August 18

Published in On this Day listing

  • 1908

    Above: A poster commemorating the 1908 Maypole colliery disaster. (Hennigan Heritage Museum, Swinford)

    In one of Britain’s worst mining disasters, a gas explosion ripped through the Maypole colliery in Wigan, Lancs., starting a fierce fire that led to further explosions. Though 76 miners lost their lives, it could have been substantially worse: over 500 miners from the day shift had finished work a short while earlier. The victims had just started the evening shift, making their way to the coalface on a tortuous mile-long journey underground through 4ft-high shafts. Such disasters were common at the time. Over the previous fifteen years there had been at least eight in England and Wales, causing multiple deaths. And, as was the case with Maypole, most of those occurred after what were known as ‘colliery warnings’, weather alerts published in newspapers when there was high air pressure, warning miners to beware of escaping firedamp, a combustible gas given off by coal, and to keep dust moistened in the vicinity of blasting operations. Rescue efforts at the Maypole were largely futile and few bodies were recovered, but miraculously there were three survivors. A burial service was later conducted on the pit brow before the shaft was sealed for all time. There were many Irish amongst the dead, including thirteen from County Mayo, such as Thomas Groarke from Charlestown and Anthony McDonagh from Kiltimagh. And one of the survivors was Mayo man Edward Farrell. Twelve years ago, to mark the centenary, a number of events and ceremonies were held in that county, attended by the mayor of Wigan and the chairman of Mayo County Council. A room at the Hennigan Heritage Museum in Swinford was dedicated to the disaster.

  • 1993 President Mary Robinson began a two-day private visit to Northern Ireland, during which she was criticised by the British government and unionists for shaking the hand of Gerry Adams at a reception in West Belfast.
  • 1882 An alleged sheep-stealer, his wife, mother, daughter and son were murdered in Maamtrasna, Co. Galway. Eight men were convicted on dubious evidence, three of whom were hanged.
  • 1973 Basil Brooke (85), Ulster Unionist Party leader and prime minister of Northern Ireland (1943–63), died.

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