Much-anticipated history of former Mayo TD Henry Coyle is published

The much-anticipated history of Henry Coyle, a former Mayo TD and a leading figure in Ireland's battle for independence, has been launched ahead of the Christmas market.

Entitled 'Henry Coyle, A Forgotten Freedom Fighter', the book was written by his son, Councillor Gerry Coyle, with the assistance of Mayo author and historian James Laffey, editor of the Western People.

Councillor Gerry Coyle signing the book he wrote about his father at the launch in the Erris Coast Hotel. Photo: Courtesy of Deputy Alan Dillon.

It was officially launched last night by former Taoiseach Enda Kenny before a capacity attendance at the Erris Coast Hotel in Geesala.

Friends of the Coyle family from the spheres of politics and sport joined in a unique celebration of Henry Coyle's remarkable life.

Gerry had been working on the book for over two decades and visited libraries in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Liverpool searching for information about his father's IRA activities in Britain from 1919 to 1921.

His father was jailed in Scotland in March 1921 for possessing the largest quantity of illegal explosives ever found in the UK.

Police said they had captured 'one of the most important and most daring Sinn Féin activists in either Scotland or Ireland'.

Acclaimed as a hero of the War of Independence, he returned to Ireland in 1922 to fight in the National Army.

Commended for his bravery during the Civil War, he was elected a Mayo TD in August 1923 - but was back in prison the following year at the behest of the Irish Free State after being charged of 'fraudulently inducing Patrick James O'Malley to endorse a valuable secirity, to wit, a bank cheque of £450' at Upper Ormond Quay, Dublin, on October 18, 1923.

While researching the book, Gerry said he spent an inordinate amount of time "trying to get to the bottom of the perplexing events that led to my father being prosecuted for fraud."

His findings are contained in two revealing chapters in which Gerry wrote: "Some of the things I discovered kept me awake at night and is a source of great sadness to me because I firmly believe that my father was - in his own words - 'unfairly treated.'

Gerry continued: "I don't want to cause upset by pointing the finger of blame at anyone, nor do I wish to engage in idle speculation about what might or might not have occurred a century ago.

"Ultimately, I will leave the reader to make up their own minds about the matter, but I hope they will give my father a fairer and kinder hearing than the one he received."

Incredibly, during the hearing, his conviction in Scotland for IRA arm smuggling was cited as evidence of 'a criminal past'.

The sad episode resulted in Henry Coyle being denied an IRA pension and forced to raise his family in poverty - as well as being remembered for the strange incident that ended his Dáil Éireann career after just six months.

The inspirational story, brilliantly written, is one of bravery and betrayal.

Significanty, Gerry made an appeal during his book launch to people who may have fallen out in the past to come together and make amends before it is too late to do so.

He stated" "The one thing I want people to take away from this book is that you can have bad chapters in your life, but it should never determine who you are.

"I say to people who may have fallen out with a neighbour or friend: 'Put out the hand of friendship.'

In officially launching the book, former Taoiseach Enda Kenny described it as being 'rich in energy commitment and belief'.

He continued: "It is a story of a true son of Ireland.

"It is about love, community, family, values and learning through a hard existence. It's the tale of one man's life and the deep conviction he had for his country."

Historian James Laffey said he was proud to assist in compiling the book which graphically demonstrated the extraordinary highs and lows which Henry Coyle experienced between 1919 and 1934, the years on which the bulk of the book is focused.

He explained: "Up to 25 years of research by Gerry Coyle has been invested in this book.

"And one of the issues Gerry was very keep on from the outset was that everything he wrote would be backed up by documentary evidence.

"When people talk about the War of Independence, one of the things that is overlooked is: 'Where did the guns come from?'

"You need weapons to fight a war and after the 1916 Rising there were very few guns in Ireland.

"So Michael Collins had to set up a gun smuggling operation from Scotland and England and that is where Henry Coyle came into all of this.

"Joe Vize was Michael Collins' right-hand man in terms of the Scotland gun smuggling operation and Henry Coyle was Joe Vize right-hand man from 1919 to 1921. That was the connection between the three.

"Two-thirds of the weapons used in Ireland during the War of Independence came from Scotland. A fair amount of those came through the hands of Henry Coyle, who was the main gun smuggler during the period from 1919 and 1920.

"In terms of the historical significance of Henry Coyle, it is major. But the book is also about many people who served with him."

Deputy Michael Ring, a close friend of Councillor Gerry Coyle for 30 years, also spoke at the event.

He said when Michael Collins came to Castlebar in April 1922, the two people he asked to see were Joe Ring (Deputy Ring's granduncle) and Henry Coyle.

"Gerry and I did not know that connection between our two families until Gerry discovered it some years ago. It was amazing.

"Brigadier Joe Ring was 32 years of age when he died 100 years ago. He fought in the War of Independence, took the Free State side and helped to set up An Garda Siochána.

"While this era in Irish history is glorified now, it was not then. It was talked about very little in my family because the family home had been burned down and the RIC pension was taken off them because Joe had fought against the British.

"When your home is burned down, and your son is killed at 32, nobody in the family wants to talk about it."

Spanning over 400 pages and with more than 30 chapters, as well as containing a wide range of photographs, 'Henry Coyle - A Forgotten Freedom Fighter' deserves to find a place in the homes of all Mayo history lovers.

Printed by ReproWest, Toneybane, Ballina, it retails at €25.