Coyle, James (c.1838–1920), Gaelic scribe and national schoolteacher, was born in Co. Cavan, south of Lough Ramore, on the Meath border, son of Patrick Coyle (1790–1862), scribe, local poet, and farmer. Growing up in one of the last pockets of native Irish speech in south Ulster, he became fluent and literate in Irish and English, and at some point entered the scribal tradition represented by his father. Scribes performed the function, in a society where printed books were scarce, of copying on demand and according to personal interest, poetry and lore already in manuscript or preserved in the oral culture of the area. He received a grounding in traditional scribal orthography from his father, who had absorbed elements of classical literary Irish, derived from works of the seventeenth century, transmitted mainly in manuscript form. After a primary school education at Mynagh, he attended the teacher training college at Marlborough St., Dublin, in the later 1850s, and taught for some twenty years at a national school in Artane, north of Dublin. Though the social basis for the semi-professional occupation of scribe had of course disintegrated, he continued to turn out manuscripts in the traditional non-cursive style, assembling narratives, poetry, and historical information from family and local memory, and from stray manuscripts surviving in local circulation, such as a congratulatory address from the parish of Mullahoran to Daniel O'Connell (qv) on the occasion of his release from Richmond bridewell (1844). It is regrettable that only two of his original manuscripts in archaic style are now known to be extant (in the Franciscan library, Killiney, Co. Dublin). Most were, it seems, copied into school notebooks of the period.
Returning to Co. Cavan in the 1870s, he became principal teacher at the national school in Dungimmon, Mountnugent, close to the border with Meath, and purchased a small farm. His long thatched cabin was furnished with an exceptional collection of books and manuscripts. Conscious of his place in the tradition of Gaelic learning, he joined enthusiastically in the activities of the Gaelic Union and the Society for the Preservation of the Irish Language in the 1880s, and in the work of the Gaelic League in the 1890s. He corresponded with P. W. Joyce (qv) and assisted in research towards a study of the placenames of Co. Longford. There is a family tradition that he wrote occasional articles for An Claidheamh Soluis. About 1903 he was awarded first prize for the production of traditional manuscripts at the Oireachtas. By this period he had, however, become persuaded that the traditional scribal conventions were best modernised and cursive script adopted. He died 19 January 1920 and is buried in Oldcastle cemetery, Co. Meath. His skills were not, unfortunately, passed on within his family, and his library was dispersed. As a result, he was the last member of an ancient regional scribal tradition. Copies of his work now provide insight into a lost dialect of Irish.
He married Mary Sheridan, an assistant schoolmistress; they had three sons and one daughter.