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Page 28 of 32
The Tale of the Maltese Mucker

"You're going to do what?"

Build a dam, Mama.

"A dam?"

A big dam.

"And where is this big dam you're gonna build? Valletta?"

No, Mama.


No. Mama.

"Not Italia! Don't say Italia! Your Papa never came back from Italia!"

No, Mama.

"Where, then? Where? Don't keep your Mama in suspense. Where is this big dam my big son is gonna build?"

Irlanda, Mama.

"Blessed Virgin, Mother of God! Regina Coeli, why me?"

But Mama. Please listen, Mama. I won't be like Papa. Six months. Maybe twelve. And the money, Mama!

"I don't want money! I want my Giovanni back. Your Papa! And I want my son to stay with me!"

It went on, and on, and on.

Ever since we saw the notice in "The Malta Times" a group of us, young men on Gozo, had been waiting for this day. "Labourers Wanted. No experience necessary. Travel free."

The recruiting office was over on Malta. Three miles away. We were there, lined up, next morning. Twenty of us. Five were taken, five lucky sons of Gozo. And, better yet, we would join the first forty from Malta.

What did we know of Irlanda? Nothing. What did we know of cement? Nothing. What did we know of the company that put the notice in the paper? Nothing. All we knew was that we were happy. Happy to be leaving. Happy to become men, to travel, to see the world outside Gozo, outside Malta, outside the Mediterranean itself. To have money in our pockets. Yes, to have money in our pockets!

I showed Mama the pictures of the river and the falls, the pictures the agent gave us when he put our names on the forms.

See, Mama. Irlanda! A green country. And that river runs through it.

"And you're going to dam it? My big son is going half way round the world to build a dam on a river! A river like that? You'll fall in!"

No, Mama.

"It's dangerous!"

No, Mama.

"I don't like it. I don't like it. I don't like it!"

Think of the money, Mama. The money!

Slowly, reluctantly, she started to come around.

"You'll write?"

I'll write.

"Every week?"

Every week.

"You'll say your prayers?"

Yes, Mama.

"Go to Mass?"

Yes, Mama.

"Take this medal. St. Cristobal. He'll protect you!"

Yes, Mama.

"What you gonna wear?"

Same as here, Mama.

That was our big mistake, and nobody thought to tell us.

The journey on the ship. I was sick. The journey on the train. Not much better.

"What the bloody hell! Get a load of these, Frank! Get a load of these!"

I almost had a fit. Frank too.

These were the yobs that were coming to take our jobs! Our jobs! The muckers and the shovellers. The old dogs for the hard road. The pups for the pathwalk. These weren't even pups. Not one of them over five foot three.

"Would you get a load of what they're wearing," says Frank to me.

The lightest clothes I ever did see. Here in Donegal!

"Maybe they'd get by in Bundoran, for two weeks in summer," says I. "But on the job? Don't make me laugh."

They were on the station platform, milling around, chattering away, the strangest sight I ever saw, and I've seen some strange ones in my time. At least it wasn't raining.

Next morning at eight they turned up at the dam site, in canvas shoes, cotton trousers, and wearing singlets. Just singlets!

"These are your muckers from Malta, sir," I said.

The rest of the shift were grinning.

The ganger was mad. But what could he do? Somebody else had blundered. Some eejit in a suit in an office. "Keep the wages down!" Like hell, it would keep the wages down!

By ten o'clock it was raining like mad. The geezers from Gozo were soaked to the skin. By noon they were shivering cold. By the end of the shift they were dragging their asses.

I tell you, boys, the Erne has seen strange things done, but none stranger than its taming of the men from Malta. They lasted a month. At least some of them did. And then it was back to dear old Gozo.

"You're back!"

Yes, Mama.

"Blessed Virgin, Mother of God! Regina Coeli! Thank you, thank you, thank you! My son is home. My big son is home. Safe and sound.

"But you're thin! You're hungry!"

Yes, Mama. I haven't seen pasta in over a month!

"What? No pasta!"

No pasta, Mama.

"In over a month?"

No, Mama.

"What did they feed you?"

Irish stew.

"And the dam?"

Not yet finished.

"And the river?"

Flowing free. For a while. For a very little while.


"Yes, son?"

I'm glad to be home!

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