The Coyles, McGees, and Gallaghers of Tullaghobegley Parish, County Donegal (and Pennsylvania mine country)

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

County Donegal, along Ireland’s northern coast, is the ancestral home of my branch of the Coyle Family.

Insulated from the rest of the country by mountains and bogs, the specific Tullaghobegley Parish area near Gweedore where the Coyles come from was the poorest and least fertile districts in all of Ireland.

The Coyles in Ireland

The Paddy Coyle who is the head of household on these 1821 and 1841 census abstracts is the father of the John and Patrick who are listed in the 1857 Griffiths Evaluation. He is also the grandfather of the three Coyles who left County Donegal for Pennsylvania coal country in the mid-1800s. Paddy Coyle and Sheelah McGee-Coyle are my fifth-great grandparents.

Patrick and John Coyle, sons of Paddy Coyle and Sheelah McGee-Coyle, and their cousins, Cormack and John McGee, shared plot 4A in the 1857 Griffiths Valuation in Lunniaghbeg, Parish of Tullaghobegly, in 1857.

This Patrick Coyle was married to Cecilia McGee-Coyle. They are my fourth-great grandparents, and the parents of John Coyle, who later left for America.

This map illustrates the Coyle and McGee plots as recorded in Griffith’s Evaluation, 1857.

Three children of the Patrick Coyle from the Griffith Evaluation left Lunniaghbeg, Tullaghobegley Parish, County Donegal through the mid-1800s, coming to America and winding up in Pennsylvania’s coal mines.

Coyles in America

Each of those three Coyles who emigrated to the US may have eventually married spouses with ties to the families left behind in Lunniagh.

Frances “Fanny” Coyle (c.1847-1916) did for sure. She married John Gallagher at St Mary’s in Tullaghobegly near Gweedore in 1870 before they moved to Jermyn, PA. They had two children, Charles and Margaret. John was crushed to death working as a laborer in the Delaware & Hudson mine. She died in Pennsylvania in 1916.

Bridget Coyle (c.1842-1907) was the second wife of John McGee. They married in Pennsylvania in 1866. There were at least six McGee children. It’s not clear whether McGee was a cousin from Lunniaghbeg, but he did come to Audenreid, PA in the 1850s from Ireland. He died in 1903 from “miner’s asthma.” Bridget died in the mine town of McAdoo, PA in 1907.

John Coyle (c.1849-1908) married Mary Dugan in Pennsylvania in 1865. It’s possible—but it’s unclear whether Mary’s mother, Rose Gallagher-Dugan, was related to the Gallaghers of Lunniaghbeg. John and Mary Coyle had eight children, including my great-great grandfather, Patrick Coyle, who was born in 1872. He moved his family from Scranton, PA to Buffalo, NY following the death of his mother in 1916.

Gweedore

Gweedore was one of the most infamous spots in Ireland in the mid-19th century, and was the next town over from the Coyle home of Lunniagh.

Most of the population there were ethnic Irish Catholics who were displaced from more fertile land that was resettled by British Protestants. The soil around Gweedore is rocky, unforgiving, and very difficult to make yield anything edible for people or livestock—except for the places where it is too soft and boggy.

“Although there are signs of human habitation in the Gweedore area, including the remains of a medieval church at Magheragallan, indicating that  the area has long been inhabited,  the population of this ‘remote and inhospitable area’ probably only began expanding ‘during the seventeenth century as a result of population displacements associated with the Ulster Plantation.’” -History of Gweedore, Tim O’Sullivan, 2002. (This history is posted on a great site about the history of this area, http://donegalgenealogy.com/chapter_one.htm)

A mountainous border surrounding the area and the elsewhere marshy earth made for few roads leading in or out. The Irish language was the only language spoken by many, and the land was occupied according to the medieval Rundale system as late as the mid-1800s. Clachan houses of individual families surrounded the larger rundale plots which they farmed together.

1886 print showing Gweedore from London Illustrated News.

When tax collectors came to Gweedore in the 1830s, they were beaten, their arms confiscated, and they were turned back.

Not only did the people of Gweedore, Lunniagh and surrounding areas not want to pay taxes to the British crown or tithe to the Church of England—they didn’t have much to give.

Patrick McKye, teacher in the National School, wrote a letter to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland in 1837 describing the horrific conditions in the parish that the Coyles called home.

“That the parishioners of this parish of Tullaghobegly… are in the most, needy, hungry, and naked condition of any people that ever came within the precincts of my knowledge, although I have travelled a part of nine counties in Ireland, also a part of England and Scotland, together with a part of British America. I have likewise perambulated 2,253 miles through some of the United States, and never witnessed the tenth part of such hunger, hardships, and nakedness.”

“None of their either married or unmarried women can afford more than one shirt, and the fewest number cannot afford any, and more than half of both men and women cannot afford shoes to their feet; nor can many of them afford a second bed, but whole families of sons and daughters of mature age indiscriminately lying together with their parents, and all in the bare buff.

“Their beds are straw, green and dried rushes, or mountain bent; their bed clothes are either coarse sheets or no sheets, and ragged, filthy blankets.

“And more than all that I have mentioned, there is a general prospect of starvation at the present prevailing among them, and that originating from various causes; but the principal cause is a rot or failure of seed in the last year’s crop, together with a scarcity of winter forage, in consequence of a long continuation of storms since October last in this part of the country.

“So that they, the people, were under the necessity of cutting down their potatoes, and give them to the cattle to keep them alive. All these circumstances connected together have brought hunger to reign among them, in that degree that the generality of the peasantry are on the small allowance of one meal a day, and many families cannot afford more than one meal in two days, and sometimes, one meal in three days. Their children crying and fainting with hunger, and their parents weeping, being full of grief, hunger, debility, and dejection, with glooming aspect looking at their children likely to expire in the pains of starvation.”

Lord George Hill was the British landowner who worked to improve the lives of the people in his care—but at the same time worked to undermine their identity and way of life. He wrote a pamphlet called “Facts from Gweedore,” which made both of those goals easily apparent. He called the people of the area “more deplorable than can well be conceived; famine was periodical, and fever its attendant; wretchedness pervaded the district.”

In the wake of a particularly striking famine in 1858, parish priests in the area wrote an appeal to Queen Victoria and to the people of the world begging for help.

“In the wilds of Donegal, down in the bogs and glens of Gweedore and Cloughaneely, thousands and thousands of human beings, made after the image and likeness of God, are perishing, or next to perishing, amid squalidness and misery, for want of food and clothing, far away from aid and pity. On behalf of these famishing victims of oppression and persecution, we appeal for substantial assistance to enable us to relieve their wretchedness, and rescue them from death and starvation.

“There are at the moment 800 families subsisting on seaweed, crabs, cockles, or any other edible matter they can pick up along the seashore or scrape off the rocks. There are about 600 adults of both sexes, who through sheer poverty are now going barefoot, amid the inclemency of the season, on this bleak northern coast. There are about 700 families that have neither bed nor bedclothes… Thousands of the male population have only one cotton shirt; while thousands have not even one. There are about 600 families who have neither cow, sheep, nor goat and who…hardly know the taste of milk or butter.

“This fine old Celtic race is about being crushed to make room for Scotch and English sheep.”

It was around this time that a teenaged John Coyle left for America to make a new life in coal mines.

The story continues…..

The ancestors of James J. Coyle, Jr.

Jimmy, the six-year-old swinging smoker at Mulroy Park

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

My friend Samantha shared this photo this morning, and it made me think of a kid I kinda knew.

South Buffalo’s Mulroy Playground was around the corner from my house. During the summer of 1983, there were always dozens and dozens of kids— and zero adults.

Everyone was there mid-morning, when the city would drop off free lunches off the back of big yellow Pep Dairy trucks everyday.

Wrapped on a small styrofoam tray about the size for a pound of hamburger, came rock hard peaches, sour orange juice in a sealed plastic cup, and a sandwich— either thick-sliced low-grade bologna or a “choke sandwich,” which was wrapped to look like an ice cream sandwich, but instead was peanut butter and jelly between graham crackers. There was milk, too, but unless it was chocolate milk, I don’t remember anyone drinking it.

There was a 1950s concrete wading pool, which normally was filled with broken glass, but no water. After a heavy rain, we’d carefully wade in the rainwater, brown glass bits, and floating gold foil Genesee Beer labels.

Next to that, there was a monkey bar castle to climb on, but the older boys commandeered what was another worn-out 1950s structure. That was actually fine with us, because who ever had been throwing the beer bottles in the wading pool had been using the castle turrets as urinals. On hot sunny days the smell was unbearable.

Over on the swings, where everyone was doing their best to try to swing over the bar, Jimmy was usually on the last swing, barely swinging, his feet making noise with the gravel and dirt with every pass. He was obese in a way that most of us had never seen in another kid. He was big. He was also my age—around 7— but I didn’t know him. He went to a public school a couple of blocks away, I went to Holy Family school right behind the playground.

I’m not even entirely sure that his name was Jimmy, but it’s hard to forget this kid. As the early summer morning sun turned up the swampy heat and the smell of piss coming from the castle turrets, seven-year-old Jimmy laconically sat swinging all day, chain smoking.

Even among this group of vagabond, hobo, street-urchin children, something felt terribly wrong about Jimmy puffing away non-stop; inhaling even.

It wasn’t even the fear that he’d get in trouble— it just didn’t seem right. And sometimes, often even, other kids would say something.

Like a 12 or 13 year old would take a drag off a Marlboro and ask, “Aren’t you too young to smoke?”

With the same amount of detached interest he showed in swinging, he’d answer, “Nah, I’ve been smoking since I was 6.”

He told a lot of stories that seemed unbelievable, but there he was– a seven-year-old chainsmoker. It really made anything seem possible.

Garbage Pail Kids came out a few years after I knew Jimmy on the playground. I’m sure this one made me think of him, while the hard gum fell out as I ripped open the 25-cent pack.

I don’t remember talking about Jimmy with my parents, but since it bothers me this very moment almost 40 years later in the same way it did back then, I imagine I might have said something. Probably to my ol’man, who probably half-listened, and probably responded with a Parliament dangling out of the corner of his lip as he growled.

“Don’t let me find out that you’ve been smoking over in that goddamn park,” he would have said. “I’ll put my boot so far up your goddamn ass you won’t sit for a week.”

We moved and I never saw Jimmy again. I hope someone put a boot up his ass and he’s doing ok today.

No, there wasn’t a secret tunnel. There just wasn’t.

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

I get questions about purported secret tunnels around Buffalo constantly, like from the well-intentioned person who sent this email.

People are obsessed with tunnels. Tunnels from Prohibition. Tunnels from the Underground Railroad. Tunnels between neighbors houses.

No one has ever been in any of the tunnels they email about—or even seen evidence of their existence— but the rumors are hot and people want to believe them so bad. But we are humans, not moles.

There are very few tunnels— statically NO tunnels compared to the numbers of rumors.

Of course, there are tunnels. Lots and lots of tunnels. But SECRET tunnels? There are secret tunnels only on Scooby-Doo.

But people will still email me about tunnels, and I will still gently try to tell these emailers that there probably wasn’t a tunnel, and they won’t believe me, and the beat goes on.

Scurr Family Mystery solved

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Through the 1800s, Grandma Cichon’s father’s family were sailors and sail makers in North Shields and Tynemouth in Northeast England.

After brothers George Henry Scurr and William Gordon Scurr were killed at sea during the Great War, their mother Mary Alice would walk to the sea every day and just stare, awaiting a return that she knew would never come.

With sadness, Mary Alice, along with George Henry Sr., and eventually sons John and James, moved to Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, and then Buffalo, New York, USA.

My grandmother was the daughter of James Scurr, and among her things was this photo… of a group of people on a beach.

For the 20 years or so I’ve had this photo, I’ve never known anything about it. Not who, not where, not anything. It was with photos that belonged to my great grandmother, so I assumed that this was her family—and through the years, to no avail, I’ve searched dozens of beach photos from Ireland and Scotland for any sign of these landmarks.

No avail— until today, when I was having a cup of tea with my Aunt Elaine, also daughter of James Scurr and Grandma’s youngest sister.

She was talking about visiting the Longsands and the beaches of Tynemouth, and her description made me think of this photo.

After an hour or so of searching for historic photos of Longsands, I knew I was in the right area, but I wanted to find another photo with the building or the walkway or the giant wheels to prove it conclusively.

A mile or so north of Longsands is Cullercoats, so I searched that, too. The first image I clicked on had the building, the walkway, and the giant wheels! What a great feeling after so many fruitless searches…

It’s wonderful to know that the photo was taken at the Cullercoats Life Saving Station, no more than two miles from where the Scurrs lived until the early 1920s.

Perhaps over the next 20 years, I’ll figure out which of these folks are my Scurrs- but knowing these are my relatives or people loved by my relatives, enjoying a day on their local beach is good enough for me.

I’m really obsessed that I can go there and take almost the same photo right now!

Remembering Grandma’s special love on her birthday

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

It’s hard to put into words, that warm, strong, unquestioned grandmotherly heart.

And working in a high school, with plenty of boys who clearly don’t have anything close to a Grandma Coyle in their lives, I love and appreciate all that she was— and continues to be for me, my brother and sister, my mom and her brothers and sisters, and just our whole family.

From the time I was born, Grandma called me “her little sugar booger,” but later I found out she stopped when she thought it might embarrass me (like in front of a girlfriend.) Just writing this makes me tear up.

She wasn’t some perfect saintly woman, but that makes what she gave so much more special.

She swore, drank beer, smoked Parliaments, and she’d crack ya if you needed it. But she also loved all of us fully, completely, and deeply every moment. Just as important as the love, she constantly let us know how much she loved us.

She’s been gone a long time, but the love she built in my heart lasts and grows as her example shows me how to love the people in my life without compromise.

Even if someone doesn’t deserve it or if someone needs a crack or if someone isn’t wearing an undershirt (the crime of which I was most often guilty in Grandma’s court) love never wavers.

Happy birthday in heaven, Grandma. (And I am wearing an undershirt.)

All-time Buffalonian Mark D. Croce, Jan. 24, 1961 – Jan. 9, 2020

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Rest In Peace Mark Croce, who died in a helicopter crash last night.

Aside from being one of Buffalo’s leading restaurateurs and club owners, without him, the Statler Hotel property would be a parking lot right now. He literally saved it from the wrecking ball. I was also privy to many of the really great things he quietly did for people just because he could.

The world has lost a good man who cared about this city and it’s people.

I ran across this Joe Cascio photo today of Mark Croce holding court with me and the rest of the media on the steps of the Statler Ballroom in 2011.

He didn’t have to buy the Statler. After years of crazy schemes and a handful of less-than-ideal out-of-town owners, the city was pricing out demolition.

His commitment to Buffalo by saving one of our storied landmarks was one of the small handful of events which helped Buffalonians see light coming from around the corner. I don’t know if we’d be wearing “Keep Buffalo A Secret” t-shirts without Howard Goldman’s having worked on Mark to buy the old hotel.

Ironically, it was on this same day that Mark and Mayor Brown were making a big announcement about the future of the Statler, that New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg answered a question about a lack of classrooms, road maintenance, and housing in New York City by throwing a shot at Buffalo.

“There’s an awful lot of free space in Buffalo, New York, if you want to go there. I don’t think you do,” Bloomberg said.

Mayor Brown, who can be seen all the way to the right over Mark’s shoulder answered Bloomberg’s comments– right there in the Statler lobby– with the most tenacity I’ve ever seen from him in 15 years as mayor. “I’m pissed,” he said, several times, before demanding an apology.

Standing there, in this saved building, with our usually even-keeled mayor boldly standing up for our city’s honor– it was tough to not stand a bit taller as a Buffalonian.

And all that, because Mark Croce believed in Buffalo and put his business and his reputation on the line to make the Statler into an admittedly wobbly investment in Buffalo which acted as the basis and foundation for so many others…

Instead of a parking lot for City Hall workers.

 

Friends: The TV show reminds of the real thing

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

On this New Year’s Eve, my wife decided that we should watch hours and hours of Friends since they are taking off of Hulu tonight. (And she’s not feeling well and looking for something easy to take in.)

Image may contain: night

There are so many things to say about this torment, but several hours into the TV marathon, more than anything, I’m struck by the charity and goodness of a friend who had my back at a very young age.

The guy’s 12 years older than me— which is no big deal now that I’m 42, but meant much more when I was 17.

Especially since while I was a smart kid, I still had a lot to learn about just about everything.

He looked out for me— and I’m sure he did so in ways I’ll never know about… but did so in a “cool big brother” sort of way where it never felt that way to me.

I never felt like “the kid,” I was “one of the guys,” which was true up to a point.

Knowing his ball-busting skills, Chris Parker could have crushed the life out of me in half-a-second the time showed up at the radio station dressed to go out, and I said he “looked like he stepped out of an episode of Friends.”

It wasn’t meant as a compliment, and wasn’t received as such. Hahaha.

Anyway, the torrent of terrible, scathing things he could have unleashed on my little suburban punk ass would have left me broken like a mini liquor bottle-filled Rickey Henderson piñata.

Those comebacks are filling my mind even at this moment… but my man let this pup have his day… whenever that was— maybe 26 or 27 years ago.

Now as I sit here rubbing my own nose in it, thinking about the kindness showed to me that day, I know the reason he didn’t bust me into a pile of dust is mostly because he was a good guy who was watching out for the kid.

So mostly because he’s a good guy, but maybe… just maybe… he also knew there was also a smidge of truth in what I said.

Hahaha. Even as I’m subjected to this torturous binge watching penance I still can’t help myself.

And still, I imagine, the worst I’ll raise our of my old pal is an under-his-breath “asshole,” which— even though deserved— will be abated with a chuckle.

So thanks for looking out for me all those years ago, and thanks for always being one of the good guys. Happy New Year.

Van Miller sings “I’ve Got That Phoenix Feeling,” 1995

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Uncle Van was really something special.

For most of the 1995 football season, Van Miller walked around the Channel 4 and WBEN singing “I’ve Got That Phoenix Feeling,” just that one line, over and over again, getting himself and the rest of us excited about a possible fifth Bills Super Bowl trip.

As the playoffs drew near, he wrote the rest of the lyrics and, accompanied by Ken Kaufman, recorded the song.

We played the baloney out of it on WBEN, and they played in on Channel 4 several times, too.

I later worked with Van at Channel 4, where he often worked my name into tennis highlights for reasons known only to him 

 

Cocktail sauce is for shrimps and other supermarket truths

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Image may contain: drink

I’d say I’m pretty harmless looking, and I know I’m tall.

Nearly everywhere I go, the confluence of those two facts leads to diminutive women asking me to get things off of high shelves for them.

It’s always women. A guy— especially a short guy— would never ask for that kind of help.

Anyway, at the grocery store today, twice in less than five minutes, tiny women asked me to reach up to the back of the top shelf.

One was the typical transaction— I was standing nearby and a grandmotherly type asked me to grab a bag of coffee.

Done and done with a smile.

The other instance was a little more strange. I was walking past an aisle when this miniature Edie Falco sounding woman yelled “HEY!”

I looked up, making eye contact.

“COM’ERE!”

Now, I’m always willing to help anyone, anytime, especially with something so silly and easy as grabbing something off a shelf, but I’m getting the vibe here like this woman did me a favor by calling me over to be her stock boy.

She continued to yammer as I reached way back to get the thing she needed— cocktail sauce.

As I handed it to her, the word SHRIMP jumped off the label at me in giant glowing letters.

“I wouldn’t dare mention the irony,” I said, after what felt like an hour of internal deliberation— but it couldn’t have been more than a second.

“What,” she said, curt and dismissive, clearly annoyed and certainly not sure what I meant— maybe not even sure what irony is.

“Just that you couldn’t reach shrimp sauce,” I said.

“Ohh, yeah,” she said, trailing off too absorbed in her own thought to say anything else, and off to find her next victim.

I’m not sure she even realized I called her a shrimp, and I’m not necessarily proud that I did, but sometimes you have to step outside of your comfort zone for the sake of humanity.