Workers Hammer No. 223

Summer 2013


McAlpine’s Fusiliers

Since the 1930s, construction company McAlpine has employed large numbers of Irish workers in building roads and other projects in Britain. McAlpine’s management was notorious in Irish emigrant folklore for the harsh working conditions forced upon their labourers (“navvies”), as highlighted in the song “McAlpine’s Fusiliers”, written by Dominic Behan in the early 1960s and made famous by The Dubliners.

* * *

As down the glen came McAlpine’s men
With their shovels slung behind them
It was in the pub that they drank their sub
Or down in the spike you’ll find them
We sweated blood and we washed down mud
With quarts and pints of beer
But now we’re on the road again with McAlpine’s Fusiliers

. . .

I remember the day that the Bear O’Shea
Fell into a concrete stairs
What Horseface said, when he saw him dead,
Well it wasn’t what the rich call prayers
“I’m a navvy short,” was his one retort
That reached unto my ears
When the going is rough, well you must be tough, with McAlpine’s Fusiliers

I’ve worked till the sweat near had me bet
With Russian, Czech and Pole
At shuttering jams up in the Hydro Dams
or underneath the Thames in a hole
I grafted hard and I got me cards
and many a ganger’s fist across me ears
If you pride your life, don’t join, by Christ,
with McAlpine’s Fusiliers!