Kilkenny Arts: The absorbing story of ’Comer’s mining heritage

A unique evening of song, prose and poetry, in one of Kilkenny’s most historic and intimate venues, offers a beautiful and poignant social history of Castlecomer’s Deerpark Mines.

‘In the Shadow of the Mines’ is the combination of the talents of two local men: Seamus Walsh calls on his first-hand experience of working in the mines to regale the audience with stories, anecdotes and poems of days gone by. He is accompanied by local singer-songwriter Colm Gray, who performs a number of original compositions part-inspired by Walsh’s stories.

Gray’s haunting vocals echo the appropriate surrounds of the 16th Century tavern, all the while, Michael Conway projects onto the wall a variety of old video footage of the mines, stills of the workers, and a modern video of Walsh re-visiting the area.

The evening begins with a the first reading and song – ‘School Days are Over’ – the bitter realisation of a young man that he must leave the playground and classroom for the mines.

“In the late 1950s, my school days were over,” recalls Walsh.

“At 14 years of age, there were no thoughts of secondary school; most of the lads my age would be down the pit.”

The evening continues in this vein, with both reader and musician tying in themes and

One poignant number recalls the day when a school friend, who worked with Walsh down the mine, did not return home. On April 1, 1960, Ned Kelly was just 15 when he was killed in the mines of ‘Comer.

“What was a boy doing there?” asks Walsh, as he recalls the day the young man’s mother was informed of her son’s death.

A recurring theme is that of the old railway line that serviced the mines: The last train left Deerpark in 1960.

Gray sings about the ‘49’ and the profound sense of loss in the community arising from the cessation of the line.

There is humour too – carried over in many song and read extracts.

And also a song to a local folk hero, Nixie Boran, who attempted to kick start the Trade Unions, and even smuggled himself into Russia to meet leftists and revolutionaries. He was arrested on his return to Crettyard.

This, and the idea of social solidarity is a overriding theme of the evening; two red flags adorn the wall behind the artists. Walsh, too, recalls divisions between the labour movement and the local Catholic priest, as well as the innumerable strikes that took place.

As the evening draws to a close, Walsh and Gray conjure the images of the dying days of the mines in 1963 when the miners were all laid off, and the old pit was flooded – “if the profits are no longer good, let it flood” sings Gray.

‘In the Shadows of the Mines’ runs for just one more night in the Hole in the Wall, Kilkenny, on August 17 at 8.30pm. Tickets are E12 and can be purchased from Rollercoaster Records, the Castlecomer Discovery Park, with some available on the door also.

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