Doyle & McDowell History


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Doyle & McDowell History

"Famous & Infamous Doyles"

A very brief look at the history of Ireland and the Irish diaspora, with references from historical records about some of the parts played by members of the Doyle family.

1790's   to the 1850's

Following the 1798 rebellion the Protestant gentry, alarmed at the level of unrest, was much inclined to cuddle back up to the security of Britain. In 1800, the Act of Union, uniting Ireland politically with Britain, was passed, taking effect from 1 January 1801. Many of the wealthier Irish Catholics supported the Act, especially after the British prime minister, William Pitt, promised to remove the last of the penal laws, most of which had been repealed by 1793. The Irish parliament voted itself out of existence, and around 100 of the Irish Members of Parliament moved to the House of Commons in London.

As if to remind them of the rebellious nature of the country, a tiny and completely ineffectual rebellion was staged in Dublin in 1803, led by a former United Irishman, Robert Emmet (1778-1803). Less than 100 men took part and Emmet was caught, tried and executed. He gave a famous speech from the Court which included the oft-quoted words: "Let no man write my epitaph ... When my country takes her place among the nations of the earth, then and not till then let my epitaph be written."

The Doyles contrived to make their mark in many walks of life in the colonies of the British Empire. The Australian Dictionary of Biography records the life of Cyrus Doyle, a noted pastoralist. He was born in Dublin during May 1793. According to the Dictionary his father, Andrew, and uncle were transported to Australia for involvement in affairs detrimental to the English Crown's government of Ireland. However, there is more to this story than meets the eye. In the papers of the notorious Major Sirr of Dublin Castle, which are preserved in Trinity College, it states that the Doyles were transported for forgery, and that it was their second offence. They landed in Australia in 1803, and had acquired twelve hundred and twenty acres near Portland by 1828. Cyrus married his first wife, Francis Bigger, in 1814. After her death in 1827, he waited some years before marrying Elizabeth MacDougall, by whom he had three sons. Throughout the years he continued to extend his landholdings and became a magistrate in 1852. Cyrus died of Typhoid fever in March 1860. 

The Great Liberator

While Emmett was swinging from the gallows, a 28-year-old Kerry man called Daniel O’Connell (1775-1847) was set on a course that would make him one of Ireland’s greatest leaders. The O’Connell family were from Caherdaniel in County Kerry and had made their money from smuggling. Remarkably, the family managed to hang onto their house and lands through penal times.

In 1823, O’Connell founded the Catholic Association with the aim of achieving political equality for Catholics. The association soon became a vehicle for peaceful mass protest and action, and in an 1826 general election it first showed its muscle by backing Protestant candidates in favour of Catholic emancipation. The high point was in the election of 1828 when O’Connell himself stood for a seat in County Clare; even though being a Catholic he could not take the seat. O’Connell won easily, putting the British parliament in a quandary. Although William Pitt had promised to repeal the last of the penal laws, this had not happened. The remaining laws denied Catholics the right to sit in parliament and take important offices. If the British parliament did not allow O’Connell to take his seat, there might be a popular uprising. Many in the House of Commons favoured emancipation, and the combination of circumstances led them to pass the 1829 Act of Catholic Emancipation allowing Catholics limited voting rights and the right to be elected as Members of Parliament.

After this great victory, O’Connell settled down to the business of securing further reforms. Ten years later he turned his attention to repeal of the Act of Union and re-establishing an Irish Parliament. Now that Catholics could become Members of Parliament, such a body would be very different to the old Protestant-dominated Irish parliaments.

In 1843 the campaign really took off, with O’Connell working alongside the young Thomas Davis. His "monster meetings" attracted up to half a million supporters, and took place all over Ireland. O’Connell exploited the threat that such gatherings represented to the establishment, but baulked at the idea of a genuinely radical confrontation with the British. His bluff was called when a monster meeting at Clontaf was prohibited and O’Connell called it off.

He was arrested in 1844 but went out of his way to avoid any kind of violent clash. After he served a short spell in prison, O’Connell returned to Derrynane. He quarrelled with the Young Ireland movement (which having seen pacifism fail, favoured the use of violence) and never again posed a threat to the British. He died four years later in 1847, as his country was being devoured by famine.

The Great Famine

"The Great Hunger" or "Potato Famine" began in Ireland towards the Autumn of 1845, and continued up to 1851, and ended in the deaths of an estimated 1,000,000 Irish men, women, and children (or about one out of every nine inhabitants).

To understand the Great Famine, one must realise the expanding population of early 1800’s Ireland and the growing dependency on a single crop - the potato. T realise why it lasted for five years one must understand the politics, culture, and economics of the time, since full crop failures did not occur every year between 1845 and 1850.

In 1800, some 5,000,000 people lived in Ireland. By the autumn of 1845, when the Great Famine struck, there were more than 8,000,000. This was the largest increase in the population of Ireland in history.

The "white" potato, known today as the Irish potato, originated in the Andean Mountains. In 1532 the Spanish arrived in north Peru and it is speculated that they brought the potato to Europe in the second half of the 16th Century. By 1800, the potato had taken root and 90% of the Irish population was dependent on the potato as their primary means of caloric intake and as an export.

In September of 1845, a fungus called Phytophthora Infestans was infecting Ireland’s potato crops, devastating the potato population. More than half the Irish potato crop fail in 1845. This event is what started The Great Famine in Ireland.

The next year, 1846, the Irish potato crop was destroyed again. By 1847 ("Black ’47") the impact of the famine spelled doom for Ireland. Nearly one quarter of the population died from starvation or disease, while one eighth of the people fled the country, all occurring in a five-year period between 1845 to 1850. This was the greatest catastrophe of the 19th Century.

While the blight provided the catalyst for the famine, the calamity was essentially man-made, a poison of blind politics, scientific ignorance, rural suppression, and enforced poverty.

The Protestant landlords sent badly needed grain to England, instead of helping the Catholic peasants (cottiers and labourers). The peasants were poor, so the grain was sent to English merchants for the profit and to help offset the loss in rent. The effects of this were multiplied by the fact that the English Parliament was reluctant to send any food to Ireland. One official declared in 1846, "it is not the intention at all to import food for the use of the people in Ireland."

Although the net export of food out of Ireland decreased over the Famine period, more than 26,000,000 bushels of grain were exported from Ireland to England, in 1845 alone. Shipping records indicate that 9,992 Irish calves were exported to England during "Black ‘47", a 33% increase from the previous year. Irish grain was exported, while cheap Indian corn meal was imported to feed the peasants. What was not known at the time, however, was that this corn meal contained little or no nutrients and only contributed further to the spread of disease. Most Famine victims died from malnutrition-related diseases such as dropsy, dysentery, typhus, scurvy and cholera, rather than directly from starvation.

For many the only alternative to starvation, and the only reaction to eviction, was emigration.

An estimated 1,500,000 Irish emigrated from 1845 to 1851, and upwards of 45% of them were dying of starvation or disease in cramped quarters aboard the "coffin ships" on their journey, or shortly after their arrival in the New World.

The overall impacts of the Great Famine included:

the decline of the Irish language and customs (in 1835, the number of Irish speakers was estimated at 4,000,000 ... in 1851, only 2,000,000 spoke Irish as their first language)

the devastation of the landless labourer class and the small tenant farmer

a treeless landscape in many parts of Ireland

the shells of homes that were rendered uninhabitable after landlords evicted their tenants

a massive decrease in farms of 15 acres or less

Irish emigrants scattered around the globe

In the southeast Leinster Counties ("Doyle Country"), the population declined as follows: Carlow by 21%; Wexford by 11%; and Wicklow by 22%. Some Counties in other parts of Ireland suffered even more; for example, the population of County Mayo declined by 29%.

Huge numbers of Irish settlers who found their way abroad, particularly to the U.S.A., carried with them a lasting bitterness. Irish-American wealth would later find its way back to Ireland to finance to finance the independence struggle.

Today there are over 5,000,000 people in Ireland, while it is estimated there are upwards of 70,000,000 people of Irish descent throughout the world.

19th Century Doyles of Note

It was in the nineteenth century that men of the name were particularly prominent, none more so than the famous "J.K.L." - James Doyle (1786-1834), Bishop of Kildare and Leighlin, that champion of the Catholic cause. In the days when most prominent Irishmen were silent about the wrongs being done to Ireland's catholic majority, he dared to protest vigorously. His vibrant words brought hope to a forlorn people. He was born in New Ross County Wexford, and must be that town's most illustrious son. Five years before his death , Dr. Doyle triumphed and the Irish people were freed from religious bondage. Dr. Doyle was also responsible for  enormous advances in catholic education, and founded the Patrician Brothers and Brigidine Nuns; Both are teaching orders and have carried on the work he started. 

He was born James Warren Doyle to James Doyle of Ballinvegga New Ross and Anne Warren in 1786. His father died before his birth and it was largely left up to his mother to bring him and educate him. Anne Warren was a Roman Catholic but of Quaker extraction. From an early age, it seems, James was destined for the priesthood. As a young boy he witnessed the bloody fighting around New Ross during the 1798 Rebellion, and it seems to have confirmed his zeal to become a priest. Following the end of the fighting he was sent to a school where both Catholics and Protestants attended. Indeed, education was a central focus of his family life. A brother, Patrick, attended Trinity College and graduated in 1802, before entering King's Inns to study law. (Incidentally, Wesley Doyle, a son of Langrishe who was later the vicar of Castleknock and Swords, graduated from Trinity in 1806, and then followed Patrick's path into the law.) James Doyle entered Grantstown Augustinian Covent in 1805. After reaching canonical age he was sent to Coimbra University near Lisbon Portugal to complete his education. Following Napoleon's invasion of Portugal in 1808, James Doyle joined a cavalry unit in the British forces of the Irish born Sir Arthur Wellesley, later the conqueror of Napoleon and commonly known as the Iron Duke. In Portugal he may have also served under another Doyle commander, Sir Charles William Doyle. Sir Charles was the elder brother of the famed Sir John Doyle and was sent to the Iberian peninsula to fight Napoleon's forces in 1808. James Doyle returned to Ireland and was ordained in 1809, and was appointed professor of Logic at Carlow College in 1813. Subsequently, he filled the chairs of rhetoric, humanity and theology there. In 1819 Doyle began to emerge as a prominent Catholic leader in Ireland. This coincided with his promotion to the see of Kildare and Leighlin at the age of thirty three. He proved an active and caring prelate and traveled the length and breadth of his diocese preaching on lonely hillsides to a disgruntled flock. But Doyle did not only attempt to soothe his flock with promises of better times. On social issues he was a relentless and indefatigable campaigner. Much of the credit for the passing of the Catholic Relief Bill of 1825, must be given to him. He fought for the abolition of the right of the Church of Ireland to levy tithes upon Catholics and trenchantly opposed the English Crown's right of veto upon appointments within the Catholic hierarchy. However, he also showed himself a great theologian. When in 1822 Archbishop Magee, the Protestant Church of Ireland prelate of Dublin, declared during a sermon that Catholics had a church but no religion, it was Doyle who wrote a much admired scholarly rebuttal of Magee's hypothesis. It was as political commentator that Doyle won the greatest respect from both sides of the religious divide. His articles on the state of Ireland were eagerly read and much studied. Consequently, he was called before a parliamentary committee in London to express his views on Ireland. Arthur Wellesley, then Duke of Wellington and Prime Minister, shrewdly observed that at times it was the prelate who was examining the parliamentarians. However, it is clear from the text of Doyle's examinations that his aims were conservative:
' I am convinced in my soul ....that if we (Catholics) were freed from the disabilities under which we labour, we have no mind, and no thought, and no will, but that which would lead us to incorporate ourselves most fully and essentially with this great kingdom; for it would be our greatest pride, to share in the glories and riches of England'.
When asked by the Devon Commission why Catholics were reluctant to partake in a forthcoming census, Doyle summed up the fear of treachery which prevailed among the Irish:
'The Catholics have ever been unwilling to make known their numbers to any aspect of the Government'. 'Having too often experienced from it what they deemed treachery or injustice , they naturally distrusted whomsoever approached them in its name'. 'Ignorant of its views in computing the number of its slaves, these latter rather feared they were to be decimated or banished, as if in the time of Cromwell, to some bog of desert if found too numerous, than that any measures were to be adopted for the improvement of their condition'
With the emergence of the barrister, Daniel O'Connell, Doyle found a ready foil for his ideas. He actively encouraged and advised O'Connell in his quest for Catholic Emancipation, which was granted in 1829. Although a relatively young man, Doyle's health began to fail about 1830. Gradually he faded from the political scene and devoted his time to pastoral affairs. However, he was called before a parliamentary committee for Ireland in 1831. He died in 1833.
Precursory surveys through sources such as Lewis' A Topographical Dictionary of Ireland, Cantwell's 'Memorials of the Dead' and the Index to Wills are revealing for the 1830s. Among those who subscribed for copies of A Topographical Dictionary of Ireland (pub 1837) were several Doyle clergymen of both denominations. Interestingly, most of the Doyle pastors who were Church of Ireland (Protestants) were concentrated in Wexford, rather than Wicklow or Carlow. Cantwell's Memorials of the Dead also displays that there were a markedly higher percentage of Doyle burial plots within Wexford's Church of Ireland (Protestant) cemeteries, than in the aforesaid two counties. In Wicklow the oldest Doyle grave that we have been able to discover was that of Murklaugh Doyle, who died in 1697 at Glendalough. Again the Prerogative Wills of Ireland also confirms that there was a reasonably high proportion of the Doyles mentioned were Church of Ireland (Protestant). In general this source shows that the Doyles mentioned enjoyed the benefit of some financial stability and prosperity. But those whose wills were proved in the Prerogative Court were few. It was the central testamentary court which only granted probate or administration in cases where a testator left an estate in more than one diocese. In other words Prerogative wills relate to the very wealthiest sector in Irish society, and it is not surprising that many of the Doyles mentioned in this source were protestant and landlords. Far more Doyles did not have these financial privileges.


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 Last updated 30 April, 2001