By Jimmy Rhatigan
THOSE WHO admired hard man cowboy John Wayne, aka Marian Mitchell Morrison as a man of true grit will have a new hero after reading today’s Reporter.
Big John was a tough cowpoke with fists of iron, nerves of steel, a teak tough belly, off which bullets bounced, and a vocabulary that could split stones.
He was a man mountain, a big screen hero for thousands of youngsters who believed that he was infallible, a match for the most volatile of Red Indians, who, we later learned were the real heroes of the Wild West as they fought to protect their homeland.
John Wayne and Seamus Walsh, a mining son of Moneenroe, Castlecomer, have much in common.
Both are past pupils of the school of hard knocks.
John did much of his donkey work on horseback.
Seamus spent many of his young and not so young years on his belly underground, a working coal miner who was a mere boy at the tender age of 14.
Since the pits closed he has spent countless hours fighting for the rights of old comrades who, like himself, wielded shovels and pickaxes in the bowels of Mother Earth as they courted disaster in what many termed the coal fields of exploitation.
He is the son of a coalminer and, like his dad, Joe worked hundreds of feet below ground, a more treacherous terrain than even the wide open spaces of the Wild West where Marian Morrison spent his time dodging bullets and ducking arrows.
Men and boys risked their lives every day
The story of How the West was Won or lost, depending on which side your sympathies lay, is a fascinating one, albeit a tale of tragedy, massacres, brutality and wrongdoing.
There were times when things would not have been much better, perhaps even worse, in the Deerpark Coalmine in Castlecomer where men and young boys risked their lives every day, mining the black stuff, under paltry and very dangerous conditions.
Thousands of sons of ‘Comer and hinterland put their lives on the line as the oft trembling but very brave women in their lives, wives, mothers and sisters, prayed for the safe reappearance from Mother Earth of their loved ones, their nearest and dearest, the family bread winners.
Unlike John Wayne, Seamus Walsh never got the opportunity of a shot at an Academy Award.
Like cowboy John, Seamus’s passion in life was, colloquially a swing swong, a see saw for one, that edged between serious injury and loss of life, or perhaps an even worse fate, dangling death at a young age from the horror of lung disease.
Seamus’s first book In The Shadow of the Mines was a no holds barred insight into a way of life that fed hungry children but also claimed the lives of men of courage and their offspring.
On this Friday at 8.30pm in Castlecomer Community Hall another blood-curdling book on local mining, aptly titled Coal In The Blood will be launched by Seamus’s great friend Dr Michael Conway, Consultant Cardiologist and General Medical Physician of St Luke’s General Hospital.
In some respects the duo are blood brothers.
They worked together on a mining play called So Deep Within that brought a full house to The Hole In the Wall Hostelry, High Street, a Restored Elizabethan Tavern from the 16th century that is owned, mothered and fathered with great patience by Dr Michael.
But, more importantly, as Seamus has been a lifeline for so many comrades from the underground, helping to fight for compensation rights, Dr Michael did his bit for Seamus’s kind heart when he recommended three stents that have given the 73 year old a new lease of life.
Friday will be a celebration and a memoriam and most certainly the start of what promises to be a mind boggling journey into 240 pages plus pictures, beautifully cobbled together by Conmore Press, Jenkinstown.
The book is edited by Joe O’Neill and penned with pride, passion and no little skill by Seamus Walsh, a man of words, who has spent so much of his life ensuring that the life and times of miners continue to be steered in the write direction.
Entertainment will be by Castlecomer Male Voice Choir.