About RTÉ Television
The Afternoon Show
The Afternoon ShowRTÉ One, Weekdays, 4.00pm

The way we worked

Friday, 16 October 2009

The way we worked is being aired on tonight on RTE 1

Who are the Guests:

Joe McEnery (60's) worked in the Ballingarry mine, Co Tipperary from the age of 14 until it closed in 1974 and his lungs are now ravaged by the damage of the coal dust.

Jimmy Lawlor (62) from Kilenaul, Co Tipperary who was deeply affected by his friend's death deep underground in a mine shaft.


How old were you when you went to work in the mines?
Jimmy Lawlor:
About 15, I left school at 13 and I went to work for a farmer but entered the mines when I was 15.

Joe McEnery: When I left school in 1958 aged 14 I went straight into the mines.

Was it a family trade?
Jimmy Lawlor: Not really but at one stage myself and 2 of my brothers were all working in Ballingarry Mine.

Joe McEnery: My father and all my brothers worked the mines.

How long did you work there?
Jimmy Lawlor : Back in the 60's I worked in the Ballingarry mines for about 4-5 yrs and then I emigrated to England where I did all kinds of jobs and I returned in the early 80's and I went back to work in the Lickfin mine in Tipp as Ballingarry had closed down in the 1974.

Joe McEnery: 15 years until in closed in 1973.

What was it like?
Jimmy Lawlor: In the 60's it was a shock to the system until you get used to it, we were working in really tight spaces. If you were working on the coal face you had to work on your side lying on the ground the height was about 18-24 inches.

Joe McEnery: It was a very rough life, going down into the mine was a nightmare and lying on your side all day blasting and drilling with lots of dust in your face all day. You could barely see your hand in front of your face because of the dust. That was the only employment that was around unless you were into farming, there was no cars to get you to the nearest towns so the mines was it for a lot of people.

Were you all close?
Jimmy Lawlor : We had to get along as we were working in such tight spaces.

Joe McEnery: We were all good friends in the mine we all looked out for each other.

Were there any fatal accidents while working in the mines?
Jimmy Lawlor:
There were lots of accidents. One that has stayed with me was a friend of mine I went to school with him and I was working with him the day he got killed. He was working on one of the underground locomotives and he got knocked off it by a piece of timber I think and was killed, he was about 18. I was 17 at the time and there was no such thing as counseling tin those days, you just had to get on with it, but that stayed with me for a long time. Personal safety was not really high on the agenda the conditions were very primitive, the main objective was to get the coal out quick and sold.

Joe McEnery: I did not witness any but there were some fatal accidents, it was a rough way to make a living.

Have you any lasting health problems because of working in the mines?
Jimmy Lawlor:
I suffer from heart problem and I get short of breath very easily the conditions in the mines did not help, breathing in coal dust day in day out.

Joe McEnery: I have Miners lung - (pneumoconiosis) - I was diagnosed in 1996 in Vincent's. I have 50% damage too my lungs. In the last 9 years I have been in hospital 28 time. There is no cure I have to take medication daily. I have 17 tablets and I use an inhaler 6 times a day and I use oxygen during the night. We did not know the consequences of it when we were 14.
How did the mines closing affect your life?

Jimmy Lawlor: When the mines closed in the late 80's and what has happen back through history when a mine closes and there is no big mining company in the area, a group of miners would get together and open a small mine it was basically a hole in the ground (basset) that we got the coal out of to supply ourselves with fuel and some of the local farmers, so we did that for a few years.

Joe McEnery: I tool it badly, as there was nothing else to do but we had to find work, a lot of people emigrated. I stayed around and worked with Carrols joineries I was a driver with them for 28 years until my health stopped me from working.

Where you surprised that RTE wanted to make a documentary about the mines?
Jimmy Lawlor:
I was when I heard about it first, but they made 6 programme about different ways people worked. Any programme that talks about what we had to do is great to keep our stories going. Some Irish people do not even know that mining took place in Ireland. I have written some stories about the work we did that have appeared in local books.

Joe McEnery: I was very surprised but glad to be a part of it.

Additional / Misc' Info:
The Way We Worked
Friday 16th October 2009,
RTÉ One, 8.30 pm

RTÉ FACTUAL: Industrialisation and emigration dramatically changed society and life in Ireland. This new series explores some of these changes through the eyes of some of the men who lived and worked through those dramatic times.

The family farm was once the core economic unit in Ireland. Industrialisation and emigration changed the face of agricultural life in Ireland. This new RTÉ series will look at the changes in The Way We Worked through the eyes of men who worked and lived through these dramatic times.

The Irish have a great love for the land. Yet attitudes to the land have changed radically over the last fifty years. At one time the family farm was the core economic unit. Over time however, industrialisation and emigration changed the face of agricultural life in Ireland. Some men who once dug the turf, tilled fields and milked cows sought extra money through employment in agricultural industries.

Irish coal miners have for generations slaved deep underground in dangerous tunnels to eek out a living. Today the collieries lie abandoned, but the deadly legacy of the mines lives on.

In the first episode of The Way We Worked we hear from the men who started work deep in the mines at the tender age of 14. Their stories are of backbreaking work, dangers and terrible accidents, but also camaraderie and the pride they had in their work.

Seamus Walsh started working in Castlecomer Collieries, Co Kilkenny, when he was 13, and remembers when his 15 year old friend Ned Kelly died.

Peter McNiff grew up on a mountain farm near Arigna, Co Leitrim. When his father fell ill, the children had to work in the coal mine.

Joe McEnery worked in the Ballingarry mine, Co Tipperary from he was 14 until it closed in 1973. Joe's lungs are now ravaged by the damage from the coal dust.

Jimmy Lawlor from Killenaul, Co Tipperary, was deeply affected by his friend's death deep underground in a mine shaft.

Source: RTE Press Office