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.

The ancestors of James J. Coyle, Jr.

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

James Coyle Sr. (center) and Katherine “Sis” Slattery Coyle.

My Grandpa Coyle’s grandparents were all born in North America— two in Pennsylvania, one in Ontario, and one in Buffalo’s First Ward.

All but one of his great-grandparents were born in Ireland, and that one was born to Irish immigrants.

The Coyles

John Coyle was born in utter poverty and landowner-induced famine in County Donegal near Gweedore around 1849.

1841 Irish Census extract for Coyle family in Lunniagh, County Donegal.

He was around 12 years old when he left his parents Paddy Coyle and Cecilia McGee Coyle in Ireland to work in the coal mines of Eastern Pennsylvania.

In 1865, when he was 16, he married Mary Dugan. She was born in the mining camps of Beaver Meadows, PA to Martin Dugan and Rose Gallagher, both of whom came to Pennsylvania from Ireland.

John and Mary Coyle followed mining jobs around Pennsylvania from Janesville near Allentown to Jermyn and Mayfield near Scranton. They had eight children, including Patrick, the oldest.

John Coyle obituary, 1908.

Patrick was probably born around 1869, despite later documents which say 1872. That age change probably came as he left school to work in the mines at a very young age. He married Catherine Kilker at the Sacred Heart Church in Jermyn, PA in 1892.

Patrick Kilker obituary, 1904

Catherine was born in Pennsylvania to Patrick Kilker and Bridget Herrity-Kilker. They were both born in Belmullet, County Mayo, Ireland.

Patrick and Catherine had four children, including James J. Coyle, Sr., in 1897. They lived in the City of Scranton while Patrick was a fireman in the mines.

After the death of Patrick’s parents John Coyle in 1908 and Mary Dugan Coyle in 1916, Patrick’s whole family moved to from Scranton, PA to Wilson Street on Buffalo’s East Side.

Patrick went to work for the Lackawanna (later Bethlehem) Steel Company. The family would move to Lockwood Ave. in South Buffalo, and Patrick would go to work at Maritime Milling on Hopkins St. as a stationary engineer.

Patrick Coyle death listing, Buffalo Courier-Express, 1945.

Catherine died in 1942, Patrick died in 1945.

James J. Coyle’s first job in Buffalo was lineman for the New York Central Railroad. Later, he was an electrician for the Bethlehem Steel plant.

He married Kathryn Slattery in 1927.

The Slatterys 

Captain Thomas J. Slattery

Some time before 1863, Thomas Slattery and his wife Honora Kelley Slattery made the transatlantic voyage from Ireland’s County Tipperary to Prescott, Ontario, along the St. Lawrence River, just south of Ottawa.

Their son Thomas was born in Prescott in 1864. He grew up to be a sailor and worked his way through the ranks to become a Great Lakes captain based in Buffalo.

He married Bridget Norton of Buffalo in 1894. She was the daughter of Miles Norton, a First Ward grain scooper, who emigrated to Buffalo with his wife Catherine Bowe Norton around 1868.

Catherine Bowe Norton, widow of Miles Norton, death listing

Bridget Norton Slattery died suddenly while her husband was on the lakes in 1915. Their daughter Kathryn was only 13 at the time.

Slattery Family, c. 1906

Thomas Slattery died in 1926

Thomas Slattery obituary

Kathryn married James J. Coyle Sr. in 1927. The family moved around North Tonawanda, Seneca-Babcock, and South Buffalo frequently, mostly because of his alcoholism.

They had 5 children, including my grandfather, James J. Coyle, Jr., in 1929.

James Coyle Sr. died in 1957. Kathryn Slattery Coyle died in 1978.

Great-Great Grandpa Slattery: “A jovial man and a good mixer”

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Found a couple of new articles about my great-great-grandfather, Grandpa Coyle’s grandpa, Captain Thomas Slattery.

He was a Great Lakes ship captain. After many years commanding package freighters, he was given the helm of the SS Juniata, one of the great passenger ships of the Great Lakes.

Thomas J. Slattery was born to recent Irish immigrants in Prescott, Ontario. He moved to Buffalo as a young sailor in his 20s, living first on Orlando Street and then on Indian Church Rd.

I’ve never seen the photo of him as a young man in the one article. The only photos I’ve ever seen of of him as a much older man.

One old letter + Ancestry.com = lots of new family

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Having recently spent an afternoon going through family history with my mom’s older brother, my uncle Jim Coyle, there were plenty of wonderful, flashy items.

The dog tags (and attached Miraculous medal) Great-Grandpa Wargo wore as an Aviation Metalsmith 3rd Class in the Pacific during World War II.

Photos of Great-Grandpa Wargo’s parents’ wedding in 1906.

Photos of Great-Grandma Wargo’s grandparents, John Prentiss and Mary Greiner, outside their East Side Buffalo home in the 1910s. The spot is now covered by the Buffalo/Niagara Medical campus.

What looks to be a Kindergarten photo of my grandmother, June Wargo Coyle. It was instantly one of my favorite photos of her.

Not quite as flashy, a six-page letter, written in long hand, by an older Coyle cousin with information meant for young genealogist uncle Jim Coyle in 1971.

Mary Coyle was my great grandfather Coyle’s first cousin. She was born in 1906, and spent the early part of her life living among our ancestors and extended family in Pennsylvania coal country.

It was another Coyle cousin– Ceil Gallagher– who reached out to Mary on Jim’s behalf. Ceil lived in the Marine Drive Apartments, and the first couple of pages of Mary’s letter is the good, old fashioned kind of long hand letter that people don’t write anymore– complete with complaints about troubles with legs and invitations to come visit. “We have plenty of room,” writes Mary to Ceil.

Then there are several generations of the Coyle family tree, almost certainly (and perfectly) rendered from Mary’s memory… people who would have been Grandpa Coyle’s great-aunts and great uncles and their children and grandchildren.

Good ol’Mary couldn’t have imagined it writing nearly 50 years ago, but her longhand family tree helps close the gaps with several fourth and fifth cousins with whom I share DNA according to ancestry.com’s DNA test– but with whom I could not find a common ancestor (until now.)

My favorite part of the letter (and probably ol’Mary’s favorite part to write) is the last page.

Her handwriting shrinks in size as she shares distant fuzzy memories of long ago trips with her dad to visit aunts and cousins. At one point she admits, “I think I am the only one who knows anything about our relations.”

John Coyle’s death certificate. He was letter writer Mary Coyle’s grandfather, my third-great grandfather.

John Coyle (c.1849-1908) came to Pennsylvania from Ireland around 1861 and married Mary Dugan around 1865. Those immigration and marriage years are based soley upon data in the 1900 census.) Up until Mary’s letter, the information on census reports and this death certificate are all that I’ve known about John Coyle’s history.

He came to the US at a point when records weren’t kept as well as they would be in years to come. The fact that John Coyle is a common name doesn’t help. We can’t be sure when or through where he immigrated, or where in Ireland he came from.

But once he was here, the John Coyle family lived in and around the coal towns of Carbondale, Mayfield, and Jermyn in Lackawanna County. According to the 1880 census, their son Andrew was born in New Jersey– they clearly moved a lot, to where ever the mining jobs were.

There were seven boys in the family, and those boys worked jobs in the mines just like their father– things like breaking up larger chunks of coal and leading the donkeys pulling the carts of coal. They eventually moved about an hour’s drive south to Beaver Meadows in Carbon County. Some of the family also eventually wound up in the larger cities of Scranton and Wilkes-Barre, which are in between these clusters of towns.

Mary Coyle writes what she knows about her grandfather’s sister.

In what was new information to me, Mary writes that John Coyle had a sister– who was known as Biddy, Fanny, or Frances. She married a man named Gallagher and had two kids. Margaret married Sherman Tompkins and Charles married Jennie Keating.

Fanny Coyle-Gallagher’s death certificate gives her father’s name as Patrick Coyle– a very common name, but also the name given as John Coyle’s father, lending creedence to Mary’s story that they are brother and sister.

Searches on ancestry.com show many of Fanny/Frances Coyle-Gallagher’s descendants have traced their lineage back to her, but none have connected Fanny and John as brother and sister.

Like John, Fanny came to the US from Ireland. But she came a few years later– and already married, which makes her easier to trace.

Fanny Coyle was married to John Gallagher in Gweedore, County Donegal, on 22 Feb 1870– there were a few people who linked that information from a list at donegalgenealogy.com. The names look like other names that pop up with the Coyles– Gallaghers, McGees, Duggan, etc, which is another good sign that it’s the right place to look.

John Gallagher was tragically killed in 1905. The story of his death was carried in the newspaper. His early death would also explain why Mary Coyle didn’t know his name.

There are a few trees which mention Fanny Coyle-Gallagher, but appear to trace back the wrong Patrick Coyle as her father. Based on the dates alone, they have the wrong guy.

One ancestry.com member– Edward O’Donnell Neary– seems to have some good information from somewhere, perhaps from a family bible or other source that has been handed down. His tree has Fanny’s father as John Patrick Coyle, born 21 March 1824 in County Donegal, Ireland and died March 1894 in Dunfanaghy, County Donegal. The good news there, is he also has Fanny’s mother as Cecila McGee– the name that matches John Coyle’s Pennsylvania death certificate.

I’m reaching out to him to see where he got this information from, and to share the information that I’ve been working with.

Mary goes onto explain that her grandfather John must have had another brother or cousin, because she remembers visiting Mrs. Malloy and Charlie Coyle who both lived on Kidder Street in Wilkes-Barre.

She’s right once again. Charles J. Coyle and Isabelle “Bella” Coyle-Malloy were two of the six children of Andrew Coyle and Mary O’Donnell-Coyle.

The family of Andrew Coyle, 1880 Census. Beaver Meadow Mines, PA.

At this point, given the facts presented in Mary’s letter, it’s clear this group of Coyles is related. What isn’t clear, is how they are related. To figure that out, we’ll have to learn more about Andrew, like his death date– with the hopes of finding his death certificate, which should give his parents’ names.

Mary visited Mrs. Turnbaugh(?) in Beaver Meadows, whom she believed to be her fathers’ aunt. This is the only lead that doesn’t bear any immediate fruit. The only Turnbaugh woman of the proper age in Carbon County was born in England. This needs further research.

She also remembers visiting Celia O’Donnell and the McGees in McAdoo, PA. McGee is John Coyle’s mother’s maiden name, and there are several McGee/Coyle marriages of people in McAdoo, but no solid connections without further investigation.

One final note on ancient Coyle history came in the beginning part of the letter. For all the she remembered about John Coyle’s relatives, she didn’t know anything about his wife– my great-great Grandmother– Mary Duggan Coyle.

“It never dawned on me that I don’t know anything about my grandmother’s side. I can’t recall ever hearing anything about her, except all the neighbors used to speak of her as a wonderful person.”

Because Mary Coyle sat down and wrote a letter 50 years ago, hundreds of her cousins all over the world are closer to understanding a little more about where we’ve come from.

And that is pretty great.