Shafted! A miner's story of life-saving and a weighty question.
© Victor Sullivan
The Mine Foreman wearily reached the top of the fifth ladder in the mine shaft and paused for breath. The new Urhan Copper Mine was not deep enough yet but each day it grew deeper and deeper. The ladder rungs were wet and slippery. Water seeped from the hard rock of the shaft wall and trickled and dripped down into the blackness below. His source of light was the candle stuck into a lump of clay on his hat but above him was a small circle of daylight where he would eventually emerge into fresh air, the heather of the hillside and that magnificient view across Kenmare Bay towards the mountains of Kerry. But it wasn't the scenery that motivated him towards the surface. It was the thought of the warm comfort of the sheebeen and its other liquid comforts.
The Foreman had got into the habit of sneaking to the illicit premises during the mid-day break while the shaft of the new mine was less than five fathoms deep. Drinking during working time was strictly banned but so far nobody had reported his sheebeen visits to the Mine Manager, Captain Spranza.
As he reached for the next ladder-rung a sudden yell above made him glance up in time to see a black shadow falling towards him. Locking one arm in the ladder he grabbed the falling man with the other and with his massive miner's muscles managed to stop the man's fall and drag him onto the ladder. Both rescued and rescuerer clung to each other as they came to realise what had happened. Death had been avoided. Injuries were painful but slight. Some muscles might ache for a few days, bruises would fade and grazes would heal; nothing new for anyone working in the Urhan Mine.
News of the incident in the shaft reached the ears of Captain Spranza and he sent for the Foreman next morning.
"That was a very brave act. You could have lost your own life as well as that of the man you saved. You are to be commended for your action. That man and his family will be deeply indebted to you for evermore. I will mention your action in my report to the Directors."
"Thank you sir.'
Captain Spranza shook the rescuer's hand warmly as he left the office and then whispered in his ear,
"I wonder if you had known what I am about to tell you, would you have acted in the same way? The man you saved had only just left this office having officially reported your frequent trips to the sheebeen.'