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    Author seeks stories from workers in British construction

    By Noreen Bowden | April 23, 2008

    Ean member and author Ultan Cowley has put out a call for information as he researches his new book.

    In his own words:


    In 2001 I wrote a history of the Irish in British construction, The Men who built Britain, and now I want to publish the stories of those who were there – in their own words.

    In Britain almost half a million Irishmen worked in construction. On hydro dams, power stations, oil terminals and motorways. Many lived in camps, often in remote locations, working long hours for Wimpey, Tarmac, or MacAlpine, following the Big Money and sending what they hadn’t ‘subbed’ back home to families in Ireland.

    In London, Birmingham, Manchester and elsewhere other Irishmen were working, often on ‘The Lump’, for Irish contractors renewing and expanding the utilities – telephones, water, gas and electricity.

    The pub was their labour exchange. Although working in the public eye theirs was a hidden world: of gangers, agents, publicans and landladies whose whims and vagaries set out their everyday existence. They moved between the pubs, the digs, the dancehalls, ‘caffs’ and roadside ‘Stands’ where ‘Skins‘ were hired each day by gangermen who judged them by their boots.

    Those who were there remember ‘Tunnel Tigers’, ‘Heavy Diggers’, and ‘McAlpine’s Fusiliers’; ‘Hen Houses’, ‘Cock Lodgers’, and ‘Landladies’ Breakfasts’; ‘Pincher Kiddies’, ‘Long Distance Men’, and ‘Shackling Up’; ‘Dead Men’, ‘Walking Pelters’, and ‘Murphy’s Volunteers’; ‘The Shamrock’, ‘The Galtymore’, ‘The Buffalo’ and ‘The Crown’; exile and isolation and loneliness and despair…

    If you were there, and have a tale to tell, please contact Ultan Cowley at

    The Potter’s Yard



    Co. Wexford


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