Mining tragedy recalled: descendants of 1908 victims gather in Mayo


SEVENTY-SIX candles were lit at a ceremony in Co Mayo yesterday in memory of all those who perished in the 1908 Maypole tragedy, one of Britain's worst mining disasters.

Among those who gathered at Hennigan's Heritage Farm, Killasser, Swinford, to commemorate long-lost ancestors was Winifred (Freddie) Neighbour from Kent.

Her maternal grandfather Thomas Groarke, from Charlestown, was one of the many Irish who died in August 1908 when an explosion ripped through the Maypole colliery in Wigan, Lancashire.

"My mother never knew her father," Mrs Neighbour explained. "She was born the January after he died. My mother talked about her Dad but she never even had a photograph of him."

Another to perish was Anthony McDonagh from Treenagleragh, Kiltimagh. His grandson, Anthony McDonagh, recalled that the tragedy had "turned women into widows, robbed children of fathers, and sisters of brothers". As a result of the disaster his grandfather had never seen the son named after him, Anthony recalled with a tear in his eye.

Only three miners survived the blast, one of whom was Edward Farrell. Until the day he died he was reluctant to tell the tale of what happened.

One of Farrell's grandchildren, Maureen O'Malley from Castlebar, said she understood that her father hardly ever referred to the tragedy. "I think it upset him to talk about it," she said. "I'm told that all his life he had claustrophobia, a fear of enclosed spaces."

Yesterday's ceremonies, which were held to coincide with the Mayo Emigrants' Reunion, were attended by mayor of Wigan Rona Winkworth and cathaoirleach of Mayo County Council Joe Mellett.

A room at Hennigan's Heritage Museum has been dedicated to the Maypole tragedy.

Old mining equipment is on display, as well as a tapestry with a roll-call of the dead embroidered by a descendant of one of the victims, along with the original Maypole flag which flew over the colliery.