An Excerpt from Paddy Piggott’s Memories of a Lifetime

Paddy Piggot 2

The following is taken from a filmed interview shot and edited in 2010 by Pat Larkin. Here Paddy discusses his time working for the Gas Company.

I was born in 1928 at 19 Hanover Street East. There was a controversy over my name. People think its Picket but ya can spell it with a French accent ‘Pigg-ott’.

My first job was in Tonge and Taggart at age 14. I was there four years, then I walked into a job in the Gas Company and I stuck it for 18 years. I served me time feeding furnaces; the furnaces were stoked all day and all night. It takes a month for a fire to go out.

There was pure gas went straight up to the atmosphere and all the pigeons used to come in their thousands to breathe in the heat. There were no electric lights, they were gas lights that were square and all dirty so ya worked from the lights of yer fires. Each man had eight fires.

The coal was brought from the coalboats to the retort house. A retort house was where we made the gas. There was four sections in a retort house and ya went through the four every couple of years.

At that time the unions were terrible and we worked in very dangerous conditions. It was feckin slavery; we worked 48 hours, seven days a week. There was a six o’clock and a two o’clock shift. Each man had to tell the next shift the read.

“Watch that retort, there’s danger at that hanger, that’s a dropper, that’s a scorer.”

One morning the shift before us, Larry Doyle, God rest him, was pushing the skip and above him the solid casting with the doors broke and about two hundred ton of coal came thundering down. The place was in darkness for three or four hours. Larry had just pushed the skip out of the way. We made our complaints and the Company said, “We will give yis a double shift, anything ya want.”

There was a casual list of twenty men outside the gate every morning. If the Gas Company needed any men they took them there. The harder ya worked the more rest ya had for a game of cards or a few large bottles in yer locker.

They gave us a thirty-six hour shift. No, we said, we wanted the retort house demolished. They offered us spotters. A spotter was a man with a flash lamp who shined his light up to the castings to see if they were cracked. We worked for six months because we had to clear all the tons of coal left in the hoppers. It had to be burned before they could demolish it.

The other condition was that the 20 men on the list outside the gate be hired as a fourth shift. They agreed and Jake Gilmore was one of them and Larry Doyle. We didn’t accept any money. We used to call them the ghost shift because they were the fourth shift and ya never seen them.

We worked under dangerous conditions in them days. Then we got a substitute for steel, it was really light and then we got protective clothing; clogs, shirts, different gear, winter and summer. The clogs had steel around them and there would be sparks flying out of them. Ye were allowed half an hour, ten minutes to walk to Morronies, ten minutes to have a few pints and ten minutes to walk back. Ya had to guzzle the pints.

Sadly, Paddy passed away on June 8th 2011.

You can read more about the Gas Company and other Ringsend stories in Pat Larkin’s book, The Coalboat Kids, available to purchase at Sandymount’s Books on the Green.

Left: Stoking the furnaces.
Below: Paddy Piggott in more recent times. Pictures supplied by Pat Larkin.