28 Sept 2022

Kilkenny youths’ nightmare ordeal at work camp

Kilkenny Lookback

The three Kilkenny youths claim they worked under what could be described as almost war camp conditions, so strict was the security Picture: Jeff Balbalosa/Pixabay

Here's what made the front page of the Kilkenny People 50 years ago this week - June 18, 1971

The inhuman conditions which young Irish boys are being forced to endure on Scottish potato work camps, which has led to the present national controversy, were described to the Kilkenny People in graphic detail this week by three Kilkenny youths, who say they were beaten, kicked and abused by club-wielding thugs.
All three claim they worked under what could be described as almost war camp conditions, so strict was the security and so stringent the discipline.
Last week, in a People exclusive, Mr Geoff Smyth of Lower Conahy, Ballyragget, the father of one of the boys, described some of the hardships suffered by his young son, and called for a Government investigation into the Scottish potato camps.
This week the ’People spoke to the boy himself, 16 year old Geoff Smith, who described scenes of crude and extreme violence against him and other young workers during his 18 months on the farm.
To prove his testimony, he pointed to scars on his neck and face which he said were the results of "kicks from a gaffer who wore hob nailed boots".
By telephone, the ’People contacted two Kilkenny brothers, Michael (19) and Francis (18) Walsh of Fr Albert Place, Kilkenny, who are now working in Dublin, after a three-month ordeal on the same farm Geoff Smyth worked on.
Both corroborated the sordid details as outlined by Smyth.
Every night, their dingy sleeping quarters, grossly overcrowded with 15 young workers and described by Geoff Smyth as resembling a pig sty, was closely watched by a club bearing gaffer to ensure that the boys could not escape.
“They did everything to keep us on the farm,” said young Smyth, describing some of the things that happened before the Walsh brothers arrived in February last.
“On one occasion when I tried to escape they followed me, brought me back and forced run down my neck until I was drunk. Later I was told that the price of the drink would be taken from my wages.”
Before going to Scotland, Smyth said an advertisement indicated that he would be paid £13 a week. But on arrival he was informed that the rate was £11 a week - but even this, he claims, he did not receive.
Describing some of the incidents he was involved in, he said that one day while he was working a potato picker the machine broke down. When he could not pick them quickly enough by hand, he was kicked and severely beaten.
On several other occasions he was beaten and was even threatened with death if he tried to escape. Both the Walsh brothers agreed that Smyth had received a very rough time from the gaffers during the three months they spent in the camp.
Mick Dowling, the Castlecomer-born bantamweight boxing ace of the six-man Irish amateur team competing in the European championships in Madrid, boxed his way to the semi-finals and at least a bronze medal when he defeated his Spanish opponent Jose Otero on a 3-2 decision.

The odds in a sense were against Dowling when he was given a standing count of eight in the second round, much to the pleasure of over 4,000 jubilant Spanish fans cheering on the local boy.
Still he was not deterred and in his usual determined way he bulldozed the Spaniard throughout the third round, with quick point-winning jabs. He continued with a very impressive barrage of punches which left the Spaniard completely outclassed.
Now, Dowling must face the small and tough Russian, Melnicow in the semi-final. This is sure to be a hard fight, considering that the Russian champion knocked out England’s George Turpin with a punch to the head in the second round. But Dowling has proved that he can’t be taken easily.
One of the long outstanding ambitions of the young Kilkennyman is to win a European gold medal and, after his bronze in Bucharest two years ago, he is determined to reach the top this time.
At the ringside were Mr Brian Lenihan, Minister for Transport and Power and the Irish Ambassador to Spain, Mr Brian Gallagher.

To continue reading this article for FREE,
please kindly register and/or log in.

Registration is absolutely 100% FREE and will help us personalise your experience on our sites. You can also sign up to our carefully curated newsletter(s) to keep up to date with your latest local news!

Register / Login

Buy the e-paper of the Donegal Democrat, Donegal People's Press, Donegal Post and Inish Times here for instant access to Donegal's premier news titles.

Keep up with the latest news from Donegal with our daily newsletter featuring the most important stories of the day delivered to your inbox every evening at 5pm.