The historic role of the Irish navies in the construction of modern Britain honored at the heart of the UK government.
A British Labour Party Member of Parliament Chris Ruane has opened the first-ever exhibition in the British Parliament to feature the historic role of the Irish Navvy.
Navvy, was the name used for itinerant Irish construction workers from the 1950s who played a huge role in building modern Britain. They have been immortalized in songs such as McAlpine's Fusiliers and Shane McGowan, for one, often references them in his music. Many were treated very badly by employers, some of them Irish bosses, and fell on hard times as they got older.
Now the son of a navvy, Welsh MP Chris Ruane has put together an exhibition in their honor in the House of Commons featuring the work of Bernard Canavan.
"Whenever Irish visitors enter the House of Commons", he said, "they must first be 'put in their place' by the towering statue of Oliver Cromwell. This week, they had the good fortune to view and be inspired by a collection of paintings by a different towering figure - Presidential Award winner and extraordinary artist, Bernard Canavan. The Co Longford-born painter, who has told the story of the Irish Navvy in his own unique way, developing a signature style in the representation of the migrant experience.”
Ruane said his intention was to "celebrate the contribution of Irish Navvies in developing modern Britain without neglecting the sacrifices and isolation experienced by many".
He praised the labor movement as a "vital source of support for Irish Navvies, whether it was organizing for construction safety and fair play, fighting the Lump or supporting wider issues of civil rights and justice".
"I am not the only Member of this Parliament, proud to remember my own Irish Navvy father. At last count I found twelve sons and daughters of Irish Navvies; there are others, no doubt."
"Nothing comes cheap, people say, but I believe every member of the Irish community has something to gain and something to contribute to this project, whether it is their own memories or their financial support. Manchester businessman John Kennedy, proud of his roots in Co Mayo has started the ball rolling with an archive donation of the very shovel he brought with him to England as a lad. Ruane said “We are looking for support and ideas from across the community.”
Here's the Dubliners singing “Mc Alpine's Fusiliers”: