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Why Paddy's Not at Work Today



Whilst looking for Irish accordion music I came across this classic wee Irish ditty about Paddy not being at work.

It rang very true with me as I was one of many kids who had to leave school at 15 in 60s Scotland when their fathers were made redundant, and go to work as labourers on building (construction) sites. Incidentally the practice is illegal now, but when it was legal we would probably have been better off as prisoners sentenced to hard labour.

We were basically just thrown into heavy manual labour without any instruction or safety briefings and were expected to do any arduous tasks they threw at us. On the first day on site I suffered two stupid injuries due to ignorance. First one was when I pulled a three piece 60 foot wooden ladder off a roof, taking care not to damage the aluminium facing on the house. The ladder bounced off the ground, caught me under the chin, and lifted me a few feet into the air. I fractured some bone or other in my chin/jaw, but not badly enough to go home sick. Later that same day I was told to carry a propane gas cylinder down another 60 foot ladder from a roof to the ground. The cylinder weighed 120 lbs so I put it on my shoulder, not realising that the frost on it was going to lift the skin off my neck.

My mother was very sympathetic when she saw the state I was in, but I had to go to work again the next day as we needed the money. When I heard this song it brought it home to me that Paddy could well have been me, and in fact it was me. If only I could have saved enough money to buy my sister a Lego doll for her Christmas!

Sometimes we got easier numbers like two 15 year olds manhandling cast iron baths weighing 280lbs up four flights of stairs at a time. If all the carrying got too much for us we were just told to steal the dumper trucks from our fellow adult labourers and use them to carry the heavy gear. Most of us could drive just about any construction site vehicle on the roads at 15 with no licence, insurance, or anything else. Please dont reach for the paper hankies as our mothers gave us 8 slices of bread and cheese, and two bars of chocolate every day. We needed it for the amount of graft we had to do. One guy used to complain about getting 8 cheese sandwiches every day, so we told him to tell his mother to vary it a bit. He said he couldnt do that as his mother was dead, and he had to make the sandwiches himself!




I seem to remember the tune back in the 60s when I was engaged in similar antics on building sites. When I turned 16 I showed so much promise that they gave me an apprenticeship to a plumbing squad. My wages halved and I had to pay 2 shillings a week national insurance. Suddenly my labouring potential took on an elite status as I only had to carry building materials relative to my "trade", but I still stole the dumper trucks and tractors, as we had to move cast iron drain equipment, some of which weighed more than I did. After I stupidly demonstrated that I was able to "shoulder" most equipment I was elevated to the status of "Grade One Strong (Stupid) Man", and any time they needed to use a 10lb hammer yours truly was called into action.

One older kid on the site was stronger than I was so at least I never had to defend any titles. I was once called to settle a dispute with some Irish labourers who had refused to dig sufficiently deep holes to take major drain connectors in bad weather. Our bonus was at stake and the Irish guy they badged as their champion was older and bigger than me. What I never knew at that time was that I was being used as part of a prank, and people had bet against me daring to face up to the guy. I used to work with him in a labouring squad and he knew I could hold my own with just about anybody, at least when it came to carrying building materials. We were supposed to engage in a bare knuckle fight, but he shook my hand and said there would be no fight. He turned to his colleagues and said "I've never killed a Presbyterian yet, but I'm frightened that the ******* might kill me!" These days I would run a mile faced with such a situation, but in those days I was still a bit crazy. It soon dawned on me that it was a "set up", when they all started laughing.

Turns out he was related to an uncle of mine from Donegal and didn't want to "destroy" me in front of the whole site, so he "capitulated". Never really did my ego much good as I knew the truth. He used to fight in organised bare knuckle boxing matches in Glasgow, but a dare was a dare and I went through with it.

It would have been a no-contest. I was a strong lad but was never much of a fighter. Young lads on building sites were the targets for a lot of pranks, and that was just another one of them.

I'll be lifting my old age pension later this month, with 49 years worth of National Insurance contributions. The months I spent as a navvy before I turned 16 doesn't count, otherwise it would have been 50 years. I used to smoke full strength Irish Flake pipe tobacco until I was diagnosed with high blood pressure. The doctor asked me why I smoked such strong tobacco and I told her I'd earned the right. I've had a very comprehensive education, but not of the scholarly type.

EDIT:- Had to edit this as when I read it through it again I realised I had got two different incidents mixed up with each other. There was one other occasion when I was told to conceal a set of 18" Stilson grips (a huge adjustable spanner) up the sleeve of my boiler suit and challenge one of the labourers to fight. I was to hit him with the spanner before he hit me, but when I got there he was wielding a shovel waiting for me. As usual he was in on it and I had to let the spanner drop to the ground so that I could shake hands with him. Yet another "set-up", and much laughter by everybody except me. My boss got the message and stopped making fun of me after I let all his tyres down one Friday afternoon. Working on building (construction) sites as a teenager was 4 years of hard life experience, and more injuries than I can now remember.

Stephen Hawkins

Experienced Gentleman.
Jan 25, 2016
Reaction score
Lancashire, England.
Hi John,

I have had my old age pension for five years, though I have been retired for more than ten years. Like yourself, I made some decent provision for my dotage, and didn't need to wait for the OAP in order to retire.

Brenda & I have seven pensions between us, though most of them are quite small. Still, they all add up to a relatively comfortable existence.

Kind Regards,

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