Kathleen Coyle

Profile of the writer who recounted Lundy's burning

Kathleen Coyle (1886-1952) was born in Derry and lived there until the family home burnt down. She and her mother moved to Liverpool. Coyle then moved to London where she worked as an editor’s assistant.

The writer met her husband, Charles O’Meagher, whilst living in Dublin where she was involved in both the Labour Movement and the Suffragettes. The marriage lasted four years and with two small children to support, Coyle made the decision to write for a living.

Coyle travelled abroad to Belgium and France, where she became friendly with Norah and James Joyce. She finally settled in America. Coyle’s A Flock of Birds (1930), was runner-up to EM Forster’s A Passage to India for a major literary award.

Further works include The Widow’s House (1924), Youth in the Saddle (1927), It Is Better to Tell (1928), Family Skeleton (1934), Undue Fulfilment (1934), Immortal Ease (1941), Morning Comes Early (1934) and The Magic Realm (1943).

'When it was almost dark enough for the moon to come out … high up in a place where the poor stuffed man swung on his gibbet, a star appeared. It stayed poised, waiting for the wind to swing Lundy towards it. As soon as his feet touched it it went off like a meteor and the blaze began. The traitor hung in the heavens like a lantern. He burned with his feet upwards. All his joints went off with cracks and explosions; and rags and tatters fell down in awful, ghostly wisps upon our faces. The more he burned the more he exploded.'

Kathleen Coyle recounts the burning of Lundy outside Derry’s courthouse in this autobiographical account of her childhood. Written in 1943,  The Magical Realm evokes a vivid picture of having grown up in Derry at the turn of the century. In the wake of her father’s drinking, the family are forced to economise but are eventually forced to leave their home, Glendermott House, with its gardens and servants.

The Irish Times described it as 'one of the jewels of a period whose finest literature can only cause us to look ruefully, today, at what we have put in its place'.