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The Death of King Coal

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 Queens, 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 Scotland 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 it 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 this year.’

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 a 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 atmosphere.’

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