Death in a Coal Mine

My Irish great-grandfather left County Mayo for England because he couldn’t find work. He never returned.

Dan Hanley
2 min readMar 14
My grandfather to the left, with his brother. I’m not sure when this was taken. Photo credit: Family member of Author.

There’s much of this story I can’t confirm. And an equal amount that comes from family folklore. I say folklore because they are stories that just keep being told at family gatherings.

The setting is County Mayo, Ireland. County Mayo is in the west of Ireland, a world away from fancy Dublin. This was especially true back in the 1910’s. Like most in County Mayo, my family was poor.

My grandfather was born in 1906 and his mother passed away soon afterward. My great-grandfather remarried, marrying a woman with three children adding to his five.

As the story goes, my great-grandfather could not find work in County Mayo, so left for the north of England where he got hired to work in a coal mine. Sometime during the decade of 1910 he was killed in a coal mining accident. After years of searching, I still have not found the location of his death. In fact, I have been surprised by how many mining accidents, and people killed in them, occurred in England during this decade.

I had no idea.

I have no evidence that my great-granfather died in a coal mine in England. I know he didn’t die in Ireland. I am still looking for where he ended up, and where he died. What I’ve shared here is family folklore. There’s no one alive to ask who would know.

His name was Thomas Hanley, same as my grandfather. His last name could have been spelled Hanly. He was either born in County Mayo or County Sligo. I’m still researching more about him.

I do know what happened to my grandfather, “Pa”. At age 17, he immigrated to the U.S. in 1924, making his way from County Mayo to Cork and catching a liner from the coast south of Cork. He landed in New York City and eventually settled in Detroit.

He married my grandmother (whose family immigrated from County Galway) and they had seven children, one of whom was my dad.

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Dan Hanley

I write about nonprofits, fundraising, recruiting, self-care. Human rights, domestic violence, borders and refugee focused. Sober. Vegan.