Sunday, 29 November 2015

At the rising of the moon

At the Rising of the moon

A steady drizzle was falling over the hushed streets of Glasgow’s east end as Thomas trudged towards the meeting point. He puffed on his white clay pipe which was his constant companion. He had etched his initials onto it to ensure no disputes over ownership. Over his shoulder he carried the tools of his trade; a thick handled pick and a shovel. Dawn was slow to come on such grey days and a few smoking chimneys told him he was not alone in feeling the chill of this November morning. From the closes and Wynds of this, the poorest part of Glasgow, others trickled out to join him on his walk. Some pushed wheelbarrows while others brought a variety of tools required for the work at hand. Padraig Coll, a stout labourer who hailed from Belfast, joined Thomas on his walk. ‘Morning to ye Thomas. Not a pleasant day for our labours.’ Thomas nodded, ‘Aye to be sure Padraig but there’s much to be done and little time to do it.’ As the trickle of men reached a fenced off area adjacent to Jeanfield cemetery they could see that a hundred or more had already gathered around a horse drawn wagon upon which stood the familiar figure of John Glass. Thomas McGarrigle and Padraig Coll joined the small crowd of men and listened as Glass spoke. ‘Our first task is to fill the quarry and the old mine workings. We already have tons of earth on site boys so go where the Foremen send you and put your backs into it. Tis a fine endeavour you undertake this day and you have my thanks.’ With that the crowd of men entered the site for a day of hard labour.

The quarry hole in the centre of the site was over 20 feet deep and wide as a large church. The bottom of the quarry was covered in slimy water of uncertain depth and a stout rope was kept nearby in case anyone fell in. At the far end of the site a hand pump was being operated to try to suck some of the water from quarry. Thomas and Padraig were assigned to the wheelbarrow squad who formed a continuous line from a huge mound of earth to the very edge of the quarry hole. Like a line of worker ants the men shifted tons of earth and dumped it into the vast hole. As they worked Padraig Coll, a man noted for his fine singing voice and encyclopaedic knowledge of Irish folk songs, began to sing a familiar air…

‘Oh tell me Sean O’Farrel, tell me why you hurry so,

Hush me Buchal, hush and listen, and his cheeks were all aglow

I bear orders from the Captain,  get you ready quick and soon

For the pikes must be together at the rising of the moon!’

From around the site as the wheelbarrows squeaked along the planks laid over the mud and the hammers and picks swung in familiar rhythm, scores of voices joined the chorus…

‘'At the rising of the moon, at the rising of the moon

The pikes must be together, at the rising of the moon

Thomas barely looked up from his work as the men grafted and sang in that quintessentially Irish way. These men knew what a day’s work was and were in demand in the factories and docks of Britain because of it. Less than a mile north of where they laboured, the great Beardmore’s Iron works pumped black, acrid smoke into the Glasgow sky. Much of the muscle which kept the great steel works moving came from the poor Irish community which supplied the men who were giving up their one day of rest to make ready the land by Jean Field cemetery.

As the morning progressed and the large pile of earth began to diminish a huge Shire horse was brought in to haul timber across the site. As the small man leading the horse neared the wheelbarrow squad they parted to let it pass. The big animal lumbered past them and as it reached a point near the edge of the quarry the earth began to crumble under its hooves. ‘Watch out!’ shouted Thomas as the earth gave way and the huge horse reared up before crashing into the quarry below. Thomas reached instinctively for the small man who controlled the horse and grabbed him by the jacket just in time to stop him joining the animal in the sludge of the quarry. As he did so his favourite clay pipe fell from his mouth and into the quarry hole. It was a small price to pay for saving the small man from joining his horse in the pit below where it lay in obvious distress, neighing forlornly.

A brief discussion was held and it was decided that as the horse had clearly broken a leg and was beyond rescue that they should put it out of its misery. A runner was sent to fetch a certain Mr Cleghorn who dealt with sick and wounded animals. He duly arrived carrying a long slim case which contained a rifle. The situation was explained to him and after a brief look at the horse lying 20 feet below him in the quarry he nodded sadly before he opened his case and assembled his long rifle. As the labourers paused in their work to watch, a loud, echoing shot split the quiet morning air and the horse’s suffering was over. Work resumed, although the men were a little quieter.

Padraig Coll turned to Thomas, ‘That was bad luck but we must continue nonetheless.’ Thomas nodded, ‘Aye, and my best pipe was lost in that hole too.’ Coll smiled, ‘Sure a pipe is easy to replace, yer man who lost his horse had a tear in his eye.’ Thomas nodded, ‘Aye, you’re right Padraig. All in a good cause though.’ As the earth was shovelled into the pit the horse was soon covered and lost from view. The hard work continued all that long day until darkness once more shrouded the city.

And so it was that community gathered together for 8 arduous weeks to create their field of dreams and give a fitting home to their team. The old stadium, barely 400 yards away was lost as a greedy landlord demanded a huge sum of money to rent it. This grated with many as greedy landlords back in Ireland had done the same to many and driven them from the land. The people had built that first stadium too and now they gathered again to build a second Celtic Park. There were those who would like to have seen the new club stillborn but it was people’s club and the people would never desert it. For men like Tommy and Padraig seeing the turf laid and the grandstand rise gave them immense pleasure.

As they walked home when their labours were over, Padraig smiled, ‘I look forward to seeing the Bhoys play on the new field. Tis a grand thing we’ve built here.’ Tommy nodded, ‘It is indeed and to think they’ll be running out over a ground which holds so much of our sweat and of course, O’Malley’s horse.’ Padraig Coll regarded him with a grin, ‘Sure it holds your pipe too, Thomas.’ Thomas McGarrigle nodded, ‘Aye, it does and I hope it brings them luck.’

Postscript: Glasgow 1994

Tony McCready eased his van carefully through the gates of the muddy building site. He stepped out to regard the huge steel frame of the North Stand rising into the east end sky. His workmate and lifelong Rangers fan, Andy Carrol, gazed at it too, ‘Looking impressive Tony but will your lot fill it?’  Tony replied, his eyes still on the huge skeleton of the stand, ‘I think we will Andy.’ A gruff voice cut across them, ‘Tony, get yer arse intae that trench and check they pipes. The concrete will be here at nine!’ Tony nodded towards the foreman and walked towards the trench cut into the muddy ground a few yards from where the Jungle terrace used to be. He clambered in, his boots splashing muddy water onto his jeans. As he examined the joints on the sewerage pipes something caught his eye. He reached into his toolbox and removed a small screwdriver and dug gently around a white object embedded in the wall of the trench. It came free in his hand and he dipped it into a bucket of water to clean the mud from it. ‘What have ye got there, Tony?’ asked Andy. Tony examined the small object carefully, ‘Looks like a smoking pipe?’ He noticed some letters etched onto it and what appeared to be a harp and a shamrock, ‘Looks Irish and it says, T. M, on it?’ Andy shrugged, ‘Well we’ll never know who dropped it but that’s your initials anyway so ye should keep it as a souvenir.’ Tony nodded, ‘Aye, I will. Wonder who T.M was though eh?’

Tony wrapped the pipe carefully in a cloth and placed it in his tool box. He’d find a spot for it somewhere at home and it’d remind him always of his time working on the new stadium. He turned back to the task at hand and playing his small role in the rebuilding of Celtic Park. He longed to see it finished and to hear those familiar songs echo around the new stands. He would always be proud of the small part he played in Celtic's rebirth.

Just as Thomas was a century before.




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