Aberfan is a tiny village in South Wales known for the 1966 coal mining disaster which destroyed the town and wiped out a junior school. Of 144 people killed that day, 116 were children between the ages of 7 and 10, smothered to death by the black sludge of coal leavings.
On October 21, 1966, an avalanche containing 150,000 cubic meters of loose rock and mining "spoil" broke away from the side of Mynydd Merthyr above the village. It thundered down the mountain and through the village, burying everything in its path, including the Pantglas Junior School, which had just been let out of morning assembly. Nobody was pulled out alive beyond two hours after the avalanche.
The National Coal Board tried to turn blame on Mother Nature, citing a heavy rainfall in the days preceding the disaster. But the villagers rallied with a map showing underground streams existing before the mines were built, and proving foreknowledge by the Board of a possible future catastrophe.
After a 76-day tribunal set forth by both the Houses of Parliament and the Secretary of State for Wales found the NCB negligent and ordered to pay compensation to the bereaved families at the rate of £500 per child.
The colliery has since been closed and landscaped over. Today, Aberfan is a beautiful lush little valley village, a picture postcard place, save for the rows of headstones in the graveyard marking the victims of one of the biggest coal mining disasters history has ever seen.
Dulahan songwriter Kyle Aughe is "student of the history of Ireland, Scotland, England, and Wales," and writes many historically based songs. About this song, he explains, "My composition, 'Aberfan,' is not autobiographical, although the song is very close to my heart. My maternal grandmother was born in Wales and immigrated to the US at 12 years old. I have extended family in Wales and have visited several times. As a Celtic songwriter, much of my writing is historically based.
I have long been fascinated by the Aberfan disaster. The human tragedy of a small town losing nearly a whole generation of children in one horrific moment has always moved me deeply.
In the song I touched on the political ironies of the powerful British industrial complex that for years had downplayed the risks associated with the massive slag/tip that eventually gave way resulting in the tragedy. It also mentions the too little too late regulations that followed. The verse that describes the town's people frantically and hopelessly digging into hundreds of thousands of tons of coal slag to try and reach their children creates a very sad vision.
With literary license, I created the last verse based on accounts I read about the emotional devastation within families, including survivor guilt of a young child who survived.
Regrettably, in my trips to Wales, I have not visited Aberfan, but will surely on my next trip there. The children who died are buried in one long row on the edge of the town, and by all accounts it is a very powerful sight to see.
Although the song appeared on my band Dulahans second CD, Not Against My Own in 2003, our band rarely performs it. We have played it in concert settings a number of times and I play it from time to time when performing solo. It is a very emotional song to perform."
Dulahan (pronounced Doo-la-hon), is an ancient knight character in the video game "Castlevania: Curse of Darkness" whose head was separated from his body, yet he continues to search for it.