In the 1960s one Tipperary man’s crazy and dangerous stunt captured the attention of the world.
A laborer by trade, Mike Meaney wanted to be a boxer, but a work accident ended his pugilistic ambitions. It was his daring and willingness to take on a challenge that would garner him worldwide attention in 1968. The Tipperary man decided that he wanted to break the record for being buried alive.
“They called him the human JCB back then,” recalls his daughter Mary Meaney, according to the Irish Post.
“He could literally lift up a tree and throw it over his shoulder. Incredible strength. The strength of 10 men.”
Based in London, Mike Meaney wanted his name in lights and the subterranean challenge was his ticket to fame.
“But when he couldn’t become a boxer he said he’d find another way. As he said himself being buried alive was all the rage at the time and I reckon he said: 'I’ll do that. I’ll get into the Guinness Book of Records and I’ll be world famous,'” continued his daughter.
A pub owner from Kerry by the name Butty Sugrue helped Meaney with his quest. They met Mick Keane, who owned a yard in Kilburn in London where Meaney could be buried.
Thanks to a workplace accident in which he was buried alive a few years earlier, Meaney knew he could train his mind to be still and not panic.
Meaney did some trial runs in a coffin in the Admiral Lord Nelson pub before starting his challenge on February 21, 1968. But, to add even more intrigue, on the other side of the Atlantic, American Bill White was attempting to break the same record at the same time, so the race was on.
Meaney was buried seven feet under the ground and his coffin had two holes for pipes, one for food and one for air. Incredibly, Meaney never told his wife that he was attempting the record.
“She found out through the radio,” his daughter Mary told RTE documentarians.
“He probably knew the answer would be no. She left him be – I like that fact. She let him off, and said, ‘If he wants this.’”
There was huge media attention on both sides of the pond as the two men tried to outlast one another. Meaney’s biggest challenge was the heat, and, when a 10-ton truck reversed into the yard he was buried in, the pressure of the weight was almost too much, but he persevered.
“He was going to come up but he said he’d stick it out,” says Mary. “He said that was scary. At least someone realized. It could have killed him.”
After 55 days, Bill White came out of his coffin, but Meaney would push on and emerge from the earth after 61 days. In a cruel twist, there was no official there to validate the record for the Guinness Book of Records, so Meaney’s name or the mark he set never made it into the book.
“I don’t know who to blame,” said Meaney. “They have not been fair to me. They could have seen 61 days were hammered out under worldwide television, radio and newspapers.”
Meaney would eventually settle back in Ireland in Mitchelstown in County Cork and live out his days there with his family. He died on February 17, 2003.
The priest saying his funeral Mass told the congregation: “I’ve never buried someone who has been buried before.”
Said Mary: “You couldn’t help but laugh.”
Check out the RTE documentary on his 61 days of fame here.