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 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).

Book of Kells
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 of O’Phelan.

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 Running Amok
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 at Dubh-Linn.

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.

Map1000 AD

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 himself.

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 men home.

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 called Clontarf, 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 Lochlainn.

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 men.  Ancient 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.)

The 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 England.  He 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.

 Returning 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 court.  Ireland 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 death.

The first Norman forces arrived onboard three single-masted  Longships at Bannow Bay, County Wexford in May 1169.

They 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 600.  They were joined by 500 Irish warriors led by Dermot MacMurrough, King of Leinster.

The Normans
Norman Knights

From 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 won.”  Strongbow 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.

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 Last updated 30 April, 2001