Library hosts tribute to famous Derry writer

Kathleen Coyle
Kathleen Coyle
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Two warring families, a tyrannous aunt and a loveable dog called Major – they are all bound up in a book about Derry called Magical Realm soon to get a new lease of life in a tribute to the famous local writer Kathleen Coyle.

Derry’s Central Library, Foyle Street, will be the venue on February 27, for an evening devoted to the woman who wrote 13 novels and many other short stories.

Kathleen Coyle was part of the Dublin, London and Paris literary circles in the early 1900s; she was a friend of James Joyce and was on the way to being one of the great women writers of her time before her life was cut short. She died in 1952.

The tribute night will comprise a illustrated talk about the Derry Kathleen Coyle grew up in by Ken McCormack. Ken will use previously unseen pictures of the places Kathleen talks about in Magical Realm, which was her last book.

“It’s a breathtaking book,” says Ken. “Kathleen takes us down old world streets that our grandparents would have known and she tells us why her in-laws - the Coyles and the McNultys – went to war with one another.’

Another feature of the tribute night will be the dramatised readings by some of the city’s top actors – Mary Murphy, Mairead Mullen, Anne Craig, Jim Craig and Sean McMahon.

“They will bring us the voices of Kathleen and the other folk in her life as she grew up first in the city side then in the Waterside. The incredible tensions between the characters will jump out at us,” added Ken.

Kathleen Coyle’s father was John Coyle one of a family of four whose parents owned a massive store in Bishop Street. Kathleen’s mother was a descendent of John McNulty who’d helped to build the Long Tower Church and her great aunt was the redoubtable Madam (Jane) Watters. Jane returned unbelievably rich from America built rows of houses and funded many local institutions and charities. She had a very domineering personality.

“We’ll hear a little of Jane Watters,”says Ken, “but the full story of the remarkable Derry woman who at one time was the belle of New York is for another day.”

Kathleen Coyle never went to school because her leg had been damaged in infancy. Instead, she had a tutor and a governess, while her brother went to college in Scotland and her sisters had their education on the continent. None the less the Derry author made an immediate impact when she took up journalism in London and became great friends with the writers W.T. Stead and Rebecca West. Later she went to Paris where she knew James and Nora Joyce and finally she settled in America where she was hailed as an up and coming writer with great talent.

The tribute night will follow Kathleen’s travels and the actors will bring the Derry’s past days to life says Ken – “It’s also a trip down memory lane,” he adds, “for I’ve managed to get my hands on some rare old images of the city.”

The event is also being staged in conjunction with an exhibition of Kathleen Coyle’s books and a specially made film about the writer by art lecturer Susan Mc William. This work is being funded as part of the City of Culture Legacy. The exhibition takes place between 24 February and 7 March in the Central Library.

The Magical Realm tribute with drama readings will take place at Central Library, on Thursday 27 February at 7:00 pm. Admission is free.