Friday, January 4, 2008
Minstrels of the Mine Patches
The Song Down, Down, Down.
The Singing Miner William "Bill" Keating
The Troubadours of the Mine Patches.
When performing with my butty Tommy (Mule ) Symons as part of the Breaker Boys. A modern day minstrel of the Mine patch program. We like to think of ourselves as carrying on the tradition of the troubadours of the past. Every program we perform is in remembrance of the men who came before us. This unique breed of men gave to the people of the little mining patches a taste of their own cultures from the Irish, Welsh, English, German, Slavic and Italian life styles. These men brought a great amount of joy and laughter to the hard lives that these men, women and children existed in the 19th and early 20th century on a daily basis.
The men roamed up and down the coal region from Scranton in the north to Western Schuylkill County in the south. The sang songs, wrote poems, played fiddles, guitars, banjos and mandolins. They would perform a one man show to the delight of everyone.
They were well known throughout the area. Men such as Ed Foley, of Black Heath who did his bet work at Irish Wakes, christenings and weddings. Marty Mulhall of Shenandoah a poet wrote poems and songs about the Molly’s. The Johnson Brothers from Summit Hill, Old Barney Kelly from Ashland wearing his old black derby tilted to the side with his violin tucked under his arm old Barney was 78 years old when performing. There was Dennis Coyle another first rate fiddler. There was also Joe Gallagher who wrote the famous ballad “Dear old Number Six”.Men such as Danny Walsh, of Centralia who won medals at folk festivals. Harry Tempest from St. Clair who wrote “The Twin Shaft Mine Squeeze” and the famous over at “Indian Ridge.” There was also one of my favorites, Giant Patrick O’Neill, who wrote the “Hard Working Miner” Old giant wasn't really a giant actually he was small in stature and built with a slender build. His dancing was fantastic. And we can never forget one of the most famous minstrels, Con Carbon. From Hazelton Who wrote one of my favorites, “When the Breakers Go Back on Full Time”.
But in this short blog I want to talk about one of the best. William “Bill” Keating.
Born in Mt. Laffee, and lived his life in Pottsville. Wearing his mining cloths and carrying all the time a cut plait whip and playing his harmonica or as he called it “Twanging his Harp”.
Bill was short and thin, born on March 31, 1886. He was a third generation Irish miner.
Bill once stated in an interview that "I was born with a nack of putting musical rhyming words together, I was able to hold them in my mine and then recite them when ever I wanted to." He was a veteran of World War 1 having served with the 316th Infantry regiment; he was wounded in action in France. Bills most famous of all songs was his “Down, Down, Down. Which he said was “picked up between gangway and roof fall and put together on a mine car bumper, penciled with car sprags, punctuated with mule kicks, tuned to the thunder and vibration of underground blasts and muted to the solitude of the mines, on the third level of Oak Hill shaft at Buckley’s Gap, Duncott.
We lost Bill on Tuesday December 8, 1964. He was 78 years old. Bill has many surviving relatives in the area to this day. I hope old Bill is still singin and playin up in heaven.