The Boys that Broke the Ground

by Brian McNeill

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If you're a thinking man at all it stands to reason
That the Clydesdale and the cart have had their day
Though they've served the country well for many's the season
Oh the narrow boats have taken their trade away.
But to float a barge's keel you need the muscle sweat and steel
Of a thousand navvies working on the line:

With our picks all on our shoulders and our shovels by our side
We're the boys that broke the ground to join the Forth and Clyde!

We had Geordies at the sides of Donegal men
We had bothy lads from Brechin and Montrose
We had highlanders from Beauly and Breadalbane
Who'd start the day with whiskey in their brose
But from Dublin or Dundee, every mother's son agreed
That the work would make you old before your time:

With our picks...

We dug the cut from Grangemouth up to Bowling
From the German Sea to the Carron Foundry door
For the faster they could bring their ore and coal in
Then the better they could make their cannons roar
And to watch the waters run when the delving was all done
Was a sight I'd walk a thousand miles to see:

With our picks...

So come all you thinking men whate'er your station
When next you marvel at the works o' engineers
Drink a health unto the navvies of the nation
And the way they've changed your fortune o'er the years
For Jamaica rum and Baltic herring, the bonnie shawl your lady's wearing
All came travelling down our broad canal:

With our picks...

Brian McNeill was a founder member of the Battlefield Band from Scotland; though he recorded this song on his 1985 solo "Unstrung Hero" album. It's an uplifting tribute to the navvies who constructed the canal crossing Scotland from the Firth of Forth to the Firth of Clyde. It is also available on the 2015 double CD "The Falkirk Music Pot" (Greentrax CDTRAX383D) featuring Brian McNeill and Friends.

It was also recorded by The McCalmans on the 1991 album 'Songs from Scotland' (Greentrax CDTRAX045).