On Friday, February 1, 2009, an era ended in Cork.
It was the last working day for dockers on the city quays.
According to reports from the time, the remaining 103 had to accept redundancy by a majority vote, as Cork Port moved into a different period of “modernisation of work practices”, according to official statements. There had been 1,300 dockers at one time, unloading and loading ships berthed at the quays near the city centre.
The vote wasn’t unanimous — there were those who wanted to continue — but shipping was also changing and it is hard to hold back change. I wrote last week about the Cork dockers, describing them as “a great group of men and their families, which should never be forgotten... Their contribution was essential to what makes Cork a maritime city.”
I return to their story this week, because of the big reaction, on email, by text, and in postings, on the ‘Cork Dockers Public Group’ Facebook page, which I had discovered.
“There is much more to say about the dockers, their families, the community they lived in, how they looked after people, but yet were regarded by the public generally as rough men who worked down the docks. They were much, much more,” one lady emailed.
Another recalled that her father had to be “outside Doyles, the dock employers, every morning at 7am to be selected for a day’s work” and a third email said: “They were tough men — they had to be: Tight-knit, legendary, working in the dark holds of ships, the often stifling bellies of the vessels, where the air they breathed was a challenge, not to mind the work digging into coal, slag, potash, milk powder. They had to be tough.”
Among memories quoted on the Facebook page are those of “the Ford boxes”.
These crates carried parts to Ford’s factory on the Marina for assembly into cars. The timber was used for a lot of purposes after its arrival. “Pigeon lofts on the northside,” I was told. “Pigeon-fancying and racing was very popular.”
“Helped to start off some holiday homes in those days down in Crosser,” said another.
“Anyone with memories of chocolate crumb?” asked a further posting, and there are many recollections of the ‘nicknames’ dockers had.
“They were a ‘badge of acceptance’. No self-respecting docker would be caught dead without one,” according to Dave McCarthy, who wrote the book about Cork dockers (Cork’s Docks & Dockers: Tales from the Port of Cork.)
”Indeed, many dockers were known only by their nicknames, hard-earned.” There were, as has been pointed out to me, labour disputes in the docks, official and unofficial. “For good reasons and, sometimes, not so good, but dockers had to fight for their rights and they were working in hard conditions,” I was told.
There is a Dublin Dock Workers’ Preservation Group, which has been in existence for 10 years, with the objective of “preserving the industrial history of Dublin Docks” and which has been in touch with me.
“We have come across amazing stories and feel the dockers deserve public recognition,” the preservation group wrote. They are considering a public memorial to recall their part in the maritime history of the capital. While I started this look at Cork’s dockers by recalling my early reporting days with the Evening Echo and meeting them at pubs that opened in early morning, I also encountered Dublin dockers in similar pubs, when I was working in the capital with The Irish/Evening Press and Sunday Press.
And, I’ve been told, Dublin and Cork dockers helped each other out over the years.
Perhaps, in Cork City, there should be a public tribute to dockers to remember for future generations their contribution to Cork.
The photograph this week is of a group of dockers from The Irish Examiner files.
CORK COUNTY ISLANDS
Cork County Library has launched a new podcast, the Islands of County Cork, which may be of interest to readers. The link is here.
Well worth hearing.