Andy Fagan BEM

A story sent in by Andy Fagan Callaghan, about his grandfather also, Andy Fagan.

Medaille_B.E.M._met_Brittania

British Empire Medal (BEM) awarded to Andy Fagan

“Born 1883, in County Meath, Ireland the eldest of 16 (!) children, his parents were tenant farmers. After being evicted from their farm they emigrated briefly to the US but returned to Meath after less than a year. Andy married my grandmother, Margaret Skelton from Armagh, and they emigrated to Scotland circa 1914.

His first job was with ICI at Ardeer where, handily enough as it turned out, he learned the handling, storage and use of explosives. He shortly moved to Blantyre as a shot-firer in the coal mines and became involved in politics and trade unionism as an activist. He became a member of the Communist party and remained a member to the end of his life. He was already a member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood (later the IRA). He became an informal social worker in Blantyre, helping people to fill in forms, advising them of their rights and attending rent tribunals with them. His union and community activities soon resulted in him being blacklisted by the coal owners and he and his young family survived by picking up casual work, often under an assumed name, wherever and whenever he could get it. He was a contemporary and friend of John McLean and took part in the Red Clydesider riot in George Square in January 1919. During this time the family lived in John Street.

He was promoted to Captain of the 2nd battalion , Scottish Brigade IRA, and clandestine overnight visitors to the wee house in John St included Countess Markievicz, Dan Breen and Liam mellows.
In the Irish War of Independence 1919-1921 he became Quartermaster of the Scottish Brigade responsible for transport and for the sourcing of explosives and arms for delivery to Dublin. The house was constantly raided by the authorities and my late mother (his eldest daughter) remembered these raids, usually at night, as being very brutal, destructive and frightening..

Andy, with 6 others, organised and took part in the raid on Hamilton Barracks in 1919 when they got away with a large haul of Lee Enfield rifles, grenades and ammunition. The arms were transported to Liverpool and found their way across the Irish Sea. In 1921 he took part in the ambush of a prison van in High Street, Glasgow to free a senior IRA prisoner. Firing broke out and, sadly, one policeman was shot dead and another badly wounded. In the aftermath he was arrested a few days later and sent to Duke St prison with many others. He was held on remand for 2 months before being released for want of evidence.

After Ireland achieved independence his life settled down and he got a job with Murdo Mackenzie Ltd in Motherwell where he worked as a plant maintenance man for the next 50 years until his death in 1975. He was lucky enough to stay in work throughout the great depression of the 30s. It was during the depression that he discovered (he was always a compulsive tinkerer) a method of binding the coal slurry from the Priory pit into sort of soft briquettes. He shared the method with those who were out of work and a lot of unemployed homes stayed warm. The substance was called Andy Gum by the locals.

Just before WW2 the family moved to 64 Hardie St where he lived happily, growing tatties and tinkering in his shed every night cos my Gran wouldn’t let him smoke his, admittedly, very smelly pipe in the house. I LOVED the smell of that pipe and the oily, industrial smell of his wee hut.

So that’s the bare bones of it Paul. Ironic that when they awarded him the BEM, they didn’t know he also held an IRA service medal.”

Updated: With permission of the family, I have updated this post changing from the MBE to BEM (British Empire Medal) an award he received for being the oldest working man in Britain.

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