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The Men of ’39
Michael Falsey
Seafield, Quilty
Recorded in Jim Carroll and Pat Mackenzie's home outside Miltown Malbay, July 2007

Carroll Mackenzie Collection

Michael Falsey and Junior Crehan

Come all you pincher kiddies* and all long-distance men;
You may be over in this land nine years or maybe ten.
You may have tramped this country o’er, from Plymouth to the Tyne,
But there’s not a word about the boys that came in ’39.

There’s not a word about the lads that came from Old Kinsale,
And took the road to Dublin, from Dun Laoghaire they did sail.
The man up in the Globe Hotel, he gave them the oh-grand,
Saying good luck upon you Paddy, with your passport in your hand.

Some of those pincher kiddies came when England needed men.
His catchword was to catch them for the famous Darky Finn.
To slave behind a mixer, until your skin turned tan,
And to say, Good on you Paddy, with the passport in your hand.

We traveled up from Liverpool, down to sunny Cornwall.
We got off the bus and scamper, when the bombs began to fall.
As Hitler with his doodlebugs upon us all did land,
We’d tote the gun, with our gas masks on, and our passports in our hand.

We worked along the slipways, on the runaways and the docks.
And the fourteen blue card numbers, soon had us on the rocks.
We prayed to God in heaven above, and for DeValera’s band.
And we’ll cast our vote, and take the boat, to Erin’s lovely land.

Now all of you who stayed at home, and never crossed the pond.
And didn’t work for Wimpy, McAlpine or John Laing.
Or slaved behind a mixer, until your skin is tanned,
And to say, Good on you Paddy, with the passport in your hand.

Now our six months is nearly up, and we’ll be going home.
We’ll tell the Welfare Officers, we never more will roam.
We’ll say farewell to all the girls we met up in the Strand.
And we’ll bid adieu, and change at Crewe, with our passport in our hand.

*Old-time navvies


Michael Falsey talks to Jim Carroll about ‘The Men of ‘39’

“Another navvies’ song (see also McAlpine’s Crew) for which we have been unable to find an author. However the line ‘But there’s not a word about the boys that came in ’39’ indicates that it was written in England rather than Ireland. 1939 was not a comfortable time to go to England; war was impending and Hitler had just invaded Poland. The thrust of the song seems to be that those who went then were a particularly hardy breed. The navvies who dug the canals and laid the railways in Britain had, and earned, a reputation as hard fighters, hard drinkers and womanisers. In 1839, Lieutenant Peter Lecount, assistant engineer to Robert Stephenson while building the London to Birmingham railway, wrote of them:

'These banditti, known in some parts of England by the name of 'Navies' or 'Navigators', and in others by that of 'Bankers', are generally the terror of the surrounding country; they are as completely a class by themselves as the Gypsies. Possessed of all the daring recklessness of the smuggler, without any of his redeeming qualities, their ferocious behaviour can only be equalled by the brutality of their language. It may be truly said, their hand is against every man and before they have been long located, every man's hand is against them; and woe befall any woman with the slightest share of modesty, whose ears they can assail. From being long known to each other, they in general act in concert, and put at defiance any local constabulary force; consequently crimes of the most atrocious character are common, and robbery, without an attempt at concealment, has been an everyday occurrence, wherever they have congregated in large numbers'.”

The Railway Navvies, Terry Coleman, Hutchinson, 1965.

Jim Carroll

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