Mining victims honoured as community digs deep

28th May 2010 at 01:00
Fifty years after a fire killed 47 coal miners, two North Lanarkshire primaries have built a museum and created gardens in remembrance

Retired miner Tommy Park remembers the Auchengeich mining disaster as if it were yesterday, he says. "I was 22, working in a wee mine out in Stirling, and I was waiting for the bus home when somebody told me. I went into a friend's house and said `Have you heard about the `Geich?'

"He said he was going there, so I said, `I'll come with you', and we caught the bus. Then we waited at the pithead. It was three days before they got the men up because it was an inferno down there. But it wasn't the fire that killed them. It was the gas. They all died in minutes."

Forty-seven miners lost their lives at Auchengeich Colliery, Moodiesburn, on September 18, 1959. Fifty years later, the North Lanarkshire community raised funds for a memorial, while children and teachers at the village's two primary schools - St Michael's and Glenmanor - built community gardens and a museum.

It was a sort of celebration, say the St Michael's pupils - though that doesn't sound right to them. There's a pause while they search for the right word. It comes to James Greechan, P6, first. "We commemorated it," he says.

"We had a workshop in this room, and all the windows were blocked with dark paper, and the miners' tools were laid out. Mr Park told us how it was in those days. It made me think how hard it would be for everyone down the mine."

They weren't just told about it, though, says Morgan Crook, P6. "Mr Park dressed up like a miner and pretended he was working down the mine. That sticks in my head, like a picture."

That was only the beginning of a term's work, says Chloe Corrigan, P6. "We all sang at the community centre a mining song called Coorie Doon, then there was a play."

While the children sang, the names of the men and boys who had died were projected onto the wall, says teacher Theresa Maria Watt. "Then they put wreaths at a picture of the monument. It was very moving. There wasn't a dry eye.

"The two schools worked together with the community, through the Auchengeich Miners' Club. They decided they wanted the children taking part because it was their heritage. The community put up the funds and labour for the school gardens and museum. At St Michael's, we ran it as an enterprise project.

"We got them to look at the poems of the oldest living miner, John Morrison. We talked about the disaster. They wrote poems, did artwork, made 3D models and wrote newspaper articles. There was lots of learning for the whole school.

"I was overwhelmed by what we got from the community. It meant so much to so many people, some of whom lost someone that day."

The enclosed location of St Michael's memorial garden means access is by arrangement. But the Auchengeich garden at Glenmanor Primary is open to all, says acting headteacher Siobhan McLeod.

The centre-piece of both gardens is similar - an elegant, gravelled semi- circle decorated with paving-stones radiating out from a shrubbery. "There are two ideas in that," explains Mr Park, who designed the gardens with a little assistance.

"I helped my papa," says his grandson Bailey, a P34 Glenmanor pupil. "We did it on a big piece of paper. It looks like the sunrise, because it was morning when the disaster happened. And it looks like the big wheel, too."

It helps the children remember what happened that day, says Laura Smith, P7. "It's good to remember. The schools go every year to the village memorial and we sing in the choir. This one was special because it was 50 years since the disaster."

Everyone wrpte a poem, says Kirsty Peacock, P7. "It was like a competition. Mine was called A Wife's Worry and it's displayed in the mining museum in Newtongrange."

It was a community effort, says Mrs McLeod. "We would go to meetings, and parents and people from the local businesses came in to help, or donated materials. The children planted the trees. It gives them a sense of pride when they look at the gardens."

One feature in each is a large lump of black coal nestling among the plants and shrubs. Fifty years ago, these could have been found easily in this coal-mining community, says Mr Park. "But I had to go 60 miles to get them at an open-cast mine. There is not a working colliery left in Scotland now."

Glenmanor and St Michael's are shortlisted for the TES Schools Award for Outstanding Community Involvement award

Coorie Doon extract

There's darkness doon the mine my darling,

Darkness, dust and damp,

But we must have oor heat, oor light,

Oor fire and oor lamp.

Your daddy coories doon, my darling,

Doon in a three foot seam,

So you can coorie doon my darling,

Coorie doon and dream.

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