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The Doyle's of Ancient Ireland


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Artist: Angus McBride

The names Doyle (and in days gone by, O’Doyle) stand high in the list of Irish surnames arranged in order of numerical strength, holding twelfth place in Ireland. Though now widely distributed it was always most closely associated with the counties of southeast Leinster (Wicklow, Wexford, and Carlow) in which it is chiefly found today. Of course, the Doyles and O’Doyles are also prominent in and around other Viking settlements in Ireland such as Dublin, Waterford, Cork, Limerick, Galway, and Donegal. In the records of the fifteenth, sixteenth, and seventeenth centuries this name also appears prominently in these same areas. However, the Dowells & McDowells are most common in Roscommon and Ulster, where they first settled in the AD1200's.

The Doyle's are descendants of the Vikings, who settled along the seacoast in pre-Norman times; and in fact the Doyle's are and where always more numerous in areas adjacent to the sea coast, which tends to confirm this view. DubhGall, it may be mentioned, is the word used in early times to denote a Norseman or a Scandinavian. One authority, however, Rev. John Francis Shearman, asserts that the eponymous ancestor of the east Leinster Doyles was DubhGilla (a Norseman), son of Bruadar, King of Idrone (county Carlow), in the year 851AD. DubhGhall son of Amhlaibh (=Olaf), Prince of Leinster, was slain at the Battle of Clontarf, and Eoghan O DubhGaill is recorded in Waterford in 1291AD.

As DubhGhaill the name appears in the 'Annals of the Four Masters' at various dates between AD 978 and 1013. However, it does not appear in works concerned with Irish Genealogy, since the founder of the family is thought to be descended from a Norseman who came to Ireland raiding and then settled, before the Anglo-Norman invasions.

The Doyles organised themselves exactly like the other Irish clans. Their war-cry 'Killole Abu', refers to a hill of that name, near the present town of Arklow, where they assembled for war.

It is sometimes also claimed that the Doyles are an offshoot of the great Decies sept of O’Phelan.

The McDowell family in Ireland are our “cousins”, and are descended from the Danish Vikings who settled in Argyll and the Western Islands of Scotland.  Their great ancestor was Somerled (a Viking word meaning “summer warrior”) , he was the master of Argyll (on the west coast of Scotland) and he was killed in battle against the Scots in 1164AD.  (Argyll and the Western Isles were not ceeded to Scotland by the King of Norway until 1266AD.)  A branch of this family settled in Ireland in the AD1240’s.  Initially they served as “galloglass” (professional mercenary soldiers) for the O’Conor Clans in the Province of Connacht.  For the next 300 years or so, the McDowells are recorded in various ancient Irish records as professional soldiers, serving a number of different Irish Warlords in various parts of Ireland.

 Following the failure of the Jacobite Rebellion of 1690AD many Doyles fled into exile with the 'Wild Geese', and took up arms against England in the service of France, Spain, and Austria. (There were 15 Irish regiments in the French Army alone.)

The Doyles have a long and illustrious history from medieval times to the present day; they have been prominent in the military*, the church, commerce, agriculture, engineering works, arts, and sport.

*from the 17th century AD on they were numerous in the armies of Europe and later Britain, where at one time there were six Doyles from Kilkenny all with the rank of Major General.

The stag’s head portrayed on the shields of those Doyle men who have been granted heraldic Arms is regarded as a symbol of Valour, Keenness, Permanence and Endurance. Despite the ravages of man and time, this prince of animals is still a strong force in the mountains of Wicklow.

(A history book on the Doyle Clan is currently being prepared for future publication.)


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The Doyles of
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 Last updated 3 December, 2011