The news of the death of Seamus Walsh spread quickly around the north Kilkenny town of Castlecomer and indeed the county of Kilkenny. A poet, tour guide, historian and promoter of The Comer mines, he was certainly one in a million.
By: Gerry Cody
Coal Mining runs deep in the Castlecomer Community, and there was no better man to tell the story than ex Miner Seamus Walsh. Seamus, from Castlecomer (formally of the Old-road Moneenroe) which is the heart of the coal mining area of Leinster. His family also worked in the mines, including his Father, brothers PJ & Liam and two of his brothers in law Danny Shallow and John Delaney.
Coalmining, as he said himself “was the backbone of the economy in Castlecomer.”
Seamus was also a wonderful supporter of the Castlecomer Discovery Park, and following his death, they gave a lovely tribute to their friend.
“Today we say goodbye to our very dear friend Seamus Walsh, a passionate advocate for keeping our mining heritage alive, he was also a dedicated and hardworking board member of the Discovery Park.
Seamus was the epitome of a Renaissance man, a gifted story teller and writer, a poet, a musician and singer. He made it one of his life’s ambitions to make sure the stories of the miners were kept alive. His books “In the Shadow of the Mines” and “Coal in the Blood” will provide a window into the lives of coalminers for future generations to come, a wonderful gift.
“And yes I was proud to be a miner
And to be a miner’s son,
And I’m proud to sing their praises
And I’ll sing them ‘till I’m done.
And I’ll keep a light a- shining
In the tunnel dark and deep,
And when people talk of mining
It is of your deeds they’ll speak”
He was instrumental in making the dream of having a coal mining museum in Castlecomer a reality. He gathered artefacts and information, as well as being one of the leading fundraisers and advocates of the project.
Nearly this same time last year, Seamus was invited by 3CEA energy agency to speak at their Strategic Energy Transition launch which was held at the Park. The theme was clean sustainable energy, and Seamus had the undivided attention of every person attending, he was the voice of the men who spent their lives underground. He had a way of capturing attention, and he did it that day in his usual style.
Of course, we are so thankful for the years of volunteer service that he gave to the park, he was a member of the Discovery Park Board for many years. He attended meetings and gave of his time so generously. Another event he cared deeply about was the annual National Heritage Week tour of the Deerpark Mine. Each summer he would take people to visit the mine and paint a vivid picture of a day working at the mines. As usual people were hanging on every word, he brought you back in time and could put you in the shoes of those miners.
Castlecomer has lost one of its best sons today, but thanks to his talents and passion we have so much to remember him and keep his spirit with us.
“The Miner’s are a lonely few
That remains upon this land
Their work and toil is over now
It’s time for the promised land”
Taken from “Lonely Days Past” by Seamus Walsh “Poems from the Pit”
Most importantly he was a kind hearted gentleman.
HERITAGE WEEK 2019
In 2019, I travelled with Seamus from the Discovery Park to the once bustling site of the Deerpark mines.
These are my memories of the day.
“The town of Castlecomer has to be recognised as one of the nicest in the South East.
As I made my way from the Discovery Park to the Deerpark mines this morning, the sun shone, and the surrounding areas of Clough, Deerpark and Moneenroe, looked wild and rich. To be fair, it had everything going for it. Hay was being baled. The sun turned the fields from green to gold. Cattle were content as they welcomed back some normality in the weather and chewed their way through the fields.
Deerpark is of course where the coalmines were situated and although I had the comfort of travelling by car, I wondered about the boys and men who walked the two miles, day and night in all kinds of weather to spend eight to ten hours in the darkness of the mines.
No more than myself, if you were not down the mines, you cannot understand what it meant. End of.
However attending a talk, given by former miner and lifelong promoter of the mines, Seamus Walsh, gave an amazing insight into the life and times of a ‘Comer Miner.
CHILDREN DOWN THE MINES
I was shocked to the point of sickness when Mr Walsh described young children from the age of fourteen travelling over 300 yards down under the ground to work an eight hour shift. My mind wandered back to the twelve children trapped in the mines in Thailand and the worldwide reaction in June 2018.
We heard of workers emerging from their daily shift bent over and covered in dirt and coal dust.
Old coal sacks were thrown over their shoulders in an attempt to keep out the cold.
DEERPARK HAD ITS OWN AMBULANCE STATION
A lot of the time the work space was in an area that was five feet high and maybe three feet wide.
Think about that. Think of the air circulating. Or lack of. Think of the coal dust. Think of the possibility of the roof collapsing- a fear in the minds of every miner, every day.
Think of the daily battle trying to mind your few sandwiches so that the multitude of rats that ran amok alongside the workers, wouldn’t eat them.
Think of the fact that the mine had its own ambulance, ambulance station, doctor and nurse, so frequent were the accidents.
Then think of the word Pneumoconiosis. If like me, the word is new to you, check your dictionary.
A SPECIAL BOND OF FRIENDSHIP
Apart from the misery, one cannot but mention the camaraderie of the miners. Also the fact that at that time, with the population of ‘Comer at 1,200, 600 worked at the mines.
Boys and men had a wonderful bond of friendship.
Perhaps if you grew up in the family of miners you might be able to accept that life. Perhaps it was a passage from childhood to manhood and to bring home the weekly wage and like other men, to put your wage on the table was important.
Or the badge of honour to have the black dust engrained in your skin as you danced a half set with a girl in the local hall in Moneenroe. From boy to man?
An incredible story so richly told by Seamus Walsh.
This is a part of our history that must not be forgotten.
It is of huge importance.
The death of Seamus Walsh will be felt for many a year.
That he has left behind a wonderful legacy is something we must be eternally grateful for.
We think especially at this time of his wife Chrissie and his family: Joe, Miriam, Paula, Christine, Noelle and Majella, grandchildren, extended family and friends.
Seamus published two books on the mines: ‘In the shadow of the mines’ and ‘Coal in the blood’.
Both books will provide a window into the lives of coalminers for future generations to come.
SEAMUS WALSH WAS A MAN WHO SAW THE BIGGER PICTURE
For many people in the Kilkenny and surrounding area, the performance by Seamus Walsh and Colm Gray at ‘The Hole In The Wall’ venue , where they told stories and sang songs about the mines, was their introduction to the history of the Castlecomer coalmines.
Proprietor of ‘The Hole In The Wall,’ Michael Conway, spoke to ‘The Kilkenny Observer’ newspaper about the loss of a great historian and good friend. Michael remembers Seamus Walsh with great fondness.
“For me, the loss of Seamus Walsh has been a turning point in life. A marker of time. An awakening to the march of time and the hard decisions that nature is making for each and every one of us.
In losing Seamus, we have lost a key historian from a county that is awash with preserved history.
Seamus Walsh was a man of vision. A man before his time. A man who could see the big picture even though his lens, in some ways, might have been but a small camera?
The picture of coal mining that we have for the Deerpark and other mines of the Leinster Coalfield will be, forever, linked to Seamus Walsh. A man of an almost saintly humility, it nonetheless happened that he had been chosen somehow by fate to be the voice that would distil the story of ‘Comer into a narrative that would play out for decades to come.
His CV in respect of Castlecomer is unrivalled. Sure, like many others, he went down mines aged fourteen. And, like his many colleagues, his father and others before him, he chipped away at the coalface. And survived. But he saw a need to battle for his worker friends regarding industrial disease compensation – and duly did. He saw the importance of the mining exhibition at the Discovery Park and made it happen. And then he figured on the role of publications to catalogue the story of the mining and the unique and almost Hollywood-epic nature of Nicholas Boran’s trip to Stalin’s Russia for 3 cold months at the end of 1930.
I was given copies of books, tapes and videos by miners on starting to consult on heart disease here in Kilkenny from 1999. They sat in a drawer for over a decade. Thanks to the rescue and restoration of ‘Hole in the Wall’ as an artistic outlet, Colm Gray and I met Seamus in the Discovery Park in 2013. It was a meeting of minds. His wife Chrissie tells of how he returned home that evening a happy man,because another method to tell the Deerpark story had surfaced. Seamus would soon bravely go on stage to be a narrator, to recite his poems and to hear songs influenced by his tales sung by Breege Phelan, Colm Egan and Emmet Conefery. ‘So Deep Within the Shadows of the Mines’ was the title for a sung-story combining his words and featuring the song ‘So Deep Within’ penned, crafted and performed in his honour by Breege Phelan and myself.
Seamus Walsh and his legacy in the north of the county he loved will last forever in narrative, books, poetry and song. He dreamed about the story making the silver screen. He, himself, had featured in documentaries down the years. Should anyone ever chose to tell the story of ‘Comer, the unassuming touch of genius that Seamus Walsh displayed will feature.
Seamus’s enthusiasm, drive and warmth of personality has washed off on us all and we carry it with us so deep within as we battle along – missing our friend and colleague so dearly.”