IT was an annual celebration once enjoyed by hundreds
of thousands of people in working
communities the length and breadth of Scotland. But yesterday the tiny
Fife village of Kinglassie witnessed the sad end of a historic tradition
as locals gathered for the country’s last miner’s gala.
Such fairs, with their beer tents,
football matches, brass and pipe band competitions, traditional Coal
athletic track events, boxing bouts and fiery socialist
oratory, were once the highlight of a mining community’s year.
For most, gala day was a chance to
show off prize leeks, compete for prize money in the arena and meet old
pals while the die-hards of the National Union of Mineworkers clustered
around visiting leaders.
The first Scottish
gala was held in 1871, when miners in Kirkcaldy, Fife, celebrated the
introduction of an eight-hour working day. Yesterday’s gathering in
Kinglassie was a pale shadow of the days when tens of thousands of miners
and their families would march to the gala fields in villages across
culminating each year in the mighty miners’ gala in
Edinburgh, where the crowds could reach six figures.
Scottish NUM president Nicky Wilson
was on hand to provide the oratory, which echoed the distant days of Mick
McGahey and Arthur Scargill. But most of the crowd were more interested in
the performances by the majorettes, Methil and District Pipe Band and the
Dysart Colliery Brass Band -
named after a long-closed pit.
Now the retired miners who organise
the Fife Miners' Gala have decided this year’s event will be their last.
Dan Imrie, once a leader of the militant Fife miners, said: ‘We are all
getting on a bit now. Some of the old miners here today are in their
eighties. It’s a sad day for the millers Ioved the parade
was a great thing. ‘Now we’re just looking for a nice finishing up gala.’
Mr lmrie blamed bureaucracy for
killing off community events around the country. He added: ‘It’s not as
easy as it used to be —it’s
the amount of money needed to organise it. ‘The council is overburdening
us. This year the council made us fill in risk assessment and health and
safety forms. We’re getting old and could have done without the hassle
Helen Eadie, the Dunfermline East
MSP who opened the event, said: ‘It is very sad, because when an event
like this dies, then a bit of us dies with it. It’s important for us,
spiritually, emotionally and psychologically.
‘The real danger is that when the
old miners pass on, the people who would understand. what it was like to
work underground, and that very special connection between every man who
did so, won’t be there.’
She added: ‘The galas were of
enormous significance. They had a lot of emotional links to the past that
are still reflected in the behaviour of the local community. ‘There is
very deep bond within the mining fraternity, no matter
where you come from in the UK.’
Former miners’ leader Willie Clark,
now Britain’s sole Communist councillor, represents the old Fife mining
communities of 8allingry and Lochore. He said: ‘Those involved in
organising the gala have done a tremendous amount of work. It’s a credit
to them that it has lasted so long. ‘It is sad that the galas have gone.
They would bring together the spirit of the local area. ‘It was a focal
point to get a bit of freedom of expression these men wouldn’t have had
working in the industry.’
He added: ‘The national gala was
also a tremendous day for Edinburgh folk. ‘Lots of people who weren’t
related to the industry came to see the bands marching down the
Royal Mile — it was a holiday