The story so far…

Paddy and the Big Ditch: Irish Labour on the Manchester Ship Canal, 1887-1893‘, was commissioned by the Irish World Heritage Centre, Manchester, in 1993 to mark the first centenary of the opening of the Ship Canal.

It was followed by The Men who built Britain: A History of the Irish Navvy, in 2001. This book was researched in Britain over three years, from 1994 to 1997, and written over the following two years in Ireland. I amassed over sixty hours’ of recorded interviews with labourers, tradesmen, middle management, and family members. The black and white illustrations, many never previously published, were collected from public archives, company records, and private individuals.

It puts the history of Irish male migrant labour in Britain’s construction industry in the 19th and 20th centuries in the contexts of Irish emigration and British civil engineering, in the written histories of which the navvy had been no more than a footnote.

I still collect first-hand accounts of that way of life on an on-going basis and, as the older veterans get fewer, men from the ‘Eighties exodus come into greater prominence and a new chapter takes shape.

A collection of these interviews has been collated into a CD, Voices of the Men who built Britain: The Crack Was Good in Cricklewood.

At the same time musician Joe Giltrap and I continue to tour our Show, The Craic was good in Cricklewood: Songs & Stories of the men who built Britain.

The CD and show, with different but complementary material, feature songs and poems of the navvy life, together with first-hand accounts of life on site and in the dancehalls, pubs, and bed-sits of Camden Town, Cricklewood, and elsewhere.