U2: Springhill Mining Disaster

I was lucky enough to receive an excellent sound quality version of this song! Enjoy!

I realized when I heard this song that I’d never heard this song! Heard the title many times but I guess I’d never heard nor gone looking for it. A brilliant recording from 1987. And hey, being Canadian I can’t complain!

For those of you who do not know the story, here’s the Wikipedia summary:
The 1958 Bump which occurred on October 23, 1958 was the most severe “bump” (underground earthquake) in North American mining history. The 1958 Bump devastated the people of Springhill for the casualties they suffered; it also devastated the town, as the coal industry had been its economic lifeblood.

It is not exactly known what causes a “bump”, however it is believed that it could be caused when coal is totally removed from a bedrock unit or “stratum”, and the resulting geological stresses upon surrounding strata (sandstone, shale, etc. in most coal-bearing units) cause the pillars (coal left in place) supporting the galleries to suddenly and catastrophically disintegrate, causing the shaft to collapse.

The No. 2 colliery was one of the deepest coal mines in the world. Sloping shafts 14,200 feet (4,300 m) long ended more than 4,000 feet (1,200 m) below the surface in a vast labyrinth of galleries off the main shafts. In the case of the No. 2 colliery, the mining techniques had been changed 20 years before this disaster, from “room and pillar” to “long wall retreating” after reports documenting the increased danger of “bump” phenomena in the use of the former technique.

On October 23 a small bump occurred at 7:00 pm during the evening shift, but was ignored as this was a somewhat common occurrence. However just over an hour later at 8:06 pm an enormous bump “severely impacted the middle of the three walls that were being mined and the ends of the four levels nearest the walls.”[1]

The bump spread as three distinct shock waves, resembling a small earthquake throughout the region, alerting residents on the surface over a wide area to the disaster. Dräger teams and teams of barefaced miners entered the No. 2 colliery to begin the rescue effort. The rescue teams encountered survivors at the 13,400-foot (4,100 m) level walking or limping toward the surface. Gas released by the bump was encountered in increasing concentrations at the 13,800-foot (4,200 m) level where the ceiling had collapsed, and rescuers were forced to work down shafts that were in a partial state of collapse or were blocked completely by debris.

Any miners who were not covered either in side galleries or some other shelter were immediately crushed during the bump, the coal faces having been completely destroyed. 75 survivors were on the surface by 4:00 am on October 24, 1958. Rescue teams continued working, but the number of rockfalls and amount of debris slowed progress.

Meanwhile, the Canadian and international news media had made their way to Springhill. The disaster actually became famous for being the first major international event to appear in live television broadcasts (on the CBC). As the world waited and those on the surface kept their vigil, rescuers continued to toil below the surface trying to reach trapped survivors. Teams began to arrive from other coal mines on Cape Breton Island and in Pictou County.

After five and a half days (placing it around the morning of Wednesday, October 29, 1958) contact was established with a group of 12 survivors on the other side of a 160-foot (49 m) rockfall. A rescue tunnel was dug and broke through to the trapped miners at 2:25 am on Thursday, October 30, 1958.

On Friday, October 31, 1958 the rescue site was visited by various dignitaries, including the Premier of Nova Scotia, Robert Stanfield and His Royal Highness Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh who had been at meetings in Ottawa.

On Saturday, November 1, 1958 an additional group of survivors was found; however, there would be no more in the following days. Instead, bodies of the dead were hauled out in airtight aluminum coffins, on account of the advanced stage of decomposition, accelerated by the Earth’s heat in the depths of the No. 2 mine at 13,000–14,000 feet (4,000–4,300 m) from the mine entrance.

Of the 174 miners in No. 2 colliery at the time of the bump, 74 were killed and 100 trapped but eventually rescued.

The rescuers were awarded a Gold Medal by the Royal Canadian Humane Association for bravery in lifesaving, the first time the medal had been awarded to a group.

Song History:

Peggy Seeger composed “The Ballad of Springhill” (with assistance from Ewan MacColl) based on the 1958 disaster.[4] It was originally performed by MacColl and Seeger as an a cappella duet.
“The Ballad of Springhill” was subsequently sung by popular folk revival group Peter, Paul, & Mary.
Irish rock stars U2 drew international attention to the memory of the Springhill mining disaster when they included “The Ballad of Springhill” in the playlist for their Joshua Tree Tour in 1987. U2 performed the song at fifteen concerts[5], although Bono did misrepresent the year in the song by saying “88” and not “58” during a few live performances. In an interview after the 1987 performance on a 25th anniversary television tribute to the Irish band The Dubliners, Bono stated that the first recording of “The Ballad of Springhill” he heard was that sung by Irish folk singer Luke Kelly a member of The Dubliners.

Here’s the lyrics:
In the town of Springhill Nova Scotia
Down in the dark of the Cumberland mine
There’s blood on the coal, and the miners lie
In roads that never saw sun nor sky
Roads that never saw the sun nor sky

In the town of Springhill
You don’t sleep easy
Often the earth will tremble and roll
When the earth is restless
Miners die

Bone and blood is the price of coal
Bone and blood is the price of coal

In the town of Springhill Nova Scotia
Late in the year of ’58
Well the day still comes and the sun still shines
But it’s dark at the graves of the Cumberland miners
It’s dark at the graves of the Comberland miners

Listen to the shouts of the black faced miner
Listen to the call of the rescue team
We have no water, light or bread
So we’re living on songs and hope instead
We’re living on songs and hope instead

In the town of Springhill Nova Scotia
Down in the dark of the Cumberland mine
There’s blood on the coal, and the miners lie
In roads that never saw sun or sky
Roads that never saw sun nor sky

In the town of Springhill Nova Scotia
Often the earth will tremble and roll
When the earth is restless
Miners die

Bone and blood is the price of coal
Bone and blood is the price of coal
Bone and blood is the price of coal

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3 Responses to U2: Springhill Mining Disaster

  1. dripable says:

    This could be the greatest read I have ever seen…

  2. Kavalid says:

    I prefer the version from ‘The Late Late Show’.
    Edge’s delay is more pronounced.

    • larrylootsteen says:

      I haven’t heard that one. I’ll see if it’s on Youtube. I’ve only heard a couple of versions since i got this. This one has a really clear sound to it so I think it’s great for that. Not necessarily the best version ever but it works for me!

      Thanks for writing!

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