Words and music by Rita MacNeil
© Balmur Music.
It’s a working man I am
I’ve been down under ground
And I swear to God if I ever see the sun
Or for any length of time
I can hold it in my mind
I never again will go down under ground.
1. At the age of sixteen years
He quarrels with his peers
To vow they’ll never see another mine
In the dark recess of the mines
Where you age before your time
And the coal dust lies heavy on your lungs.
2. At the age of sixty-four
He’ll greet you at the door
And gently lead you by the arm
Through the dark recess of the mines
He’ll take you back in time
And tell you of the hardships that were his.
“Working Man is very special. We usually end our programs with Working Man and I can’t recall an audience that didn’t rise to their feet as we were doing the final chorus.”
This video recording, produced by Folkus Atlantic in 1996, features a performance by the Men of the Deeps at the Glace Bay Miners’ Museum.
Working Man, 1996. The Men of the Deeps/Joan Weeks. FT-59, Beaton Institute, Cape Breton University.
The Men of the Deeps
The Men of the Deeps is a world-renowned male choral ensemble composed of former coalminers from Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia. Inspired by Glace Bay activist, Mrs. Nina Cohen, and famed Nova Scotia folklorist, Dr. Helen Creighton, The Men of the Deeps was organized in 1966 as part of Cape Breton’s contribution to Canada’s Centennial Year (1967) with the specific aim of encouraging the people of Cape Breton to preserve in song some of the rich folklore of the Island’s coal mining communities.
The ensemble first performed to thousands of people in packed theatres in Sydney, New Waterford, and Glace Bay. Those in attendance were highly impressed with the new choral group, including H.P. MacKeen, the Lieutenant Governor of Nova Scotia, who became the patron of the chorus. Concerts were then held at the Isle Royale Hotel, the opening of the Miners’ Museum, the Queen Mother’s visit (1967), and for Expo 67 in Montreal.
In 1976, the group became the first Canadian musical ensemble to tour the Peoples’ Republic of China, after diplomatic relations between the two nations were restored in 1972. Over twenty years later, they travelled to Kosovo to perform on behalf of the United Nations Children’s Fund. The chorus received an honorary Doctor of Letters from the University College of Cape Breton (now Cape Breton University) in 2000. Recent concert tours have brought the choir as far north as the Northwest Territories and as far south as Arizona, Alabama, Florida and the Appalachian coal mining communities of Kentucky, Virginia and Pennsylvania.
Since the group’s inception, the musical director has been John C. (Jack) O’Donnell, now Professor Emeritus of music at St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, Nova Scotia.