My Liffey Love

Docker accidents were common in Dublin Port of times past, and could leave a legacy of bereaved and resentful families. Gary writes from the perspective of his mother Anna Brown. Anna lost her husband Jimmy to the docks in an accident in 1971, when Jimmy was just 34 years old. Jimmy Brown, ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam (God rest his soul).


The wives and families of dockers had to face deprivations that often went unnoticed or unreported. Because of the dangerous nature of work in and around the docklands areas, work accidents where very common. Almost on a daily basis, men were hospitalised, disabled and often killed as they went about their work. Men were crushed under loads, buried under cargoes of coal, tipped from their boats and squeezed against large barrels and storage vats. Accidents were so common on the docks that the ambulances frequenting the quays were christened 'the dockers' taxis'.

A near-disregard for the frequency of accidents on the quays of Dublin resulted in a distinct lack of reporting of accidents. Indeed, there often had to be a fatality on the docks for the newspapers to pay attention.

Non-fatal accidents often led to men being disabled through loss of limbs, back injuries or even loss of sight. These accidents put great strains on the wives and families of those affected, with the main breadwinner unable to work and bring home an income. While the local dockland communities rallied around to support these affected families as best they could, injuries could result in the wives and children of an affected docker becoming full-time carers.

In the case of a fatality, dock accidents might leave a void in the family structure that could never be filled. Accidents could affect docker's wives more than might be imagined. They often lost their husband, their lover and their companion. There was a certain social stigma associated with families who had a disabled man in the house or worse, no man in the house at all.

In some cases ,this resulted in understandable bitterness among these women towards the dockers and the Liffey. After all, it had for a long time been the focus and sustenance of their lives. The lifestyle and work - although it could be hard and cruel - had a certain type of cachet to it. Daughters of dockers tended to be attracted to, and marry, dockers or sons of dockers. It became a way of life not just for the dockers themselves but for their wives and families too.

When this identity was suddenly taken away from them by an unavoidable (or in some cases, avoidable) accident, there was often great resentment left behind. It was as if the great river Liffey which once seduced and sustained them with its incoming tides of ships and cargoes had suddenly, in one surging, powerful, ebbing tide, taken away their man as well as everything they had known. The river Liffey, Anna Livia Plurabelle, the great seductress of men and lives.

My Liffey Love

Where has he gone my Liffey love
You took him on your tide that early morn,
You left him battered and broken like splintered wood
Oh where oh where is my Liffey love.
That morning he kissed me and said his goodbyes
Headed off to your bosom amid your soft skies,
But you crushed him like cinders and cast him aside
Oh where oh where is my Liffey love.
How many more have you swept off their feet
Tempted by the charms of an uncertain fate,
You used our men as they lapped at your shores
Oh where oh where is my Liffey love.
You lured them with danger and ill-gotten gains
Lined up like lambs you called our their names,
Now our hearts lie empty  like ship holds discharged
Oh where oh where is my Liffey love.
Oh you knew how to show our boys a good time
With beeros and sing songs, session and crimes,
You played with our men you took their young hearts
Oh where oh where is my Liffey love.
They were eager and willing to fall for your charms
They left us at daybreak to enter your arms,
We couldn’t compete your call was too strong
Oh where oh where is my Liffey love.
We waited at home until they’d come in
To tell us stories of where they had been,
You brought them to places we couldn’t go
Oh where oh where is my Liffey love.
When your love ends its cruel painful and quick
Our men are left crushed, pitiful and  sick,
Our lives are shattered our will to live gone
Oh where oh where is my Liffey love.