Coyne, John Stirling (1803–68), dramatist and comic journalist, was born in Birr, Co. Offaly, the son of Denis Coyne, port surveyor of Waterford, and his wife, Bridget (née Cosgrave). Educated at Dungannon School, Co. Tyrone, he abandoned plans of entering the legal profession, and instead became a journalist and dramatist, encouraged by the positive response to a series of light articles published in Dublin periodicals. He wrote for the Comet in its early days, and was the founder of and main contributor to the weekly periodical Paddy Kelly's Budget. From 1833 to 1836 he was the chief proprietor and editor of the Dublin Weekly Satirist. His association with the Theatre Royal, Dublin, began in June 1835 when his first play, ‘The phrenologist’, was staged. The earliest of his numerous farces, it proved very successful and was followed by ‘The honest cheats’ and ‘The four lovers’, both produced in 1836.
In that year he moved to London, with a letter of introduction from William Carleton (qv) to Thomas Crofton Croker (qv). With Croker's assistance he became a contributor to several London periodicals, among them Bentley's Miscellany, for which he provided Irish sketches. He later wrote for the short-lived Morning Gazette, England's first cheap daily. In 1841, with Mark Lemon and Horace Mayhew, he launched Punch, and was among those who contributed to its first issue. However, he was later pushed aside by Lemon, following the discovery that some of his work was plagiarised. For many years he was the drama critic for the Sunday Times.
On 19 June 1840 he married Anne Comyns (née Simcockes), a widow originally from Galway; they had at least two sons, J. Denis Coyne and Edmund Stirling Coyne. His career as a dramatist is synonymous with the Adelphi theatre, where he made his London debut in November 1836 with ‘The queer subject’, another farce, though his work was also often performed at the Haymarket. Throughout the next three decades he produced some sixty-four pieces, some of which were written in conjunction with H. C. Coape, Francis Talfourd and H. Hamilton. Although primarily a specialist in knockabout farce, he also wrote melodramas, comedies, burlesques and extravaganzas catering for the tastes of Victorian lower-middle-class audiences. Like many in his profession, he indiscriminately borrowed themes from French comic theatre, while at the same time playing an important role in establishing the rights of authors.
His most notable successes include ‘Binks the bagman’ (1843), ‘Did you ever send your wife to Camberwell?’ (1846), ‘Box and Cox married and settled’ (1852) and ‘The hope of the family’ (1853). Yet undoubtedly his most popular play was ‘How to settle accounts with your laundress’ (1847), which ran for 109 nights and was later translated into French and German. Several of his plays include Irish subjects, among them ‘Shandy Maguire’ and ‘The bashful Irishman’, both dating from 1857. The drama ‘Lola Montez’, portraying the mistress of Ludwig I of Bavaria, was closed down after only two nights by the censors, who objected to allusions to a royal figure. Once these were removed, the play was permitted, and retitled ‘Pas de fascination’.
With Nathaniel P. Willis he also wrote The scenery and antiquities of Ireland (1842), which was embellished by the illustrations of W. H. Bartlett (qv). In 1856 he was appointed secretary of the Dramatic Authors’ Society, a post he held until his death. The society imposed, during his tenure, set fees for performances and measures to monitor the payment of dues to authors. In 1866 a parliamentary inquiry into the granting of licences to theatres called him as a witness on copyright. He died 18 July 1868 at Westbourne Park, London, and is buried in Highgate cemetery. His son completed his last play, ‘The home wreck’, and it was performed in 1869 at the Surrey theatre.