Slugger Seasonal Book Club: Vol 4

It’s getting to be the time of year when you have to start thinking about gifts. Bah. For others. Humbug. Or maybe all this talk about wind farms and / or Amazon Anonymous makes you long for a simpler, pre-tech era. Or perhaps you are just a bibliobibuli, c.f. someone who reads too much. Either way, this seasonal Slugger book club is for you. So pull up an armchair while we discuss classic NI books, past and present.

This week….Kathleen Coyle’s A Flock of Birds.

Kathleen Coyle


Who dunnit: Kathleen Coyle, born 1883 in the Maiden City. A suitably challenging childhood (take that Angela’s Ashes), becoming lame following an accident when she was only three years old and a chronic alcoholic father, who frittered away what remained of his family’s wealth. Home schooled and cut off from other children, young Kathleen became a voracious reader. The family home burned to the ground, and Kathleen and her family moved to Liverpool in 1906, where she was briefly a public librarian. Coyle then moved to London and from there to Dublin where in 1915, at the spinsterish age of thirty-two, she married Charles O’Meagher. They had two children, Michele and Kestrel (yes, like the bird), but separated after four years of marriage. Coyle was an activist in the labour and suffragist movements. Right on. She later moved to the continent where she came to know James and Norah Joyce. She published her first novel in 1923, having begun to write in order to make an income and provide for her family (those were the days, when that would have been a valid career choice. Sigh.). In 1937 Coyle and her children moved to New Hampshire.  She later lived among other writers in the epicentre of writerly hip, Greenwich Village, New York.

 A flock of birds

Why is it a classic: A review in The Spectator back when it was first published describes it in glowing terms: “Coyle’s work has quality : it has atmosphere too, but of so rarefied a nature that not all readers will be able to survive it. Her story, dealing with the actions and reactions of the friends of a man who is about to be-hanged, is exquisitely written and full of little, unexpected truths. The beginning, for instance, with its picture of the mother of the condemned man going out of court and noticing every detail of a hat-shop window, is saturated with truth.” Is there a touch of misery memoir in here? No doubt. But Coyle was nothing if not a resilient, talented and independent survivor, so don’t come here seeking silently weeping women and roguish men.

Reasons to Give it a Miss: If the synopsis “The place is Northern Ireland, the year is 1918”, isn’t your cup of tea, then probably best to pass on by. Christy being sentenced to death for a murder he did not commit might scream KEN LOACH FILM to some.

Kathleen Coyle1


Can I just watch the movie?: Not exactly but there is a very good short film about or more accurately inspired by Kathleen Coyle (Kathleen, 2014), which was made by Susan McWilliam. Not exactly a Hollywood blockbuster but well worth a watch.

Who to buy it for: Proud turban wearers. Strong women. Greenwich village hipster writer afficianados.

What do you think? Top of the list or would you rather get coal in your stocking? Back every week from now til Christmas…ho ho ho etc.

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  • SeaanUiNeill

    Thank you W[R]ite Noise for featuring Kathleen Coyle. I was given “A Flock of Birds” a few years back by a Derry friend who knew I was steeped in the Revival period, and found her limpid prosea delight. Her very evocative autobiography (early life) “The Magical Realm” (1943) was republished just a few years back along with “A Flock of Birds.” Unfortunately, she is not featured on Wikipedia, I might possible rectify that some time next year by creating a page.

    I look forward to next week’s revelation!

  • Seaan – Our local reading tastes are very much in sync! Next week’s nail biting instalment is probably going to be poetry. Hit me up with your suggestions!

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Are James and Margaret Cousins just too obscure? Or the wonderful Florence Mary Wilson? Or Ella Young from Feeny, Ballymena?

    Perhaps Alice Milligan or her sister Charlotte, after all the harpers she wrote about were poets too, including our own eighteenth century boys (and girl) in South Armagh! I’d mentioned the much expanded and completely new edition of Charlotte’s “Annals of the Irish Harpers” before:

    It’s a model of how someone lost in the past, trapped in what is an initially badly printed edition can be presented to a modern reader in a clean open modern format. I’m sure if you contacted the publisher, Ardrigh Books, they’d send you a review copy!

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Thats me thinking on my feet with a laptop. I’ll try again tomorrow.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Hi W[r]ite Noise! with my head less full of the Irish cultural revival from a day of intense primary source research and note taking, and some real coffee to get my brain working, a few other poets come to mind. How about John Montague? Still alive and kicking last time I looked. Or AE, the Armagh man, an old friend of my grandfathers, or if you go outside the wee six, the brilliant Michael Hartnett? George Bucannon is worth a look also! Good luck, your fine postings make my week!

    But I still think that you should think about Charlotte for a future review, so perhaps get in touch with “Ardrigh”, I think you’d like them. They are interesting people. (Yes, I know them!)

  • Thanks Seaan – great suggestions as always! I know John Montague’s work pretty well but less about the others so they will def join the lengthy to read list. I will surely be back with an obscure(ish) poetry post next week 🙂

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Thank you, W[r]ite Noise! I hope that this was not too much of an overkill! I seem to have opened the floodgates and just mentioned anyone pretty much forgotten who came into my head. As you can probably see from my more “political” postings, once I start I’m all too likely to end up with 800 words! Luckily when I write for anything going onto paper and between covers I edit and re-shape over a few weeks at least!

    Try Michael Hartnett! I find his work some of the best that has been written in Ireland since the war. I know this is heresy, but I think he’s better than our local boy Sheamus! AE’s poetry is worth a look also.

    James Cousins was an Antrim road man who started his career in a collection of Belfast 1890s poets called “Sung by Six.” The first book on his own, “Ben Madigan” was funded by the artist John Vinycomb who trained most of the artists of the Belfast end oif the revival, including the Morrow brothers. Cousins became a theosophist, and ended up in India, influencing Ghandi’s pacifism with early Irish Ireland thinking about pasive non-cooperation.

    So many forgotten writers, so little time! I await your next “obscure(ish) poetry post” with some pleasure. I even looked out an old hardback of Judith Hearne to re-read. keep up the inspirational work!