This programme tells the story of a strike in the coal mines in Arigna, on the Roscommon-Leitrim border forty years ago. From November 1968 to late February 1969 the 230 miners or ‘pit men’ as they were known locally, went on strike for better pay, a five-day week and improved working conditions. The unofficial strike began shortly before an official strike was due to start; a small number of miners walked out of one mine and all the men stopped work in support of them.

As a result of the strike being unofficial the striking workers had little or no means of support through the four months of the dispute. Fund raising functions and collections were organised on their behalf and many of the local shopkeepers extended credit and often provided food for the miners’ families.

Huge pressure was placed on the men to return to work. Some local priests denounced their action and one priest in Arigna organised a ballot of miners’ wives in an attempt to persuade the men to return to work. A ballot was taken but the votes were burned before they could be counted.

The Leydons, the local family who owned the mines, tried to break the strike by persuading twelve men to return to work. This resulted in violent confrontations similar to some of the scenes in England in the miners’ strikes of the 1980s. These men were denounced as ‘scabs’ and the bitterness generated by their action resulted in deep community divisions, some of which have lingered to this day.

The miners’ eventually won their demands for better pay and a five-day week and returned to work. The mines closed in 1992. There was no pension scheme for the workers

In ‘The Long Strike’ Vincent Woods talks to some of the men who took part in the strike and one of the men who broke it. The men also talk about working conditions in the Arigna mines and the long-term effects of the work and the working conditions on their health. It’s an extraordinary story of hardship and defiance, of people standing up for their rights and of a community united and divided.

The documentary is produced by Peter Woods.

An Irish radio documentary from RTÉ Radio 1, Ireland - Documentary on One - the home of Irish radio documentaries