Some Thoughts on Religion in the USA
I can't say I blame her

The Archivist's Lot

I mentioned the other day that my wife is the archivist for the local archdiocese. She tells me that she spent the entire day today trying to find out what color the eyes of someone who died in 1921 were. The person was Fr. James Coyle, and someone wants to have a portrait of him painted, but all they have to work from is a few black-and-white photos. And if there is anyone still living who saw him while he was alive, he or she would have to be over 90, and would have been only a child at the time.

Want to take a guess at the color of his eyes?

Fr. Coyle and his sister, Marcella

In the archiving business, people like my wife, who are the sole person in charge of the archive, are referred to as Lone Arrangers.


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Irish , collen bawn for a sister. Very light gray blue eyes, obviously.
He looks like the description of one of my great uncles who was alive about the same time, a police detective rather than a priest.

Not dark enough to be brown or hazel. I'd go with a grey/blue too or grey/green.

This is the kind of stuff my husband loves.


So does my wife.

joetexx and Louise are most likely correct about the eye color: some of his relatives in Ireland are said to have piercing light blue-grey eyes. Certainly Irish to the bone, not only a priest but something of an Irish nationalist as well. "collen bawn"?

Light obviously, but how do you know gray/blue? Why not just gray or just blue?

I was thinking you had told me that description was applied to his relatives.

They have the look of light blue eyes to me. And according to Wikipedia, blue eyes would be a pretty good statistical guess for any Irishman.

(last paragraph)

The great Irish tenor John McCormack was also born in Athlone, and he had blue eyes.

I rest my case.

I meant to add that the link to Fr. Coyle's life story is definitely worth clicking on.

Well, that certainly proves he had blue eyes. But McCormack's are dark blue, at least in that picture.

I'm not sure I've ever seen eyes that were truly pure gray rather than blue-gray or gray-blue.


Should read "colleen bawn", an old expression for a classically 'Irish' girl that means roughly 'a born beauty'. 

I heard one of my aunts use it once; she heard it from her grandmother, Susan McMonigle. 

Dion Boccicault wrote a murder tragedy with that title in 1860.

I see. I thought you meant "colleen," but I was puzzled when I looked up "bawn."

I certainly wouldn't have guessed that Dion Boccicault was the name of an Irish playwright.

His original surname was Borsiquot, which I would guess was Norman French. There were many of these in Ireland: e. g. Burke was originally De Brugha or Burgha.

Compare such Southen white names as Dabney (Hueguenot, D'Aubigny) or Tolliver (Italian, Taliaferro).

Never would have guessed that about those southern names. Growing up, I had a good friend whose last name was LeCroix, pronounced LEEcroy. I thought it was a little strange at the time, and later I wondered how in the world that spelling had survived. I mean, it wasn't Louisiana or south Mississippi-Alabama, it was north Alabama, culturally more like Tennessee.

Even the people who spell it Taliaferro, frequently pronounce it Tolliver. I think some of the East Tennessee Tollivers that I know would croak if they knew where it came from.

I always liked the Beauchamp pronounced Beecham.


Yeah it can be fascinating how names mutate, or are pronounced. 

Arthur Martinez, CEO of Sears in the '90's, was occasionally complimented on being a Latino or Hispanic who had risen so high in the world.  He would explain that he was a Connecticut Portuguese whose family had been in the US for generations, and his name was pronounced MAR-tin-ezz, not Mar-TEEN-ez.  He was indistinguishable in speech and manner from the WASP executives he worked with. 

Then there's Cholmondeley. 

The English humorist Will Duffy once wrote a piece on the ancient world in which he referrred to 'the pharoah Psammitik, pronounced Chumley'.

And of course the Tollivers should know that the name means
'iron butt'.

heh. I think Beauchamp/Beecham goes back to the mother country, doesn't it? As for Cholmondeley/Chumley, one can only laugh. Where did they get such a word in the first place?! Wooster, Lester, Gloster...I must say I was relieved to learn that Leicester is Lester. But only puzzled by Barkely.

My husband is possibly the only person I've ever met who has properly grey eyes. Mine are blue/grey and most of our children have blue/grey eyes, but the eldest two have grey eyes with a hint of green. Anyway, it seems to me that many people of light eye colour have a mix of grey and either blue or green. But indeed this priest might have had pure blue eyes for all I know. Just definitely not brown!

The Lone Arranger has heard from a relative of Fr. Coyle (grand-niece, I think?--is that the right term for the other half of the great-uncle relationship?) who sent a picture of her own eyes: unusually light blue-gray.

I would go with great-niece I think. Has the Lone Arranger reached a verdict on the eye colour?

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