Back to top

Patsy Filligan on the Coal Lock-Out

issue number: : 

Patsy Filligan on the Coal Lock-Out

One of Allen Clarke’s regular features in his newpapers was the “Patsy Filligan Letter”, addressed from “Shamrock Court, Trottertown” to “his Brother Mickey” in America. Patsy is based on the stage-irishman stereotype, but turned against itself. For all Patsy’s superficial daftness, there’s a vein of wisdom beneath it all. This sketch was first written in 1893, at the height of the Miners’ Lock Out. It was published in Clarke’s paper The Bellman, on September 1st 1893. It was reprinted in the Liverpool Weekly Post of Sep­ember 18th, 1926 - a sign of Clarke’s continuing radicalism and support for the miners’ struggle.

Patsy Filligan’s Letters

To his brother in America on the Coal Lock-Out

Dear Brother Mickey

Shure an there is a great coal lock-out in this country just now, an it is makin matters very warm, though there is a good deal less coal to bum. My sympathies are wid the colliers, an I think they are quite right to resist the droppin of their wages, for they get dropped enough every day when they go down the pit. ’Tis no nice thing to work in the bowels of the earth, nor the bowels of anythin, for that matter; and I would sooner be a butcher any day than a collier, for there is less risk about it, except for the animals which is to be slaughtered an made into food, but as they are dead before they are made into carcases they don’t feel much about it.

Ah, Mickey, ’tis pitiful to know the distress that’s going on among the poor colliers now, an there is bein public collections made for ’em an their sufferin families, an others is goin about wid tin whistles an other brass bands to raise money, which, I am glad to say, they are doin very well, though things is bad all round.

As I said before, Mickey, ’tis no swate job workin down a pit, an I would not do it for two pounds a week an a month’s holiday every fomight wid overtime for play-days. I went down a pit once, an it was a delightful experience; but I’ll tell ye all about it, so listen attentivley wid both eyes, an don’t put your nose too close to the paper for I’ve let some candle grease fall on it just here, an it smells bad.

However, I was tellin ye about goin down the pit. It was when I was lookin for work, but my eyes were very bad just then, so I suppose I couldn’t see properly, an so never found any. I was always short-sighted, Mickey, when I was lookin for work, but that is my misfortune, isn’t it? I’m not responsible for the blindness of my eyes - they’re the only pair I could get hold of when they were givin ’em out, an I shall have to put up wid em. Maybe I shall get a better pair in the next world. Well, I was lookin for work - hayma- kin - an after trampin about the fields all one momin, where the little birds was singin, I came to a coal-pit, an there was some men stood on the top doin nothin, same as me.

“Hello, Pat”, says one, “are ye lookin for a job?”

“Sure, an I am that,” says I, “I’m lookin for a bit of harvestin. Could ye direct me to any likely place?”

“Yes,” they says, all at once, “yes.”

“Then I’ll be obliged if ye will,” says I.

“It’s a champion field,” says one, as he winked the eye at the others, “an the wages is wonderful. Will ye go?”

“Faith, an I will,” says I; “lade on.”

“Come along,” they says; an they took me up some steps, to where there was a little cage hangin over a great deep round hole.

“Get in,” says one man, pointin to the box.

“What, in there?” says I.

“Yes,” says he, “it will take ye right to the fields, an fine fields they are too. ”

So, 1 got in, Mickey, an then, before I could sneeze, the cage begun movin downwards, an I went in the dark all of a sudden an I thought I was struck blind, an all my belly jumped up into my mouth, an my breath was tied in a knot round my throat an chokin me; an I could nayther spake nor stir for fear and alarm. An then, before I knew where I was, the cage gave a bump, an I shouted out, “Saint Patrick, save me!” for I thought I was done for; but it was only the cage that had reached the bottom of the pit, an I was all alone by myself, for the other men had not come down in the cage wid me, but had thrust me in by myself.

Well, a man jerked me out by the scruff of the neck, an says to me, houldin a lamp in my face, “What do ye want?”

“Shure,” says I, “an where’s all the daylight gone to? Who’s snuffed the sun out? ’Twas shinin but a minute since!”

“What do ye want?” says he.

Then 1 tould him about what the men at the top had said an done to me an he laughed an says, “Oh, all right! Want a job as harvestman, do ye? Come along!”

“Do they cut the hay in the dark down here?” says I.

“They do,” says he.

“’Tis a quare place,” says I.

“Come along,” says he, an he took me down a dark tunnel where there was a lot of little waggons, an he got in one an tould me to do the same; an then we began to move along an ye could feel the darkness rushin in yer mouth.

Then all of a sudden somethin hit my head an cut it open, an I yelled out “Murder!” “Keep your head low,” says the man that was wid me, “’tis nothin but the roof that you’ve jowed against. ”

“Ye should should shift the roof higher up,” says I, “for ye’ve made my brain bleed, an I might have been killed. ”

But my companion only laughed, an we went on, I takin care to keep my head down now, an soon we got to a place where there was several men wid faces as black as the ould lad, an I says. “Are these negroes, my friend?”

“No,” says he, “but they work like ’em, an get hardly no pay at all for it,”

“Then they’re not negroes,” says I, “an we’re not on the sands at Blackpool?” “No,” says he, “ye’re in a blacker place than Blackpool.”

“’Twould certainly do wid a little more gaslight, ” says I. “Do ye never wash yer faces down here? Ye ought to get some fresh complexions; they’d improve yer looks. But where’s the haymakin?”

Well, Mickey, they gave me a pick an stripped me to my shirt, an set me to diggin coal out - but I couldn’t see it in the dark, so I thought it was hay an also thought that the pick was a scythe; but at last I got quite tired, for it was fearful hard work, an I says, “Whal day is it to-day?”

“Wednesday,” says one.

“Then please take a week’s notice off me datin from last Wednesday momin, for I’m givin over at once. I would rather die of doin nothin than be killed wid hard work, ” says I, an they laughed; an ran me quickly out of the pit, an then I discovered that I’d not been cuttin hay at all but hewin coal instead, an was in a mighty anger wid myself for bein such an ass; an when 1 got home the ould woman didn’t know me, on account of my black face, an shure an bedad when I looked in the little glass I thought I was somebody else meself till I got washed.

But I’m goin coal-diggin no more, Mickey; ’tis an inhuman job, an the man that invented it was an enemy to his species; wherefore I sticks up for the men that has to do it, an say that they deserves all they get an twice as much more beside, an that it’s a bur- nin shame to try to lower their wages at all - for ’tis my belief that in proportion as the wages is low the job ought to be high; an that’s why I says “hurrah” for the colliers, an may they win the fight wid flyin colours an the masters flyin too.


Search the NorthWest Labour History Society website