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.
1880's to 1918
Parnell and the Land League
In spite of the bitterness aroused by the
The Great Famine of 1845 -1851, there was hardly any
challenge to Britainís control of Ireland for quite some
time. The abortive Fenian rising in March 1867 had its most
publicised action in Manchester, England, when 30 Irishmen
attempted to free two of their leaders. In doing so they
killed an English policeman, either by accident or design.
Three of them were executed and became known in nationalist
circles as the "Manchester Martyrs".
In the 1870ís and 1880ís, Charles
Stewart Parnell (1846-91) appeared on the political scene.
The son of a Protestant landowner from Avondale in County
Wicklow, he had much in common with other members of the
Anglo-Irish ascendancy. But there were differences. Parnellís
mother was American, and her father had fought against the
British in America (War of 1812). Parnellís family
supported the principle of Irish independence from Britain.
Charles was a boisterous young man, educated
in England, and he attended Cambridge University before
becoming a Member of Parliament for County Meath. He quickly
became noticed in the House of Commons as a passionate and
difficult member who asked all the wrong questions.
In 1879 Ireland appeared to be facing
another famine as potato crops were failing once again and
evictions were becoming widespread. Cheap corn from America
had pushed grain prices through the floor and with it the
earnings of the tenants who paid their rent from grain they
grew on their plots.
A Fenian called Michael Davitt began to
organise the tenants, and early on found a sympathetic ear
in the unlikely person of Parnell. This odd pair were the
brains behind the Land League, which initiated widespread
agitation for reduced rents and improved working conditions.
The conflict heated up and there was violence on both sides.
Parnell instigated the strategy known as
"boycotting" against tenants, agents and landlords
who did not adhere to the Land Leagueís aims and were thus
treated as lepers by the local population. Charles Boycott
was a land agent in County Mayo and was one of the first
people the new strategy was used against.
The "land war", as it became
known, lasted from 1879 to 1882 and was a momentous period.
For the first time, tenants were defying their landlords en
masse. An election in 1880 brought William Gladstone to
power in Britain. In face of the situation in Ireland, he
introduced his Land Act of 1881, which improved life
immeasurably for tenants, creating fair rents and the
possibility of tenants owning their land.
A crisis threatened in 1882 when two of the
crownís leading figures in Ireland were murdered in
Phoenix Park, Dublin. However, reform had been achieved, and
Parnell now turned his attentions to achieving a limited
form of autonomy for Ireland called Home Rule. Parnell had
an extraordinary ally in William Gladstone, who in 1886
became Prime Minister for the third time and was dependent
on Parnell for crucial support in parliament. But Gladstone
and Parnell were defeated partly as a result of defections
from Gladstoneís own party.
The end was drawing near for Parnell. For 10
years he had been having an affair with Kitty OíShea, who
was married to a member of his own party. When the
relationship was exposed in 1890, Parnell refused to resign
as party leader, and the party split. Parnell was deposed as
leader and the Catholic Church in Ireland quickly turned
against him. The "Uncrowned king of Ireland" was
no longer welcome. Parnellís health deteriorated rapidly
and he died less than a year later, aged just 45.
Back in Ireland the post famine years saw
the emergence of organised opposition to the large landed
estates. Again the Doyles played a role in this period.
Michael Doyle of Tagoat in Wexford was an active Land
Leaguer during the 1880s, and sat upon the first G.A.A.
committee in that county. This Michael was also the father
of Canon Patrick Doyle, a parish priest of Ferns and later
President of the renowned St Peter's College in Wexford.
Reverand Thomas Doyle, parish priest of Ramsgrange
Co.Wexford between 1863-1903, proved a fearless champion of
tenant farmers during eviction days. When the Land Act of
1881 was mooted, the Freeman's Journal continually urged the
Irish people to accept it. In this period a Canon Doyle
emerged as the greatest advocate of this legislation. He
urged the Irish to:
"..extract every atom of good you can out of it, seize
on every point of vantage it offers on which a new battery
can be planted to assail the fortress of landlordism, and
smash it into fragments"
This proved to be good and sound advice as events turned
Home Rule Beckons
Gladstone was elected as prime minister for a fourth term
in 1892 and this time managed to get his "Home Rule for
Ireland" bill through the House of Commons, but it was
thrown out by the House of Lords. The Protestant community
in Ireland, most numerous in the north-east, were becoming
more and more alarmed at Gladstoneís support for Home
Rule, which might threaten their status and privileges.
By now eastern Ulster was quite a prosperous place. It
had been spared the worst effects of the Famine, and heavy
industrialisation meant the Protestant ruling class was
doing very nicely.
While Gladstone had failed for the time being, the Ulster
Unionists (the Unionist party had been formed in 1885) were
now acutely aware that Home Rule could surface again. They
were determined to resist it, at least as far as Ulster was
concerned. The unionist, led by Sir Edward Carson, a Dublin
lawyer, formed a Protestant vigilante brigade called the
Ulster Volunteer Force (U.V.F.), and it held a series of
mass paramilitary rallies. The U.V.F. was formed to fight
should home rule become law and in 1911 their worst
nightmare seemed ready to unfold.
In Britain a new Liberal government under Prime Minister
Asquith had removed the House of Lordsí power to veto
bills, and began to put another Home Rule for Ireland bill
through Parliament - the political price being demanded by
Irish Home Rule Members of Parliament for their support. The
bill was put through in 1912 against strident unionist and
conservative British opposition, which mounted in ferocity.
As the U.V.F. grew in strength, a republican group called
the Irish Volunteers, led by the academic Eoin MacNeill, was
set up in the south to defend Home Rule for the whole of
Ireland. They lacked the weapons and organisation of the
U.V.F., however, which succeeded in large-scale gunrunning
in 1914. There was widespread support for the U.V.F. among
officers of the British army.
Despite the opposition, the Home Rule Act was passed, but
suspended at the outbreak of the First World War in August
1914. The question of Ulster was left unresolved. Many Irish
nationalists believed that Home Rule would come after the
war and that by helping out they could influence British
opinion in their favour. John Redmond, the leader of the
Irish Home Rule party, actively encouraged Irishmen to join
the British forces to fight Germany.
The First World War
Colonel Sir Arthur Havelock Doyle, Baronet,
commanded the British Armyís 53rd Military District during
the First World War 1914-18. His earlier war service
included the Afghan War 1879-80, the Natal campaign of 1881,
West Africa 1892, and in South Africa (the Boer War)
1900-02. He was also A.D.C. to Prince Edward of Saxe Weimar.
He also wrote "100 Years of Conflict" A book
recording the lives of 6 Generals of the Doyle Family
An outstanding churchman during the First World War was Father
William Doyle, S.J. (1873-1917), a famous army chaplain
who was awarded the Military Cross while
serving with the Irish regiments of the British Army on the
Western Front during the First World War; sadly he was
killed in action along side of the Irish soldiers he
ministered to. (It has been suggested by some that Father
Doyle would have been awarded a Victoria Cross, but that as
a Catholic priest, and more particularly as a Jesuit, he was
not liked by the British High Command.)
The Victoria Crosss
Another Doyle who achieved much fame during the First
World War was Company- Sergeant-Major Martin Doyle V.C.,
M.M. of the Royal Munster Fusiliers. In 1918 he won the "V.C."
(the Victoria Cross), Britainís highest award for
bravery in combat, while fighting against the Germans in
France. (He had previously also won the Military Medal
for gallantry while fighting in France.) Before the First
World War he had served in India as a professional soldier
with the Royal Irish Regiment. When the First World War
ended Martin left the British Army and returned to his Irish
home in County Wexford. He then served as an I.R.A.
intelligence officer fighting against the British during the
Anglo-Irish War (1919-1922). Martin spent the remainder of
his working years as a regular soldier in the new
professional army of the Irish Free State.
The New Zealand Roll of Honour 1845-1995 records that in
1918 Private A.R. Doyle was awarded Britainís Military
Medal (equivalent to the U.S. Army Silver Star decoration)
for bravery in action against German troops on the Western
In the 1918 Australian Army accounts about the shooting
down of the German flying ace Baron Manfred von Richtofen,
the infamous "Red Baron", there is a Lieutenant
Doyle mentioned with the Australian machine gun
troops. Lieutenant Doyle is recorded as standing
next to a Gunner Buie, and Gunner Buie claimed to have used
his Lewis Gun to shoot down and kill this famous German
flying ace. At the time of his death the German was
attacking a fleeing British Sopwith Camel fighter 'plane,
and was flying at less than 50 feet above the Australian
front-line trenches. The "Red Baron"
had destroyed 80 allied aircraft during the First World War
in France, before he was finally shot down over the
Australian sector of the front line. British Medical
Officers later examined the Germanís body and found that
the bullet wounds that killed him were to the front of his
body and had been caused by ground fire.
During the First World War hundreds of thousands
of Irishmen fought against Germany and Turkey in the armed
forces of Britain, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South
Africa, Rhodesia, and the U.S.A. There were a great many
Doyle men killed in action in the so-called "Great
War" of 1914-1919 (thousands of Doyle men again
answered the call during the 1939-1945 World War and many
paid the supreme sacrifice), and we are preparing a Doyle
Roll of Honour in their memory.
The Gaelic Revival
While all the various attempts at Home Rule
were being shunted about, something of a revolution was
taking place in Irish Arts, literature and identity.
The Anglo-Irish literary revival was one
aspect of this, championed by the young William Butler Yeats.
The poet had a coterie of literary friends such as Lady
Gregory, Douglas Hyde, John Millington Synge and George
Russell. They unearthed many of the Celtic tales of
Cuchulainn, and wrote with fresh enthusiasm about a romantic
Ireland of epic battles and warrior queens. For a country
that had suffered centuries of invasion and deprivation,
these images presented a much more attractive version of
history. Yeats and his friends were decidedly uppercrust
themselves, and pursued the new literature and poetry
primarily through the English language, aiming at the
educated classes. A National Theatre, later to become the
Abbey Theatre, was born in Dublin from their efforts.
At the same time, people like Douglas Hyde
and Eoin MacNeill were doing their best to ensure the
survival of the Irish language and the more everyday Irish
customs and culture. They formed the Gaelic League in 1893
which, among other aims, pushed for the teaching of Irish in
schools. The Gaelic League stressed the importance of the
Irish language and culture to the Irish identity. In the
1890ís it was primarily a cultural outfit and only assumed
a nationalistic aura later on.
There were many other forces at work. The
Gaelic Athletic Association, initially founded in 1884 to
promote Irish sport and culture, was by the turn of the
century a thriving and strongly politicised organisation. A
small pressure group called Sinn Fein
("We Ourselves") was set up under the leadership
of Arthur Griffith, founder of the United Irishmen
newspaper. He proposed that all Irish Members of Parliament
should abandon the House of Commons in London and set up a
Parliament in Dublin (a similar strategy to that employed by
Hungary in gaining its independence from Austria.) Another
group, the Fenians, also called the Irish Republican
Brotherhood (I.R.B.), believed in independence through
violence if necessary.
Socialism was gaining support in Dublin
amongst the hungry tenement dwellers who had to endure some
of the worst urban housing conditions in Europe. In 1913 Jim
Larkin and James Connolly called the transport workers out
on strike. Although the strike ended in a return to work,
the employers failed to break the union and Larkin and
Connolly had created the Irish Citizenís Army for
self-defence. It now joined forces with the Irish
It must be said, however, that the majority
of Dubliners were probably more concerned with the First
World War, and while some might have believed independence
from Britain was a good idea, their passions went no further
The Easter Rising
Many Irishmen with nationalist sympathies
went off to the battlefields of Europe believing their
sacrifice would ensure that Britain stood by its promise of
Home Rule for Ireland. The Home Rule Act was passed just
before war broke out and would in theory be put into action
once the war was over. However, a minority of nationalists
in Ireland were not so trusting of Britainís resolve. The
Irish Volunteers split into two groups, those under John
Redmond who adopted this wait-and-see approach and a more
radical group which believed in a more revolutionary course
Two small groups - a section of the Irish
Volunteers under Patrick Pearse and the Irish Citizenís
Army led by James Connolly - staged a rebellion that took
the country by surprise. On Easter Monday 1916, they marched
into Dublin and took over a number of key positions in the
city. Their headquarters was the General Post Office on OíConnell
Street, and from its steps Pearse read out to nonplussed
passers-by a declaration that Ireland was now a republic and
that his band were the provisional government. Less than a
week of fighting ensured before the rebels surrendered in
the face of superior British forces and firepower. The
rebels were not popular, and as they were marched to gaol
(jail) they had to be protected from angry Dubliners.
The leader of the Irish Volunteers was Eoin
MacNeill, and the rising had been planned by Pearse and
others without his knowledge. When he discovered the plans
at the last minute, MacNeill attempted to call the rebellion
off, resulting in very few turning up on the day. The
Germans were also supposed to arrive in U-boats and this did
not happen. So what might have been a real threat to British
authority fizzled out completely. Many have said that Pearse
knew they did not stand a chance, but was preoccupied with a
blood sacrifice, a noble gesture by a few brave souls that
would galvanise the nation. Whether he believed this or not,
a blood sacrifice was on the way.
The Easter Rising would probably have had
little impact on the Irish situation, had the British not
made martyrs of the leaders of the rebellion. Of the 77
given death sentances, 15 were executed. Pearse was shot
three days after the surrender, and nine days later James
Connolly was the last to die, shot in a chair because he
could not stand on a gangrenous ankle. The deaths provoked a
real change in public attitudes to the republicans, whose
support climbed from then on.
Countess Markievicz was one of those not
executed, because she was female and there had been a recent
outcry in Britain over the execution by the Germans of Edith
Cavell, a nurse, in Belgium. Countess Markievicz was later
to be the first woman elected to the British parliament
(preceding Nancy Astor), but she refused to take up her
seat. Eamon de Valeraís death sentance was commuted to
life imprisonment because of his U.S. citizenship.
In the 1918 general election, the
republicans stood under the banner of Sinn Fein and won a
large majority of the Irish seats. Ignoring Londonís
parliament, where technically they were supposed to sit, the
newly elected Sinn Fein deputies - many of them veterans of
the 1916 Easter Rising - declared Ireland independent and
formed the first Dail Eireann (Irish assembly
or lower house), which sat in Dublinís Mansion House under
the leadership of Eamon de Valera. While the Irish had
declared independence, the British had by no means conceded
it, and confrontation was imminent.