Steel Erecting

‘So, after the War and your stint in the Army, what did you work at?’ I asked Dickie Rodgers.

‘I became a steel-erector.

There was a lot of that kind of building work in the Fifties. Bridges were rising. Power Stations. I worked on ten or twelve of them all over England.

When I arrived in a new place, I always made a bee-line for the local Labour Party. I knew there I’d find the best of people. And I always did.

Then there was a lot of building work in South Africa and we went there. They were great people, both black and white. I enjoyed it there.

And in the Fifties too I worked at the steel-erecting in the USA.

You know who was doing most of that kind of work there?’ he asked rhetorically.

‘The North American Indians. There’s something about them physically (Dickie indicated the base of his spine) that makes them especially suited to high-level steel-erecting work.

My best mate was a native American who went by the name of Sam Kinkaid. But he had an Indian name that translated to English as ‘Kill on Top’.

I’d spend weekends on the Reservation with him. They had their own society, a township-like, with their own stores, cinemas, even their own police force.

Sam would ask me to take him with us when we got a new contract.’

Dickie paused.

I asked him about work at home.

‘There was little or no work here. But, ‘ he added, ‘I did work in Harland & Wolffs.

There was religious bother there, but I never experienced it. It made no difference to me.

They wanted me to stay on as a supervisor after the contract ended. But I didn’t.’

In conclusion, I asked Dickie if he remembered two old entertainers of Newry who went by the name of Mickey and Barney.

‘Sure I remember them. I think they were Kelly – but I could be wrong. They were from Castle Street. It was a very poor area of town then.

They had a sister too – but I can’t remember her name. They walked the streets of Newry singing all the time. They were looking for money but they wouldn’t ask for it. They carried a rolled-up piece of cardboard, in the shape of a cone. That was their loud-speaker! We mocked them and they chased us! We even made up a street rhyme about them. It went …

‘Mickey and Barney went out to catch flies ..

Mickey gave Barney two black eyes !’

There was much more but I forget it now.

My mother used to set dinner for the sister. They were in need of charity. But the Newry people were never lacking in charity.

… It was time to give Dickie a break, so I thanked him and left!

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