

Little News from Dunamore

Michael Burns 1

John, I beg your pardon,
as this letter is so late,

thanks for the papers from Wilkes Barre*,

they’ve caused a great debate

Now don’t you let your spirits sink
though Kildress is far away
Charles and Barney don’t forget

they ask for you each day
Mick Quinn is now evicted
he’s for Philly come what may

and look out for Frank Devlin
‘ll be in Larksville Christmasday
Now Tom McKenna and his wife

took ship, or so they say

Ned Loughran’s quit Killucan

and the Lagan boys won’t stay
But no more of our problems
so what news can I report

Pat McCullagh’s married
-
though his bride is rather short Bernard Conway’s off to Sixmilecross* to sell his mare today
he hopes she’ll make enough
If so, he’ll soon be on his way

Felix McAleer’s in Cookstown so we don’t see him so much I hear he’s charming all the lasses seems he hasn’t lost his touch Now some’ve no turf to warm the house or spuds to set next May and half the men have crossed the sea, for where their wives can’t say

W&M Michael Burns 2013

Well Betty Dick’s new husband
is
a middle aged old beard
they had to hold him hostage

till the wedding drink appeared

with prices at the market down

for baccy we can’t pay

If it wasn’t for my mother

I’d not stop another day  And Mary Ann’s been called a belle
so oft her head is turned

can’t condescend to clean the house
or get the butter churned
Some’s plight this time is most severe
no stock and nought to plant
So next year surely some will starve
‘less Dublin* sends a grant.
It seems so strange on Sundays
not to see you cross the aisle

We hope you’ll sometime think of us
with tears or a smile
We’re glad that oak leviathan

brought you safely to that shore
there’s no more news to give you
So I’ll close from Dunamore

This song is based on lines from letters written by various people in and around Dunamore, Co Tyrone, to America.  They were written at the time of ‘The little Famine’, ‘An Gorta Beag’ of 1879-80.  Many men and families left the area due to eviction, hunger and the fear of a repeat of the starvation of the 1840s.  Relief came, as ever, not from the British government, but from concerned organisations and individuals in Ireland, the USA and Britain, such as the Land League.

*At that time there were at least three papers in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, an area where severalKildress people had settled, the Daily Record of the Times, later known as the Wilkes-Barre Record; the Union Leader; and the Leader/Evening Leader. There was also the Weekly Star, published in nearby Plymouth.
The *Dublin referred to in the song was the mayor of Dublin’s Relief Committee.  There was a  fair at *Sixmilecross on the 18th of the month.

 The letters can be read in full at  http://hedgehog55.blogspot.co.uk/2011/02/letters-from-kildress-1879-80.html
with more correscpondance on the same subject at http://hedgehog55.blogspot.co.uk/search?updated-min=2012-01-01T00:00:00-08:00&updated-max=2013-01-01T00:00:00-08:00&max-results=1

copyright words and music Michael Burns 20 Nov 2013

Copyright relates to commercial recordings, commercial performances,  commercial publishing etc, As with all my songs and tunes, I hope people will sing or play anything they like. 

Rise up John Gordon – song


Word & Music by Michael Burns
Copyright Michael Burns 2011

Bruce Rafeek is on accordion

This song ‘Rise up John Gordon’ was written to mark the pardon, in 2011, in Rhode Island, of John Gordon – an Irish immigrant who was framed and executed in 1844.
The scandal surrounding John’s execution led to Rhode Island abolishing the death penalty on the 1850s. This has remained the law in that state to this day, and Rhode Island refuses to extradite people facing capital punishment to other states in the USA or elsewhere in the world, so John did not die in vain.

Rise up, Rise up John Gordon

The Gordons, William, Nick and John set out for better lives
they hoped to build a new life for their families and wives
they left their home in  Ireland for the land of the free
and sure a place called Prov’dence must be home to liberty

They landed in the new world with many a hopeful plan
thinking all  were equal there  in the sight of god and man
but ‘No Nothing’ bigotry against for poor Irish men
made the brothers think they lived in Cromwell’s time again

chorus -
Rise up   Rise up    John Gordon, and reclaim your good name
For a  hundred and sixty years and more, you bore a murderer’s blame
but your judicial lynching caused Rhode Island such shame
that no one since, in that state, has endured the same

Well, William Sprague the third was once the governor of the state
then elected to the senate on an anti Irish slate
Amasa Sprague, his brother, ran the Knightsville cotton mill
so they closed the Gordon’s tavern where the weavers drank their fill

One New Year’s Eve they found Amasa lying in the snow
and clear to see he had been killed by manys the heavy blow
On his wedding anniversary and the birthday of his wife
in the year of eighteen forty three that rich man lost his life

chorus

They arrested all the brothers on a charge of homicide
with a jury of rich Yankees, ‘Justice’ Durfee did preside
and Durfee told the jury that the Irish often lie
and in seventy minutes they decided John would have to die

Well John walked to the gallows on St Valentine’s Day
‘ forgive my persecutors’ he was heard to say
sixty wealthy Yankees sat and watched him as he died
outside a thousand knelt to pray while others cursed or cried

chorus

On the twenty ninth of June this year inside that illfamed court
The Governor gave the State seal to what many people thought
John Gordon won his pardon and his good name was restored
so friends of justice ‘cross the world can sing with one accord

Rest in peace , John Gordon, you’ve reclaim your good name
For a  hundred and sixty years and more, you bore a murderer’s blame
but your judicial lynching caused Rhode Island such shame
that no one since,   in that state,   has endured the same

Note.  The ‘No Nothings’ were an anti Catholic/anti immigrant party in the USA, active in the 1840 and 50s.  The main targets of their hostility were Catholic Irish and German immigrants

 

James Keogh

James KeoghJames Keogh plaque

Last year (2011) Tameside Coucil unveiled a plaque, in Ashton to James Keogh, an International Brigade volunteer who fought and died in Spain.

James Keogh words and music by Michael Burns 6 Dec 2012

Well his name was James Keogh, he was a son of Chartist Ashton,
a thoughtful lad, apprenticed to a tailor in the town.
As he studied in the library, read of better worlds and bolder,
in many lands in Europe freedom’s sun was going down.

So don’t forget the sacrifice of men like young James Keogh
200 men left Manchester for freedom’s fight in Spain
They were English, they were Irish, some were communists,
some Jewish.
Over 40 fell on Spanish soil, well did they die in vain?

He watched as Mussolini’s troops layed waste to Ethiopia
Read – how Hitler dealt with gays and communists and Jews
when the newsreels showed the Condors raining death on
Basque Gurnica,
James packed his case to head for Spain, – was the path
he had to choose.

So don’t forget the sacrifice of men like young James Keogh
200 men left Manchester for freedom’s fight in Spain
They were English, they were Irish, some were communists, some Jewish.
over 40 fell on Spanish soil, well did they die in vain?

Well James sailed from Marseilles, in May of 1937
the Ciudad de Barcelona held 200 men or more
a Francoist torpedo took the ship and fifty comrades
but the Catalans looked after all the men who made the shore

So don’t forget the sacrifice of men like young James Keogh
200 men left Manchester for freedom’s fight in Spain
They were English, they were Irish, some were communists, some Jewish.
over 40 fell on Spanish soil, well did they die in vain?

James was home for Christmas leave in 1937,
but he died on St Patrick’s Day at Calaciete,
a credit to his town and to north western working people,
shellfire from a fascist tank took his young life away

So don’t forget the sacrifice of men like young James Keogh
200 men left Manchester for freedom’s fight in Spain
They were English, they were Irish, some were communists, some Jewish.
over 40 fell on Spanish soil, well did they die in vain?

Clem Becket was a roughyed* and a champion speedway rider,
George Brown of Kilkenny’s name is one we won’t forget
Sampson Fink and Victor Shammar are included in this number,
Michael Gallagher of Wigan yes and many others yet.

Well we’ve not forgot the sacrifice of men like young James Keogh
and the men who gave their lives to fight for freedom out in Spain
so speak out against injustice and stand up against oppression
and the men who lie in Spanish soil will not have died in vain.

*someone from Oldham
George Brown was an Irish communist from Innistogue, Kilkenny, who was a prominent political and union activist in Mancheser, a rounded character, like his comrade Clem Becket, he was an enthusiatic sportsman.

There is more information about James Keogh at http://menmedia.co.uk/tamesideadvertiser/news/s/1112595_hero_brother_is_remembered_70_years_on

copyright Michael Burns 2012

The Buck and Dog

The doorway to The Buck and Dog, now at the rear of Barclay’s Bank in Stockport

 

The Buck and Dog by Michael Burns 1

The buck and dog have seen a lot
as the Mersey flows and time ticks 
on
The buck and dog have not forgot
The hopes the fears, the tears and fun
 

There many’s the young man, with hopeful heart
took coach to London, for wealth and fame
There many lovers in tears did part, some men who marched off, not seen again

The buck and dog have seen a lot …

They watched the press gang about their work
lads, keep an eye  out, don’t drop your guard
the navy’s sailing ‘gainst Bonaparte
so they’re pressing men to man the yards

The buck and dog have seen a lot …

There manys the spinner and hatter too
ate wedding  breakfast, wet the baby’s head
and groups of pals there would celebrate
Or hold a wake -  for friends now dead

The buck and dog have seen a lot …

 

The flash of sabres on Lancashire Hill They watched Dragoons attack the blanketeers
one man killed, many other’s slashed, the townsfolk booed, they hissed and jeered.

The Buck and Dog …

They saw the Mersey in raging flood
in 1866 rose 20  feet
much of the town  under water then
with rowing boats  in every street

The buck and dog have seen a lot …

They’ll sing the praises of Underbank,
St Mary’s Church   and the market hall,
the viaduct and  the Unicorn
tell Stockport’s  glories to one and all

The buck and dog have seen a lot …

The old pub went 30 years ago
but they stuck together, though times were mean
you’ll find them at the back of Barclay’s Bank
two pairs of eyes on the Stockport scene.

The buck and dog have seen a lot
as the Mersey flows and time ticks on
The buck and dog have not forgot
The hopes the fears, the tears and fun

 

 

 

The Blue Mountain

The blue mountain by Michael Burns 1

Thanks to Kath Scott for the achingly beautiful introduction, which she improvised so effortlessly.  I heard the great Welsh language band, ‘Cajuns Denbo’ perform this song at Nefyn / Porthdinllaen, some years ago.  They had taken Steve Earle’s ‘The Mountain’, and altered the lyrics to tell the story of the slate quarrymen of Snowdonia. Owen Hughes of the band, was kind enough to send me the Welsh language lyrics, and a friend did a literal translation into English, which I worked into the lyrics that you can hear here.  Apologies if I have
unintentionally mangled the Welsh language; - if anyone wants to correct my pronunciation, I’d be delighted to take that on board and re record the song.

Y Mymydd / The Blue Mountain
Welsh lyrics -Huw Roberts,  English Michael Burns

Ces fy ngeni ar y mynydd, mynydd y lechen lâs
Lle bu’n nhaid a nhad yn slafio i feistr creulon cas
Ar ol trin y lechan honno  am gyflog pitw iawn
Bu farw’r ddau yn ifanc a sgyfaint oedd yn llawn    

Cytgan / Chorus
O gronfil mynydd mawr daeth llwch y lechen lâs
Rwyf inna nawr yn diodda o lwch y mynydd glâs
O achos ‘ch di ath debyg Lord Penrhyn y meistr cas
Mae’r dynion oll yn diodda o lwch y mynydd glâs

I was born on the mountain, a mountain of blue slate
Where my granddad and father worked the quarries all their days
Cruel was their master  and tiny their wage
and the slate dust in their lungs told they’d not see old age

In the quarries  of Mynydd Mawr, me slaving as you rest,
Now as I choke, on that blue dust you smoke cigars, of the best
Lord Penrhyn cruel master, ‘cause  of you  and all your class
My brothers are choking  on the dust of mynydd glas

When I was a young boy I watched and made note
Of  the stoop  in the back and the phlegm in the  throat
And  I swore that  by god,  I  would never work slate
at a dark quarry face but now look at my fate!

In the quarries of Mynydd Mawr Me slaving as you rest …

Now the masters take all and leave the workers the dust,
It’s a very hard world boys, in that you can trust
there’s little for us, though there’s plenty for some
when will we see justice, friend, when will it come?

In the quarries  of Mynydd Mawr, me slaving as you rest …

Reynard or Reynardine?

Reynard or Reynardine by Michael Burns 1

I’m no foxhunting fan, but I liked this old newspaper report of an unsuccessful Victorian fox hunt in the Consett area, I’ve added a bit of the Reynadine legend to it!

Rarely does Bogle Hole fail of a “find”, but on this occasion “from home” was the cry, and Knitsley Station and Knitsley Hill were tried with no better success.  A move  past the Woodlands Stud Farm, where Macgregor, Claremont and Argyle are at  present holding high court with an army of brood mares, and at Dickenson’s  Whins, on top of the fells a halt was cried and Haverston proceeded to put in  his hounds.  The whole pack was speedily on the alert as their music rang out, and soon Reynard broke cover on the west side, and sped off as if going straight for the wild district of Cold Rowley.   The hounds were scarcely before a check ensued, but the master (Mr Maynard) hit him off as he doubled back, and the hounds were soon hard on him again. At first it looked as if he was about to try for the West Moors, but  changing his mind he pointed straight for Consett, the iron works at which  place showed boldly out across the valley.  Here a check occurred to the field, but not to the fox and pack, the former making a bid to reach the Houndsgill (sic) covers, and leading the gallant pack a tremendous dance down the breakneck sides of the gill, whilst the “field” who viewed the hounds busting him through the cover and up the  northern side of the gill, were compelled to make a detour of some distance.  The fox pointed straight for the ironworks and, according to many of the foot people he succeeded in finding a place of refuge there amongst the chaotic masses of metal heaped up on the sides of the hill.  The hounds, however were viewed racing down the valley towards Allansford, but gradually the scent grew colder and finally it was lost altogether, Reynard having apparently made his escape …
(I’ve somehow lost the note of the origin of this cutting).

Reynard or Reynardine music & lyric copyright Michael Burns January 2014

A bleak December Monday, as the light was fading fast
The foxhounds sniffed the air in vain as Bogle Hole was passed
no scent at Knitsley Station, no whiff at Knitsley Hill
then on the fells, amongst the gorse a furry broke the still  

(Chorus) So tell me was it Reynard, or could it be Renardine
that gave the slip that foggy day to those keen hounds o’ mine?
I’ve combed the country since then, but think I’ll never find
whether it was it Reynard or if it was Renardine.  

That brush made f’ Cold Rowley, that district wild and bare
where Wesley* brought salvation t’ the farmers small and spare

We thought ‘he’s gannin f’ Stanhope’ but he checked towards
Houn’s Gill
urgent bits pulled eastward, pack and riders followed still  

W’watched him hurtle down the Gill, w’ rued the hounds that fell
he shot straight up the other side still gannin flat pell mell
and some asked with a shiver, ’Now, has he 4 legs or 2?’
but near the Consett Iron Works w’ lost him from our view

Some saw him melt into the works, and so I followed there
the men there said they’d seen no fox, I had to stop and stare
they said they’d seen a young man running flushed and out of breath
w’ dazzling teeth, and flame red hair and eyes of amber depth  

Well Renardine first saw light on the mountains o’ Tyrone
so mebbe’s he’s returned, no more the Durham hills to roam
and since that hunt I’ve noticed many lasses sad and drear
do they mope because their foxy beau’s no longer near ?

Wesley preached at the old Baptist Chapel (1652) at ‘Cold Rowley’, now Rowley on the A68.
Here’s a link to Andy Irvine singing the traditional version of Reynardine
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0nMzEzJFBUw

Another song featuring a less foxy Reynardine is ‘The Mountains of Pomeroy’

 

Tir na nOg

Some background information on Tir Na nOg, followed by the lyrics.

Skyscape

Skyscape

The bedroom I use as a music room looks out over bungalows, so I  get a great view of the sky, especially of sunsets – skyscapes.  It’s easy to imagine islands and mountains there.  My mam, Betty Burns, was  a great singer, and my dad, John, a good fiddler, though he didn’t play as often as mam sang.

Dad’s fiddle was made in 1887, in Blackhill, Consett, Co Durham – our town, by James Robinson, an amateur maker; James was likely a miner or iron worker himself.

In the days when steel was made at Consett the red dust dyed the washing, the bark on the trees, virtually everything, pink; we often had red/pink snow in winter.

Leadgate, Frank Monaghan, with his children,
including my mam, Betty Burns, on the right

My granda, Frank Monaghan was a miner for virtually all his working life, he and the family lived in Leadgate near Consett in Co Durham. In 1940, he was injured by a fall of stone in the pit, and spent some time in hospital.  After recovering he went to work at the Tar Plant, Consett Iron Company.  But with a large family to keep he decided to go back to the pit, where he could make more money.  Eleanor, my gran, didn’t agree, but he decided to go back anyway. Frank was taken on at the Derwent Colliery as a stoneman, less well paid than a hewer, his former occupation.  It was on only his third day back in the pit (9 February 1947) that he and two of his workmates were killed by carbon monoxide, caused an underground fire.  That winter was a particularly hard one; and mines rescue teams raced to the pit from Elswick (Newcastle), Houghton (East Durham) and Crook (South West Durham) over icy roads and through snow drifts, but when the men were reached all three were dead.  So Frank never knew any of his grandchildren. Eleanor was left to bring up seven children with no pension, as her husband’s previous employment was disregarded.

.

From my skyscape room
I
sometimes see Tir Na nOg
mountains in the clouds and there I know on sunlit slopes
my people live.

Mam sings her songs
to crowds enthralled
Dad’s fiddle rings
through ceilidh halls
no red dust there
but work for all and solidarity.

On bramble picks
birds sing in every tree
Frank Monaghan,
Grandchildren on his knee,
There 
work is safe no widows mourn and the people dance.

 words & music Michael Burns 2011

Do my people live?
Yes, here in my heart
to remember them.
let’s give youth a start,
Because Tir na nOg
means the land of youth
and we need it now

From my skyscape room
I
sometimes see Tir Na nOg
mountains in the clouds
and there I know
on sunlit slopes
my people live.