"Wages" is always a very controversial topic. What is a "fair wage." Who is earning "good money" and of course who is working for "nothing"
The situation 100 years ago was not any different to the situation today when it comes to the issue of wages. People are going on strike today for more money. They claim they are being exploited and over worked and are not getting a just wage. It was the same in the time of the mines, strikes were frequent and miners always fought for better pay.
You very seldom hear somebody saying that they are getting well paid or that they are "well off". Human nature seems to dictate that people will never be happy with their lot - they will always want more. As the old Irish Seanfhocal (saying) says "Is glas iad na cnoic í bhfad uainn" - far away hills are always greener or the grass in the next field is always greener.
We have tried to establish whether or not the miners were on good money. When coming to such a conclusion you have to consider the general conditions at that time, the wages of other professions and the value of money. We know how much the miners earned for a weeks work all those years ago but what we are still trying to establish is how much other professions were paid at that time. These are the comments we got from some old members of the community when asked about the miners' wages. We will let you decide for yourselves as to whether the miners pay was good or not – but then of course having never been two miles under the ground, lying on your side in the dark and dust it will be difficult for you to come to any clear conclusion.
Our conclusion is that the miners did earn very good money in the mines. The higher skilled men at the coalface and the road makers were on very good money. A young boy of fourteen years, jobbing, could bring home as much or more money than a man three times his age working at other labouring jobs. Sure, the work was hard, the danger was great. To put the work into perspective for the times that were, you should consider the conditions of the farm labourer at that time. He had no rights, no hours, no baths, no union, no insurance, no clinic, no ration, no housing allowance, no bonus and the boss did not usually show him much respect. He usually worked from sunrise to sunset, walking a few miles to work, milking cows out in the field, rain hail or snow. He had to plough with a horse, thin turnips, pick potatoes in all weathers, sprong and spread dung among many other difficult duties.
What put many people in hardship in those days was not particularly the wage that they brought home, which was often quite good, but the size of the family they had to support. Thirteen or fourteen children in a house was not unusual. It would take a very good wage even today to keep a family of that size fed and clothed. If you fell on bad times through sickness or loss of work, then you were in real trouble.
It is very difficult to compare earnings from different times. Have a look at this link to see what we mean.
Wages in the 1920's (Click)