His dad was a miner and his granddad was too
There was never much question about what he might do
By the age of thirteen he had laid down his pen
And become a coal-miner and a prince among men.
My goal as a young lad from a bright early age
Was to follow my hero down in that cage
Fairy lights and Pit Ponies were the stuff of my dreams
Never thinking how hard my dad worked at the seam
Only a miner killed under the ground
Only a miner and one more is found
Killed by accident no one can tell
Your mining’s all over, poor miner, farewell.
Dad worked like a Trojan his money to save
I’m afraid that he worked himself into his grave
And my schooling was paid at the cost of his lungs
Dad was an old man at the age of forty-one.
I never will forget how his face lit with pride
When I got my diploma, he was there by my side
And I try to remember him as he was then
A rare moment of joy for a prince among men.
A gold watch and chain inscribed James Doyle
Never seemed much reward for a life of such toil
But I keep his lamp burning and his old union card
And his bones rest here in this sunlit graveyard.
My dad was a miner and a prince among men
Well loved by his wife and his family and friends
And his hardship and toil gave me the one chance I had
And generations of slavery died with my dad.
By Andy Irvine
“A Prince Among Men (Only a Miner)” – Irvine wrote from the perspective of a man whose late father, James Doyle, had been a miner.
About the origins of the song, Irvine stated in the sleeve notes:
“I heard a song way back in the 50’s on an album of Aunt Molly Jackson, the feisty, sharp-shooting midwife and union organiser from the coal mining area of Harlan County, Kentucky. The song didn’t strike me as special, but I wrote this song around the chorus.” —Sleeve notes from Patrick Street – All in Good Time.
Andy Irvine writes about this song:
“The hazards and dangers of working underground in a mine have never been matched by a commensurate pay packet, and a family with young boys would look forward to the day they could be taken out of school and sent to the pit to add to the wages being brought into the home. Thus the miner’s life was handed down from father to son, providing and endless workforce for the greedy mine owner. Same story from West Virginia to South Wales and from Western Australia to South Africa.”