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 families.
Antiquity to the 1100's
In the days of ancient history before the Doyles
arrived in Ireland, the westward march of the Roman
Empire came to a halt in England. As the Roman Empire
declined and the dark ages began to engulf much of Europe,
Ireland became an outpost of European civilisation.
Christianity arrived in Ireland some time between the
3rd and 5th centuries, and while Saint Patrick is
given the credit for proselytising the native Irish, there
were certainly earlier missionaries. Evidence suggests
that Saint Patrick lived in the 5th century, and that at
the age of 16 he was kidnapped from Britain by Irish
pirates. During six years in Ireland as a slave tending
sheep, Patrick found religion.
After escaping back to Britain, he was instructed by
powerful visions to return to Ireland. Patrick first went
to Europe to train as a cleric, and from around 432 AD
spent the rest of his life converting the Irish to
Christianity. His base was in Armagh in County Down,
probably chosen because of the symbolic pagan significance
of nearby Emain Macha (Navan Fort).
Much of our knowledge of Patrick comes from his own
writings. Saint Patrick’s Confession is a
copy of one such account from the 9th century "Book
of Armagh" (held in Trinity College, Dublin).
The Book of Kells
As Europe sank into the dark Ages, Ireland in the 7th
and 8th centuries, protected by its isolation beyond
Britain and the Irish Sea, became a land of "saints
and scholars", with thriving monasteries where monks
wrote in Latin and illuminated manuscripts, including the
world-famous "Book of Kells"
(which is now housed at Trinity College in Dublin).
Outstanding among the monasteries were Clonmacnois in
County Offaly and Gendalough in County Wicklow. Monks such
as Colmcille and Columbanus founded monasteries abroad.
During the 8th century, however, Vikings in
their slim powerful boats began to appear off the north
and east coasts of Ireland attacking settlements,
plundering monasteries and ushering in a new, more
turbulent period of Irish history.
The Doyles are descendants of the Norsemen
(Vikings), who settled along the Irish seacoast in
pre-Norman times; and in fact the Doyles are and
were always more numerous in areas adjacent to the
seacoast, which tends to confirm this view. "Dubh-Gall",
it may be mentioned, is the word used in early times to
denote a Norseman or a Scandinavian Viking.
One authority, however, Rev. John Francis Shearman,
asserts that the eponymous ancestor of the east Leinster Doyles
was DubhGilla (a Viking), son of Bruadar,
King of Idrone (County Carlow), in the year 851 AD.
As DubhGhaill the name appears in the
"Annals of the Four Masters" at various dates
between 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 Viking who
came to Ireland raiding and then settled, before the
Anglo-Norman invasions.It is sometimes also claimed that
the Doyles are an offshoot of the great Decies sept
However, the "Doyle Story" in Ireland
all started in the Spring of the year 795 AD, when a Viking
fleet sailed down the west coast of Scotland, raiding St.
Colmcille’s monastery on Iona before turning their
attentions to the east coast of Ireland. These Vikings
came ashore at Lambay Island and launched an unprovoked
and surprise attack on a monastery (near what is now
Dublin). They murdered all the monks and took as much gold
and food as they could carry. Before leaving they razed
the monastery to the ground and set fire to the rubble.
Vikings raiding in Ireland
(Artist: Angus McBride)
The Vikings discovered what easy pickings Monks
were and soon they were regularly attacking monasteries in
Ireland. It was the start of a violent phase in Irish
history that lasted for 40 years during which time
virtually all the major monasteries, including Sceilig
Mhicil, Bangor, Armagh and Clonfert were plundered. Many
priceless documents were also destroyed. After a number of
years of destruction, the Monks became wise to the Vikings
and began building monasteries on islands in lakes
(crannogs). Large round towers were also built to act as
lookout posts, and as places of refuge in the event of an
attack. Many of these towers can still be seen today.
In passing, it must be said that the local Irish clans
were just as fond of raiding the monasteries as the Vikings
were. Monasteries were places of wealth and power, and
were often caught in intertribal squabbles. But the
increasingly frequent Viking raids burned into the
consciousness of the Irish monks, and into their accounts
of these times.
Irish weapons and soldiers were no match for the
superbly armed and ferocious Norsemen.
In 830, the Vikings decided they liked the
Ireland they were plundering, and began to settle there
and form alliances with native families and chieftains.
They married the Irish women and learned to speak
Irish. They founded many towns, including Dublin ("Dubh-Linn")
in 841, as well as Cork, Waterford, Wexford and Limerick.
Dubh-Linn (Dublin) soon emerged as the largest, and in
853 became an independent kingdom ruling two areas around
it known today as Fingall and Oxmanstown. The hugely
successful city-state of Dubh-Linn prospered for several
hundred years. During that time, the Vikings became
Christians and in 1028 a great Cathedral was constructed
In time Irish and Viking culture mixed. The
Irish tuaths were also merging into larger kingdoms
during these Viking attacks and settlement.
In around 960, King Malachy of the Ui Neills (who lived
in Meath - northern Leinster and Ulster) regarded himself
as the High, or most powerful, King in Ireland. Most other
Kings generally accepted this.
At about this time, in the south of Ireland, the second
most powerful King (king of the Eoghanacht kingdom of
Cork) was being weakened by attacks from the Vikings.
An internal civil war in the Eoghanacht kingdom had
weakened it further.
A nearby kingdom, the Dal Cais of Clare, saw its
opportunity to take over as the second most powerful Irish
kingdom. Under King Brian Boru*, the Dal Cais
absorbed the Eoghanacht Kingdom and built up a huge army.
Using this army, Brian Boru launched a fierce attack on
the Vikings of the Shannon and Limerick area, and
defeated them. He then marched all through southwest
Ireland demanding loyalty from weaker Kings.
* King Brian Boru is accepted by many as the
origin of the family name O’Brien.
In 980, however, the Ui Neill began to feel this
powerful new competitor and decided to put a stop to the
Dal Cais’s plans and launched an attack on them. The war
became a stalemate and after 17 long years of intermittent
fighting a truce was signed and the Ui Neill officially
became the High Kings of northern Ireland and the Dal Cais
the High Kings of southern Ireland.
However, the Dal Cais continued militarising in secret
before breaking the agreement and marching into Ulster.
Taking the northern Ui Neills by surprise, Brian Boru
quickly defeated them. He then marched southeast into the
Ui Neill heartland of Meath in 1002, at which time Malachy
finally relented and recognised Brian Boru as the first
High King of all Ireland.
Peace reigned at last, but only for ten years.
In 1013 King Morda of southern Leinster (the area that
is now south of Dublin) declared that he would no longer
recognise Brian Boru as High King, and he then formed an
alliance with the Vikings of Dubh-Linn to protect
When Brian Boru heard of this he was furious and
marched north and besieged Dubh-Linn. After an uneventful
three months, winter set in and Brian Boru ran out of
supplies. He then had to abandon the siege and send his
While Brian Boru was away, the Vikings rallied
support from their countrymen who had also settled in both
the Isle of Man and in Scotland. Over 2,000 Viking
reinforcements arrived in Dubh-Linn ... some even came
from as far away as the Baltic Sea.
After the winter was over, in early 1014, Brian Boru
returned to find Dubh-Linn had been reinforced, and that
it was now even more heavily defended than before.
On 23 April the two opposing armies clashed at a place
just to the north of Dubh-Linn.
In the ensuring battle, many thousands on both
sides were killed, but finally it was the Vikings
who retreated. Some Vikings made it back to the
safety of fortified Dubh-Linn, but many others were killed
trying to reach the safety of their longships, which were
at anchor in Dublin Bay. King Maol Morda was among the
many thousands of Irish who also died in this daylong epic
battle. As the battle was finally being won by the Irish,
in a strange twist of fate, a group of Vikings
managed to fight their way through Brian Boru’s
defensive ring of bodyguards and into his camp, where they
killed him with an axe. The Dal Cais won the famous battle
of Clontaf (but only just!), and never again did the Vikings
try to attack the Irish High King. However, subsequent
divisions among Brian Boru’s chieftains meant the
victory over the Vikings was never consolidated.
In post Clontarf Ireland the Dal Cais continued to
provide Ireland’s High Kings. From 1086 to 1114 the most
powerful king in Ireland was Muirchertach O’Brien. He
had dealings with the Anglo-Normans and the King of
Norway, and he dominated most of Ireland. However Domnaill
Mac Lochlainn, king of the Ui Neill, was able to hold him
in check until the dynamic Turlough O’Connor, King of
Connacht (1106-1156) came onto the scene.
Between 1115 and 1131, Turlough destroyed the power of
Munster and from 1140 threw his energies into making
himself King of Ireland. With his death in 1156, supreme
power passed to the king of the Ui Neill, Muirchertach Mac
Mac Lochlainn allied himself with Dermot MacMurrough (Diarmait
Murchadha), King of Leinster, against his main opponent,
Rory O’Connor (Ruaidhri O Conchobhair), King of Connacht.
Mac Lochlainn held the upper hand in Ireland until his
death in 1166.
O’Connor along with his allies, particularly Tiernan
O’Rourke, King of Breifne, as well as the Vikings
in Dublin, then drove MacMurrough from Ireland.
Of course, the first bridge over the River Liffey in
Dublin was constructed by a Doyle.
In the aftermath of the battle of Clontarf not
all Doyles continued their lives as seafaring fighting
records show that in 1297 Thomas O’Doyle, not a pirate
but a farmer, had 30 cows robbed from his land by a gang
of brigands, who were led by Thomas Dahore.
Dahore was bought to justice and hanged.
The Norman Conquest
MacMurrough appealed for help to King Henry II of
England and changed the course of history by doing so.
This opened the door for the Norman invasion of Ireland
beginning in 1169. (In 1066 AD the Normans, under William
the Conqueror, had invaded and conquered England. They
were former Vikings themselves, who has settled in
northern France 150 years previously. They had come to
terms with the King of France, and had adopted the country’s
language, religion and military technology.)
invasion of 1169 sprang from the long-standing enmity of
Dermot MacMurrough and Tiernan O’Rourke of Breifne, a
more northerly kingdom.
Dermot had once abducted Tiernan’s wife
Dervorgilla, and in 1166 Tiernan sought revenge. Dermot, forced out of his headquarters at Ferns, fled to
landed at Bristol, and eventually made his way to
Aquitaine in France, where he appealed to King Henry II
for help. Although
he was King of England, Henry was a French-speaking Norman
much preoccupied with controlling his French territories.
However, he had contemplated an invasion of Ireland
as early as 1155, with the approval of the only English
Pope, Adrian IV, and he readily authorised Dermot to seek
allies among the Norman lords in Britain.
to Bristol, Dermot was initially unsuccessful, so he
turned his attention to Wales, where the Normans were
perpetually engaged in warfare against the native Welsh.
Richard FitzGilbert de Clare, Earl of Pembroke,
proved an attentive listener.
Pembroke, known as Strongbow, was an experienced
campaigner, but he had fallen out of favour at King Henry’s
offered an opportunity to restore his standing and add to
his wealth, but he put a big price on his assistance.
And, with Strongbow’s approval, Dermot won the
support of FitzStephen and other Welsh-Norman lords, to
whom he promised grants of land.
Dermot then returned to Ireland with a small army
in 1167, but was defeated by his old enemy Tiernan O’Rourke
and forced to pay 100 ounces of gold in reparation for the
abduction of Dervorgilla. However, 2 years later it would be a different story .....
Maurice FitzGerald and Robert FitzStephen were promised
Wexford and two adjoining cantreds ("Doyle
Country"!) for their services, while "Strongbow"
was offered Dermot’s daughter Aoife in marriage and
promised the whole Province of Leinster on Dermot’s
The first Norman forces arrived onboard three
single-masted Longships at Bannow Bay, County
Wexford in May 1169.
had sailed from Milfordhaven in Wales, and on board were
Normans, Welshmen and Flemings.
Their leader was Robert FitzStephen, a Norman-Welsh
warlord, and they made camp on Bannow Island, separated
from the mainland by a narrow channel which has since
silted up. A
day later, two further ships arrived under the command of
Maurice de Prendergast, bringing their numbers to around
were joined by 500 Irish warriors led by Dermot
MacMurrough, King of Leinster.
Bannow the combined armies headed towards Wexford, a
Viking seaport some 20 miles away.
There was a brief skirmish at Duncormick, before
the assault on Wexford’s walls.
After some resistance, the Vikings acknowledged the
superior military technology of the armoured knights and
their archers and surrendered the town.
A year later, in response to a plea from Dermot,
Strongbow despatched a small force under Raymond le Gros.
It landed at Baginbun, near Bannow, and immediately
routed a strong army of Irishmen and Vikings from
Waterford, inspiring the couplet:
“At the creek of Baginbun, Ireland was lost and
himself arrived with 1,200 men in August 1170, stormed
Waterford, where he married Aoife MacMurrough, and within
a month had captured Dublin.
Between 1169 and 1171 the Normans not only conquered
all Leinster including Dublin (more "Doyle
Country"!) for Dermot, but also invaded the
neighbouring Province of Meath and then harried the
Kingdom of Breifne.
Dermot MacMurrough died in May 1171, and Strongbow
succeeded in crushing a general revolt of the Leinster
Irish and established himself as king of Leinster.
Meanwhile in England, Henry II was watching events in
Ireland with growing unease. In 1154 Henry II had been
recognised by the Pope as Lord of Ireland and technically
Strongbow was one of his subjects. But Strongbow’s
independence of mind and action was worrying him.
Fearing Strongbow’s new found power in western
Ireland, Henry II landed with a large army near Waterford
("Doyle Country") on 17 October 1171.
In his campaign King Henry received submission and
hostages from the Vikings of Wexford (who had
captured Robert FitzStephen) as well as from many other
kings in Ireland. (These included the kings of Cork,
Limerick, Airgialla, Breifne, and Ulaid.)
Henry made a formal grant to Strongbow of the Province
of Leinster in return for homage, fealty, and the service
of 100 knights, reserving to himself the city and kingdom
of Dublin and all seaports (most of which were Viking
settlements) and fortresses.
Henry granted other Irish territories to
the Norman nobles: the Kingdom of Meath was given to Hugh
de Lacy; John de Courcy conquered Ulaid in the northeast;
parts of Cork went to Robert FitzStephen and Miles de
Cogan; Philip de Braose took Limerick; the kingdom of
Airgialla was divided between Gilbert Pipard and Bertram
de Verdon; and Munster was broken up amongst others.
Barons like de Courcy and de Lacy set up power bases
very similar to native Irish kingdoms, outside the control
of the English king.
By the beginning of the 14th Century the territorial
extent of the Irish lordship was at its height. Every
native ruler, even Maguire and O’Donnell in the extreme
northwest, was legally the tenant of some Earl or Baron,
or of the King of England directly. However, power
struggles between the Irish lords and the Anglo-Norman
Barons, as well as rivalries among the various Irish
Chieftains, continued to change the landscape of political
power within Ireland over the next century.
Furthermore Gaelic resistance to the Norman Conquest
was never wholly eliminated and the foundations were laid
for 800 years of Anglo-Irish conflict.