Ben ’Blow’ Whelan: An Irish Life in Wales

This is a transcript of a tape recording made in March, 1976.

It is divided into 4 parts.

Part 4

BBW: March the twelfth, 1950, the big aircraft disaster, after returning from Dublin, Wales winning the Triple Crown, the last Rugby match in Belfast?

Q: It was played in Belfast?

BBW: The plane went from Dublin...

Q: You’ve composed something...?

BBW: (reciting):

Now you Rugby fans, just listen,
To the story that I’m going to tell,
It’s a thing that should never be forgotten,
We should all remember it well.
It’s about a big air disaster,
After your colleagues had left Dublin town,
With pride in their hearts and their players
For winning that great Triple Crown.

It was March the 12th, 1950,
If you turn back your pages you’ll see.
It was the day of the Llandow disaster,
Of the crash of the great Tudor V.
Now ‘twas gaily she left Llandow Airport,
Conveying a bright happy band
Across the sea to old Ireland
In support of their own native land.
Ireland been waiting for the contest,
How long they’d saved up for the spree,
And making more sure of the journey,
They boarded the great Tudor V.

Now their journey to old Ireland was happy,
They laughed and they chatted with glee,
And they talked of the wonders of Rugby
And the sights they were all going to see.
Their loved ones had bid them a farewell,
Not thinking the last it would be,
As they sailed through the air of the ocean
On that air ship, the great Tudor V.

Now they landed in Ireland quite safely,
Their hopes was high set for the game,
They longed for the best from their players,
That their Cymru, their Wales, should have fame.
The match was all that they asked for,
They cheered with their rattles and yells,
And a verse from The Land of my Fathers
Was as sweet as Heaven-sent bells.

Once more they boarded that air ship,
Their spirits still void of all care,
Not thinking that all would be silent
In a flash to the earth from the air.
No words can express the emotion
Of the loved ones that waited to see;
But alas the crash of that air ship
With their loved ones aboard Tudor V.

Now they’ve flown to the end of their journey,
From sadness and sorrow they’re free,
No more on this earth will we see them,
But we know they’re safe, Lord, with Thee.
So now in Thy tenderest mercy,
As Pilot of land, air and sea,
Look down on them that mourn them,
The souls of the wrecked Tudor V.

BBW: You see, it’s been forgotten now because there have been so many big accidents after it, you know.

Q: But it was the biggest one ever in Wales.

BBW: It was the biggest there was...

Another night I made one as if I met St. Patrick on the corner of Frederick Street.

That tickled them!

As I was coming here tonight
My mind was not complete,
For I thought I saw St. Patrick
On the corner of Frederick Street.
He had a bunch of shamrocks in his hat
And a shillelagh in his hand,
Singing, God bless old Ireland and
The boys from Paddy’s Land!

I said, What are you doing?
What are you doing here tonight?
I came over to watch the Irish boys,
To see they don’t get tight.
For there’s nothing can control them,
You do whate’er you can
For they’re harum scarum devil-may-care-um,
The boys from Paddy’s Land!

We used to hold it in the Marchioness of Bute, you know, the pub...

He looked me up and he looked me down,
He looked at me mighty cute,
He said, Where are you going?
I said, To the Marchioness of Bute!

I can’t think of it all now but...

I’d like to go there with you,
But we must not e’er be seen,
For we’d both land up in Cardiff Jail
For the wearing of the green!’
Archbishop Murphy’d be there in the morning
To bail the two’ve us out.
He’d call you more than rotten
And me a sacriligeous lout!

(Editor’s notes to above verses:

Frederick Street: a street in the centre of Cardiff.
Shillelagh: a club made from a branch of a hawthorn tree.
Marchioness of Bute: in Frederick Street, one of the old pubs of Cardiff, demolished in the 1970s.
Archbishop Murphy (1905 – 1995) was Archbishop of Cardiff from 1961 to 1983.)

BBW: Ha, ha, ha – I’d have a new song every time I’d go down there! The worse mike that I ever sang through, well, it wasn’t the worse, but I never sang through a mike like it...

I was up in Rhyl one day and my wife was just about as serious as I was jovial... I could have won my beer money all the week in them open shows there. “Don’t go up there, you’re only as simple as hell! Don’t go up there you’re only as simple as hell!”

On the Sunday night, “You can say what you like, I’m going out there, I’ll have a go at that one, and I’ll win it tonight!.” I said. Well, that mike! My head felt like that (pointing at something). I did win it, I won the cup, the certificate of merit and the money! I won it the following Sunday night again but the crowd was disappointed on the following Sun0day night because I didn’t put the turn over as I put the first Sunday night. But still, I had the first prize!

Q: Do you sing at all now?

BBW: Oh no, only what I sing in the home. My voice is gone, the dust and that....I did have the list with me, in the club. Any golden piece I’d be there!

Not the last one we had, the time before, me and my youngest son came in the final together. He beat me to it! Course he’ve got all the modern stuff, you know. Oh, he’s a good turn on the stage.

Q: But were there any songs written by the Irish people in this area, apart from the songs they brought from Ireland, did they write any songs for themselves?

BBW: Aye, you can hear it ?


The first time I came over from Erin’s green shore
The people cried, Paddy, why did you come o’er?
I came over to England, good wages to draw.
And they then cursed the dodo from Erin go Bragh.

When I landed in Cardiff, surrounded by rogues,
Wish you black, said Paddy, will I shine your brogues?
Or are you one of those fly boys that fancies you’re wise?
Well, Paddy’s the boy that could shine both your eyes.

Now I went up the hills for to look for work there,
And I crossed o’er a mountain they called Aberdare,
Oh, I met some black collier and how he did howl
Saying, Go back to old Erin, oh, Paddy, yr hen ddiawl!

Now I met many darkies and I thought they were civil,
But this Aberdare darkie was like a black divil,
Oh, he cursed and he swore and he said by the law
That he’d send Paddy back to old Erin go Bragh.

Now a lump of shillelagh I held in me fist
And around his big napper I gave it a twist
Oh, the blood from his body I quickly did draw
Saying, Take that from Paddy, from Erin go Bragh!

Says I to this collier, Good morning, old mate,
And the next time I meet you I hope you’ll speak straight,
Speak nothing but Irish and less of the same,
For Paddy’s ciotóigín can show you some game!

So now I am free for to go where I will
Through Merthyr and Dowlais, Pontlottyn, Tirphil,
And go where I will, oh, they’ll give me no jaw,
For the dodo brings plenty from Erin go Bragh!

(Editor’s notes to above verses:

Erin go Bragh = Ireland for ever (Irish: �irinn go br�ch).
’England’ is commonly used in Ireland – and throughout Europe – to mean anywhere in Great Britain.
brogues: boots or shoes (Irish: bróg)
Aberdare: a town about 20 miles north of Cardiff.
Yr hen ddiawl (Welsh, pron. ’er hane jowl’ ) = you old devil.
black collier, darkie: Although not entirely clear it seems that the collier was a Welshman blackened by coal. The racist feel of these verses tells us something quite significant about the Irish in Wales at the time this song may have been composed (late 19th century?). Exiled, marginalised and themselves the victims of prejudice, there is a sad irony in the fact that some of them seem to have given short shrift to the native Welsh as well as to fellow exiles from other parts of the British empire.
shillelagh (normally pronounced ‘shill-ay-la’, here ‘shill-ay-lee’), a club or cudgel traditionally made from a branch of a hawthorn tree (Irish: sail éille).
napper = head.
Speak nothing but Irish: The Irish language was spoken by many members of the Irish community in Wales until the First World War. There may still have been a few Welsh-born native speakers of Irish around until the 1970s.
Through Merthyr and Dowlais, Pontlottyn, Tirphil,: these towns to the north of Cardiff were all noted steel or coal communities where large numbers of Irish people lived.
Ciotóigín [Irish, pron. kit-ogue-een ] = the left fist [literally = little left hand].

Q: ’Ciotóigín’ is the left hand, isn’t it?

BBW: That’s what my father used to call me, a ciotóg! (kit-ogue) Oh, there used to be terrible trouble up around Merthyr and Old Tredegar, the Irish riots back in the early nineties, you know.

Q: What would cause the riots? would the Irish start it or would the other people start it, who would start the fighting, the Irish or the other people?

BBW. Oh, you don’t know which side would start it, you see, Jack Jones describes that in his books but not like I’ve heard it before, I’ve heard it from old people, you know. There was Old Tredegar, you had the riots there and Big Mary, they stripped her and feathered her and they marched her down from Tredegar down to Sirhowy.

Q: And who was Big Mary?

BBW: An Irishwoman – she laid a few of them out!

Q: Why did they pick on her?

BBW: Oh, because she would join in in the riots – oh aye, aye!

Q: When were the riots in Tredegar?

BBW: Oh, perhaps in the 1880s, a very long time ago.

Oh aye, I’ve seen a good time in Wales – mind, I looked after meself. I drank a drop of beer in my time – I drank some in my time. My daughter says to me now: “You don’t have to worry, dad, if you never have no more you’ve had enough!”

But I never lost a day’s work, never neglected my home. I drunk my share of it. Mind you, I worked hard, I could afford it...and when I reared my family I could turn my hand to anything? I could make my beer without touching my wages...I spent a happy life too...

Q: Oh, you look fairly bright now? but for the arthritis.

BBW: I was reading in a book the other night, “What can’t be cured must be endured!” That’s what the specialist told me, “You’ve got to learn to live with it.” he said, and there are some days it takes a little bit too...I asked the Matron tonight if she’s got any prussic acid here. I asked for a hypodermic needle and a half a glass of prussic acid. Aye, some days it very nearly drives me around the bend. It’s a little bit easier today...Of course, I can tell you, it’s wearing me down because it won’t let me sleep...

Here, here and here and when it gets bad it goes down about there...This leg is as good as ever it was, but I worked very hard before it took me...there was 20 or 30 trees outside my window and they was aggravating me, they were on a bank like here...I cut them down – I had to drag them along the fence down towards the river. Every stroke I was making on this bank I was slipping. I got them down and went and dug my garden – end of November...

Q: How old were you then, 79?

BBW: I was gone 80!...I was very active, very active. I used to walk in the evening... miles and miles around them old mountains, land up in my club, have a couple of pints, go home, cook the supper and go to bed. I’m a very lucky man. Mind, I’ve walked in a lot of water too. When you’re standing in water to there and have it coming down on top of you as well...It’s a wonder I’m so good.

Q: The arthritis could have got you a lot sooner?

BBW: Oh yes...course I never thought I could have it. Never a day bad, I couldn’t even tell you I had a bad cold.

Q: Although you did get the dust eventually?

BBW: Aye, they tell me they haven’t got it in Cardiff. The last time they took me from Aberbargoed Hospital into Abergavenny – straight out of the ambulance car and X-rays. When the plate developed he held it up and he says to me: “You certified for dust?”

I says: “No.”

“No.” “Funny.” he said.

Next morning I had to go down for X-ray again.

The following morning the three specialists came on my round. A different specialist asked me: “Are you compensated for dust?”

“No” I said.

“You’re not?” he says.

I said: “Tell me then, can you find dust in them plates?”

“Oh” he said, “been to Cardiff before the board?”

I said: “Yes, seven times.”

“They couldn?t find it?” he said.

“Can you find dust in them plates?” I said.

“If we couldn’t we wouldn’t ask you!”

I said: “What do you reckon is there?”

“As far as I’m concerned, you’ve got a full load.” he said, “Your one lung is blocked right up!” he says.

“Give me a certificate.” I said.

”I could,” he says, “but it would be no good to you. You’ll have to take that to Cardiff and what they tell you in Cardiff is law,” he says, “ you have to abide by it. It’s nothing but a bloody fraud.” he said.

That’s how he went.

I go in a mobile van in the town they can find it.

I go in a mobile van in the colliery they can find it.

Still in Cardiff they tell me I haven’t got it!

I went for a board in 1947, my own doctor sent me now, to Old Tredegar for an X-ray, right.

They found it in Old Tredegar.

“Go up to the Federation Secretary,” he said, “and get a note to go to Cardiff for a board.”

Right, I did that.

The report came back to tell me I didn’t have it.

The doctor sent me back the same week to Old Tredegar, now that I had the report.

They found it smack again!

They’ve got the two certificates now. You ask them to look at them in Cardiff – “No, no!, we don’t want them.”

It’s only a sham in Cardiff.

Q: How do people get paid then? How bad do you have to be?

BBW: Some are getting it alright. There you are, he told me my one lung was blocked up. I’ve been worse – I’ve been feeling worse since I’ve been in here. Do you know what I blame for it – central heating. Some days it’ll catch me and it will last almost three weeks to a month. I go on the whiskey bottle then to clear it.

No, it’s very rare I go out to tea at all. I tell you why – I?m putting weight on by here which I didn’t have, so I’ve cut the tea out. I took three inches off there!

Q: That takes a bit of doing at any age!

BBW: Ah well, it takes a bit of weight off my legs as well. But you see, the meals are too close together and you’re not moving about. You see, if I could get out somewhere... You see, you get a cup of tea at seven o’clock in the morning here and breakfast at half past eight, dinner at half past twelve, tea half past three, supper half past six and a hot drink at eight o’clock. Very rare I have that hot drink. Might have a bottle of Guinness sometimes by myself.

When I heard there was a Tobin coming to see me I thought, “I wonder if he’s an Irishman!” There was Tobins around where my parents was born...

Q: In Waterford? There’s a place called Tobinstown in County Kilkenny, isn’t there?

BBW: I heard my father talking about a Father Tobin...

An old woman, second day I was in here, they was telling me there was an old Irishwoman in here, ninety nine!.

“Oh, I’ll have to go and have a look at her.” I said.

So I went down to the lounge the next morning.

I didn’t want to ask.

“Right ho,” I said, “are you Mrs. Murphy?”

“Yes.” she said.

She asked me different things – “How did you know that morning?” she says.

I says: “I only wanted to look at your face,” I says, “I could tell it was Mrs. Murphy!”

”What, do I look Irish?” she says.

I said: “You have the map of Ireland all over your face!”

Then I said to her:

One day as I strolled along Broadway,
A vision came into my view,
A picture of sadness and beauty
A sight that is rare seen by few.
There was I in the land of a stranger,
A shame I had not seen her before,
But I knew by her face she was Irish,
Eileen from Erin’s green shore!

(The tape recorder was switched off at this point and then restarted)

BBW: (Singing):

In the merry month of June,
When the flowers were in bloom,
And the birds were singing gaily in the trees,
Oh, I met a maiden gay,
And unto her did say,
Can I wind up your little ball of yarn!

Oh no, kind sir, says she,
You’re a stranger unto me,
Besides, I have a chappie of my own,
But if I felt that way
‘Tis unto you I’d say,
You can wind up my little ball of yarn!

So we walked and talked and walked,
Till we came to yonder green,
And there, by a pretty little stream,
I laid that maiden down,
And picking up her gown,
Started winding up her little ball of yarn!

Now that maiden she arose,
And pulling down her clothes,
Said I’ll have to go and tell me dear mama.
So I crept out from that green,
For fear that I’d be seen,
Winding up her little ball of yarn!

Now, twelve months time did pass,
And I met that self-same lass,
With a darling little chappie on her arm.
I said to her, fair miss,
Don’t I deserve a kiss
After winding up your little ball of yarn!

She unto me did say,
‘Tis you will have to pay,
And also for this chappie on me arm,
For it’s plain for all to see,
What you have done to me,
By winding up my little ball of yarn!

Now listen, young and old,
To the story that’s been told,
And never get up early in the morn,
But like the blackbird and the thrush,
Keep your own hand on your brush,
And the other on your little ball of yarn!

(Editor’s note to above:

This song is usually associated with Ned Clamper, a folksinger from the Gower Peninsula near Swansea.)

Q: No wonder Mrs. Murphy wouldn’t listen to you...

BBW: Ha, ha, ha!


...and she smiled as she passed me by...

(coughing) I thought that would get me beat! I’m beat now for a bit...

Recording ends.

This recording of Mr Ben ‘Blow’ Whelan made at Tŷ Clyd Home for the Aged, Bargoed, 3 March, 1976, by Barry Tobin, then a member of staff of the former Mid Glamorgan County Library Service.

We are very grateful to the present keepers of the cassette recording, the Bridgend Library and Information Service, for allowing us to transcribe and publish it.

Ben ’Blow’ Whelan fell and broke his leg at Tŷ Clyd on 20 October 1976, later being transferred to the Miners Hospital in Caerphilly where he died on 12 November.

May he rest in peace.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Published in The Green Dragon No 8, Spring, 1999.

Links St. Patrick’s Day / Gorgysylltiadau Gŵyl Padrig 2004