An interview with Peter Coyle the Shid

Peter Coyle (1907-92)

This interview was conducted on 22 December 1988, when Peter Coyle of Sessia was 81 years old. The story behind the interview is interesting: Peter received a letter from USA from Debbie Nunes who said that her great grandmother was originally Mary Ellen Coyle, born in Ardboe on 15 August 1875. Were there any relatives left in Ardboe?

A hunt through the Ardboe Parish records revealed that Mary Ellen Coyle was in fact a sister of Peter Coyle’s father, Frank Coyle. Peter did not know that this woman existed, as she had gone to America before he was born.

The interview was made on tape to send to Peter’s newly discovered relatives in Rhode Island, USA, who were delighted to learn first-hand about the family their great grandmother had left behind in Ardboe.

Interviewer – Peter, can you tell me about your father. What was his name, and what do you recall about him from your early days? 

Peter – His name was Frank. I mind when I was a child him pulling the cigarette out of my mouth. I had just stepped over the stile into John’s field out of our own field and I was smoking a cigarette. He never said he done it, he just took the cigarette and walked on and smoked it. But I was never checked for it.

Int – Was he a fisherman? 

Peter – All his lifetime he was. He fished from the Wee Rock down there and he also fished from Eglish’s, with Tammy Coyle and Barney Coyle. They would have been relations of ours. He hadn’t got his own boat, but later on in years he got his own boat and his brother Jemmy fished with them. That was all sailing boats at that time.

Int – Who did your uncle Jemmy marry?

Peter – He married Mary Roberts and he died up there in Mountjoy. But he was around here all the time. He was a powerful whistler, and when he came to court he would start to whistle on the road and he would stay in place till she would come out. So he married her at the finish up.

Int – That is Frank, and Jemmy. You said Joe was a brother as well?  

Peter – I think he was. I’m not right sure on that.

Int – Do you remember him?

Peter – Ach, terrible well. Mind him? You would not forget him in a hurry. All his life he was a fisherman. But he also worked here with Devlin who bought fish. Joe Coyle was a wee small man like my father, but Jemmy was a big tall straight man.

Int – Were there any more of them? 

Peter – Oh aye, Lewis. I mind him terrible well. I mind him a soldier. I mind him coming back from England as a soldier. He fought in the First World War but he was wounded and he was never any good after that. He got a bullet in the hinch and he never could get it out.

That was the finish of him. So he started a barber shop down in…… down in the South of Ireland somewhere. His daughter is living there I think. They only had the one daughter. Lewis stayed here and there. He never had a fixed place. He went to his sister Sarah Jane and he stayed with her.

Int – Were there any more brothers? 

Peter – There was a Ned. He married a Cookstown woman – that finished him. There’s some of them around Cookstown yet. I didn’t know him too well, but he was a big hardy man.

Int – Do you recall your aunt Sarah Jane? 

Peter – Aw, terrible well. She was a wee small woman, but she wasn’t sharp. She lived on Spion Kop, that hill at the back of the Diamond Corner. John O’Neill I think her husband was called. He worked a day here and a day there, wherever he could get work.

Sarah Jane lived to be a very old woman. She smoked a pipe her lifetime. A clay pipe and hard tabaccy. And she smoked till she wasn’t that height. You wouldn’t have seen her sitting on the seat if you had come in.

Int – Now, Mary Ellen, the one who went to America? 

Peter – I never knowed her, I never knowed she existed, you started her to exist.

Int – No, you got the letter first!

Peter – I never knowed she existed.

Int – Well, she has the same father and the same mother as the others, so she must be a sister. 

Peter – What friends would Debbie Nunes be to me?

Int – Debbie Nunes’ grandfather would be your first cousin. And now, you told me earlier that you had yet another aunt? 

Peter – Aye, Kate Coyle. I told you about her. Kate Coyle, Kate Corr, Buckum’s Kate and Tooley’s wife.

Int – She had four names?

Peter – Aye. I do mind her. She used to live up in Drumad, I think. She was married to Willie Corr. A brother of oul Copes’s wife. Mary Copes was his sister. Kate had three or four boys, but I couldn’t name them now. Kate was a big strong woman, and always wore a cap in bed. She always wore a cap like this in bed, she never took it off her. She wouldn’t have slept without it. I think there’s some of them Corrs living in Coalisland yet.

Int – These uncles and aunts of yours seem to have been very long–lived? 

Peter – My father was 78 or 79 when he died. Jemmy was an oul man too. Joe lived till you could hardly have looked at him. He must have been near ninety. And he was as bad a man ever walked on feet. Why? Because you couldn’t have agreed with him for two minutes. Not two minutes till he would have been back at you. He would have started a fight. He was a hardy man. The man you need to ask about Buckum’s Joe is Gourley (Francis Ryan) down the road. For he worked with him in his time, digging spuds and things like that through the country, wherever he got a day’s pay.

And the women lived to be very oul as well. You may tell Debbie Nunes if she is any friend of them she needn’t be afraid of dying……. She’ll have a hell of a long time to live.

Int – Now, Peter, do you recall your father’s parents, who were married in 1859? 

Peter – Perfectly.

Int – That is, Francis Coyle, your father’s father? 

Peter – Oul Buckum. I do surely. And his wife Ellen French too. The best woman that ever walked. The kindliest woman that ever walked on feet. They lived up in Kinrush at Nugent’s Corner where the airfield is now, and they died up in Trickvallen, along with their daughter Sarah Jane.

Int – What kind of a person was he? 

Peter – You could have looked at him, but that was the height of it. A wee small man, but as bad a man as ever walked too. If you said anything to him, you would have to have boxed him. He was very nettley.

Int – And your grandmother, Ellen French, what was she like?

Peter – Aw, she was the nicest woman that ever lived. That young woman Debbie Nunes talks about how nice her great granny was – she never was as nice a woman as her mother Ellen French.

She was tarra…. She was good to cubs and things like that. She was a kind woman. When you went in, you got a feed of……… her making the bread and a bowl of tay. And every time you went in you got that.

And she had the house spotless. She was a very tasty woman. But that’s all I know about her. She lived in Nugent’s.

I mind her wake, and Lewis O’Neill was there too. We were two children, and we were put to bed. And mammy and Sarah Jane (Lewis’s mother) and three or four of the women were all there in the room, and there was no fire and it was a cold house. All they had was a pot of coal – the pot was sitting in the middle of the floor and they just pulled it in under their clothes for heat.

So they had a bottle of whiskey, about half a pint, it wasn’t a big bottle. But they had stuck it away under our pillow anyway, and in the night time whenever all was quiet, I stuck the bottle to my mouth and took a good drink of it and Lewis finished it, and when the women came along there was nothing left in the bottle.

That was at Ellen French’s wake, and that was where the “Bowl” got his nickname, when he was called in for his tay. It wasn’t a big table, and they were all around the table, and he couldn’t see any place at it for himself. And they said to him, “What’s wrong with you now, John?” “I see no bowl for me”, he says, and that’s what gave him the “Bowl”. So there’s a wee bit of history for you.

Int – Have you been in touch at all with Debbie Nunes?

Peter – Our Roseanne wrote to her and told her about other relatives of ours living in Pawtucket – my nieces you know – and she has found out about them and they are all astray in the head about that.

Int – That’s very good. 

Peter – We have too many relatives, that’s all is wrong.

Int – But, for an American, it’s a great thing to find out where their family came from. 

Peter – Aye, it’s a great boost. Surely.

Int – Do you know anything more about the Frenchs?

Peter – Nothing. But I mind one day I was in the Devlins’ shop one day, and John Corroran that made the poems – he died in 1949 – he told me that we were friends. “Sure I’m no friend of yours,” I said to him.

“You are a closer friend that the people you’re talking about,” says he “for my mother was French, and your grandmother Ellen was French too.”

At that time, I didn’t know there was a French in me at all. Now I know I’m one of the oul boys that made the songs.

Int – You mean Percy French? 

Peter – Surely. I’m one of that connection.

Int – If you go back far enough in the records, in 1862 there was only one family of the name French in Ardboe, they were one of six families who lived under the roof of each other on the “Street” close to the Old Cross. Those who lived on the “Street” at that time were John Coyle, Sarah Creehan, Daniel Coyle, Aaron French, Martha Coyle and James Coyle.

Peter – That James Coyle was possibly a brother of my grandfather, oul Frank Coyle. There were three brothers of them, Jock, Tapney, and Buckum. The three of them had nicknames.

Buckum was my father’s father.

Tapney was…….he was connected with Tapney’s Peter who was saved from drowning when James Cassidy was drowned in 1904.

Jock was James.

Int – How did your grandfather get the name Buckum?

Peter – I only know that his wife called him Buckum one time, when he told her he was going to join the army. They had a row in the house and she said, “Shite, Buckum, you’re not the height!” and I believe that’s the way of it, that’s where Buckum came out of. He had to go and sit down again, he was drunk like….

Int – Did you tell us what your grandfather did, what he worked at? 

Peter – He was a knockabout. You know what a knockabout is, a day here and a day there. You couldn’t have agreed with him, if you had been trying to fish with him.

Int – Well, Peter, it seems the Coyles in Ardboe all originally came from the “Street” in Farsnagh, and a lot of them are living around there yet. 

Peter – That’s right, we’re all mixed through other. We are all pigs of the one sow.

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