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Last Updated: Friday, 25 January 2008, 11:37 GMT
Coal mine closes with celebration
Boy at Tower march
The local community joined miners for the march

Miners at Wales' last deep mine have marked its closure with a celebratory march, similar to the parade staged when they bought the pit 13 years ago.

Tower Colliery in Hirwaun, Rhondda Cynon Taf, was taken on by 239 staff, each pooling 8,000 redundancy to buy it after it closed in 1994.

The pit reopened in January 1995 but the coal has effectively run out.

There are hopes the site will be redeveloped, while 120 workers are expected to move to local drift mines.

As well as the march behind the colliery banner, some miners and their families carried placards saying "Thank You" and "Goodbye Tower".

Maintenance engineer Dennis Davies, 56, who was the third generation of his family underground, said he felt "very emotional".

He said: "I have done 41 years here in this pit. Yesterday was my last shift.

"I don't know what I'm going to do on Monday."

Tower had reopened in defiance of the large-scale pit closure programme under the Thatcher government following the year-long miners' strike of 1984-5 - a strike in opposition to colliery shutdowns.

With feelings still running high amongst many who lived through that time, miners and their families started Friday's parade at 1100 GMT, walking from the pit which disproved claims it was too expensive to run.

The official closure comes a week after the last coal was mined.

But the day is one of celebration, not mourning, according to its chairman Tyrone O'Sullivan, who led the buyout of Tower.

"When there was the miners' strike, and all the rapid pit closures, there tended to be something resembling a wake afterwards," said the 62-year-old grandfather-of-three, who started working at the mine 40 years ago after his own father died there.

Tyrone O'Sullivan
Miners will have a say in the future of the site

"In Tower's case, it's a celebration of the last 13 years."

From the pit, the 270 workers headed to the Penywaun, the club where the decision to buy the pit was made.

About 120 of the workers are expected to transfer to two newly-opened drift mines in the Neath Valley.

Seventy are expected to go to Aberpergwm mine within two months and the Unity mine will take a further 50 miners.

Mr O'Sullivan said he was confident no-one who wanted to continue working would be left out of a job.

Meanwhile, each miner who donated his redundancy payout towards the deposit needed to buy it, will have a say on the future of the site.

Plans for the future of the 480-acre site are still being discussed, but Mr O'Sullivan said a new development, with the creation of jobs and affordable homes, would be a fitting tribute.

Miner John Wood
John Wood of Merthyr has worked at Tower for 44 years

"We're hoping 1,000 jobs could be created, maybe in retail, leisure and housing. There could be lakes there, and places to walk," he said.

"I believe our company can leave a legacy to the community that will see today's toddlers able to find a job up in the valleys when they're 16 or 17, instead of having to leave the area.

"It will be the greatest tribute that the workers could give. We'll be leaving jobs, not statues."

Miner John Wood, 57, from Merthyr Tydfil said: "For the first three or four months in 1995 we struggled but we had a go at it and it has been a success for 13 years.

"We have never had to lay men off and we've had a weekly wage.

"It's sad but it's something we have to accept - the coal has been exhausted."

Cynon Valley MP Ann Clwyd, who spent 27 hours down the mine to protest against the attempted closure in 1994, joined the final march.

She said: "I'm just very proud to have been part of it and to have been with the men all the way in the fight to keep it open."

First Minister Rhodri Morgan said the miners had been "inspirational".

"It's a story of confidence among the workers in their own ability and in the future viability of their mine."

Deputy first minister Ieuan Wyn Jones added: "It is an icon of Welsh resistance - the abiding history of a mining community which fought against all the odds and scored notable success."

VIDEO AND AUDIO NEWS
Watch the miners and their supporters march from the pit.



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