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The Tunnel Tigers

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Ewan MacColl sang his own song The Tunnel Tigers in 1972 on his Argo album Solo Flight. The liner notes laconically stated:

Written by Ewan MacColl in 1966 for a BBC documentary film dealing with the building of the Victoria Underground Line in London.

Canterbury Fair sang The Tunnel Tigers on their eponymous 1977 album Canterbury Fair. They noted:

This song was written by Ewan MacColl for a B.B.C. documentary film The Irishmen, and can be found in the Oak Publication’s song book I’m a Freeborn Man, featuring songs by Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger. For so many years the lot of the Irish labourer has been to come to England to seek work, and this very powerful, yet touching song gives expression to how so many must have felt about the experience.

Danny Spooner and Duncan Brown returned to this song in 2016 on their CD of songs of the working life, Labour and Toil. The album’s notes commented:

Writer Ewan MacColl credits the tune as the traditional Wexford air William Taylor, with the chorus tune by MacColl himself. The song records the travails of the Irish labourers who worked on the original Dartford Tunnel under the River Thames. Very dangerous work indeed. The original tunnel was constructed in stages between 1936 and 1963. A second tunnel (1974 to 1986) was supplemented by a bridge—the Queen Elizabeth Bridge, opened in 1991.

The Fagans sang The Tunnel Tigers in 2002 on their CD Turning Fine.


Canterbury Fair sing The Tunnel Tigers

Hares run free on the Wicklow mountains,
Wild geese fly and foxes play;
Sporting Wicklow boys are working,
Driving a tunnel through the London clay.

Chorus (after each verse):
Up with the shield and jack it! Ram it!
Driving a tunnel through the London clay.

Below Armagh the wild ducks breeding,
Wild fowl gather on Lough Rea,
The sporting boys of Longford County
Driving a tunnel through the London clay.

The Lough Derg trout grow fat and lazy,
Salmon sport in Cushla bay;
Fishermen of Connemara
Driving a tunnel through the London clay.

The curragh rots on Achill Island,
Tourists walk on the Newport quay;
Mayo boys have all gone roving,
Driving a tunnel through the London clay.

The Carlow girls are fine and handsome,
All decked out so neat and gay;
Carlow boys don’t come to court ’em
Driving a tunnel through the London clay.

Down in the dark are the tunnel tigers,
Far from the sun and the light of day;
Down in the land that the sea once buried,
Driving a tunnel through the London clay.