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The Blantyre Explosion

This is a tragic song of a young man killed in the coal pit and a young girl left lamenting. It is a song about the Blantyre mining disaster, which happened on the morning of 22 October 1877. Blantyre Colliery, William Dixon's pit, numbers 1 and 2 were both blasted, killing 207 miners of which the youngest victim was a boy of only 11. The accident left 92 widows and 250 fatherless children.

By Clyde’s bonny banks as I sadly did wander,
Amang the pit heaps, as evening drew nigh,
I spied a fair maiden all dressed in deep mourning,
A weeping and wailing, with many a sigh.

I stepped up beside her, and thus I addressed her,
Pray tell me, fair maid, of your trouble and pain.
Sobbing and sighing, at last she did answer.
Johnny Murphy, kind sir, was my true lover’s name.

Twenty one years of age, full of youth and good looking,
To work down the mines of High Blantyre he came.
The wedding was fixed, all the guests were invited,
That calm summer’s evening young Johnny was slain.

The explosion was heard, all the women and children
With pale anxious face made haste to the mine.
The news was made known, the hills rang with their mourning.
Two hundred and ten young miners were slain.

Now children and wives, and sweethearts and parents,
That Blantyre explosion they’ll never forget.
And all you young miners who hear my sad story,
Shed a tear for the victims who’re laid to their rest.

The Blantyre Colliery is located near High Blantyre, near Hamilton. There is an annual march in Blantyre to commemorate the disaster.

There are other Scottish songs about mining disasters. ‘The Donibristle Moss Moran Disaster’, which happened in Fife in 1901, and ‘The Auchengeich Disaster’, which happened as recently as 1957 near Stepps on the outskirts of Glasgow, were also commemorated in song. The Irish name of the girl’s ‘true lover’ in ‘The Blantyre Explosion’ is not surprising. Many Irishmen came over to Scotland in the 19th century to work in the pits and to dig the canals, and stayed to marry and raise families.

'The Blantyre Explosion' performed by Katherine Campbell.
From Traditional Scottish Songs and Music, Gallus Recordings.