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.

1100's to 1640'S

Arms of The MacDowell's
Arms of The MacDowell's
An Irish Sept in Ulster
(Registered in Ulster Office BGA)

The McDowells arrive in Ireland

 The MeicDuibhghaill or the Macdougalls were descended from their great ancestor, Somerled of Argyll in Scotland (died 1164). While there is considerable debate surrounding his origins it is accepted that he was probably of Gaelo-Scandinavian stock. The name Somerled itself is Scandinavian, meaning 'summer warrior'. By 1140 he was master of Arygll and  his wife was the daughter of King Olaf of Man. Throughout his lifetime Somerled was at odds with the expanding powers of the Scottish throne. In 1164 he fell in battle and the annals record that his army had troops from Ireland. It would seem the later MeicDuibhghaill were descended from Somerled's son, Dugall. This Dugall is a shadowy feature, however, the annals record him fighting two battles in the Isle of Man in 1156 and 1158. Dugall seemingly became king of Man while his father lived. Other sons of Somerled were ancestors of the later MacRory's and the MacDonalds.  The descendants of Dugall continued to rule their lands into the fourteenth-century. However, they were increasingly being pressurised by the king of Scots. It was not until Norway ceded Arygll and the Western Isles to Scotland in 1266 did Dugall's descendants fall fully within the ambit of the Scottish crown. However, in the early fourteenth-century they unsuccessfully opposed the rise of Robert Bruce, the future king of Scotland. Most of their Scottish lands were lost to Bruce's attacks. John Macdougal of Argyll sought service with Edward II afterwards. Edward II made him an admiral and ordered him to patrol the seas between Ulster and Argyll. This John died penniless about 1318. Subsequently the family was written out of Scottish history or cast as traitors.

However, a branch of the family did settle in Ireland. From the 1240s there was a substantial influx of hired mercenary troops into Ireland from Scotland, who became known as galloglass. Most of these MeicDuibhghaill took service with the feuding O'Connor families in Connacht. A MacDubhgaill fell in Ruaidhri O'Connor's victory over MacWilliam Burke at Roscommon in 1377. More of this family appear in William O'Kelly's retinue in 1419. A Turlough MacDubhgall entered the service of Donal Reagh Kavanagh of Ui Cheinnselaig in 1445. However, upon his return to Connacht he was kidnapped and held for ransom by the O'Farrells. The same Turlough seems to have been in service to the MacReynolds of Longford in 1462-3, and his sons were also in 1473. Turlough's son Donnogh was captured in O'Connor Roe's defeat of 1520 and the Fiants record his descendants living in O'Connor Roe's in 1592-93. The Fiants generally describe them as MacDowells rather then O'Doyles and confirms their professional soldier status within Gaelic society.


Between 1315 and 1318, the Scottish war in Great Britain spilled into Ireland as Edward Bruce, in alliance with Domhnall O Neil, King of Tir Eoghain, carried on a three year campaign before Edward Bruce was defeated at the Battle of Faughart in Louth. At the Battle of Athenry in 1316, five Irish Kings were slain along with many Irish Chieftains. In conjunction with the Famine of 1315-1317, the Bruce campaigns devastated much of the land.

Records also show that in 1311 John O’Doyle was charged in Waterford with way-laying John Christopher, a servant of the Bishop of Lismore.  O’Doyle beat him up and robbed his purse.  O’Doyle was fined one Mark and released into the custody of his Norman lord, Adarne son of Martin le Peur.

In 1313 Hercule Doyle of Cork was tried for burning the Manor of Raymond son of Herbert in Fermoy.  The Jury found him guilty of this and other misdeeds and sentenced him to be hanged

Over the next two hundred years integration between the Anglo-Normans and native Irish was so successful that in 1336 the English Crown introduced the Statues of Kilkenny which made intermarriage and the use of Irish language and customs illegal. But it was too late, and assimilation had gone too far. The Statues of Kilkenny were passed in an unsuccessful attempt to stem the increasing cooperation between the "Gaelicised" Normans and the Irish Chiefs. The most significant gain for the native rulers was not territory, but freedom.

In Leinster the leaders of Clans (including the Doyles) had freedom of action as the Royal Government inadequately filled the gap left by the former Lords of Leinster.

Ultimately, the winners in later medieval Ireland were neither the English Crown nor the native Irish rulers, but the Norman-Irish Lords and Earls. During the 15th Century the area controlled by the English King shrank to an area around Dublin, which was fortified, by an earthen rampart, known as "The Pale". (Hence the expression that something wild or uncivilised or beyond control is "beyond the pale".) However, intra-rivalries between the various Irish rulers diffused much of their overall power.


Henry VIII

In the 16th century, Henry VIII moved to reinforce English control over his unruly neighbour. He was particularly worried that France or Spain might use Ireland as a base from which to attack England.

In 1534, Henry VIII tried to regain England’s influence in Ireland. The principal power brokers in Ireland, the Anglo-Norman FitzGeralds, Earls of Kildare, and nominally the representatives of the English Crown in Ireland, were in open rebellion. Henry sought their downfall.

Countryside In Rebellion
The Irish Countryside In Rebellion

He took all power away from the Earls of Kildare, Norman noblemen who had long controlled English interests in Ireland, and set up more direct control.

In 1534 the incumbent Earl of Kildare, "Silken Thomas" FitzGerald, led a rebellion against Henry. (His ancestor, John FitzThomas, Lord of Offaly, had been created Earl of Kildare in 1316, and had at that time received a grant of land from the English king. From this beginning, the FitzGeralds had during the following two hundred years built a sovereignty of great wealth and power in Ireland.)

The story goes that in 1534, Garret Og, the father of Silken Thomas, was meeting with Henry VIII in London. His 27-year-old son heard rumours that his father had been executed. Silken Thomas gathered his father’s forces and attacked Dublin and the English garrisons.

This rebellion ended tragically with Thomas, together with five of his uncles, being executed in London at Tyburn Hill in 1537. The FitzGerald estates were divided among English settlers, and an English viceroy was also appointed. Thus ended the House of Kildare, which was never again to recover its former eminence and influence.

In 1541, Henry succeeded in having Ireland’s Parliament declare him King of Ireland.

He established English laws in Ireland and tried, with little success, to introduce Protestantism into the country. When Henry broke with the Catholic Church, he instigated the Protestant Reformation, which would eventually set the deeply Catholic Irish on a collision course with the zealously Protestant English.

From 1553 to 1558, the plantation of English and Scottish settlers began in Northern Ireland, which is "McDowell Country". Plantations were also started closer to "Doyle Country" in western Waterford and in sections of Counties Cork and Tipperary.

Elizabeth I

Irish Gallowglas Swordsman
An Irish Gallowglass Swordsman attacks an English Light Cavalryman.

When Henry’s daughter Elizabeth became Queen in 1558, England’s control over Ireland was at a low ebb. Just the year before, the first in a long series of rebellions against English rule had broken out in Ulster. Although not successful, this rebellion confirmed for Elizabeth that more stringent measures would have to be taken to stabilise English domination once and for all. English jurisdiction was established in Connaught and Munster despite a number of rebellions by the local ruling families. The forests of Ireland were proving invaluable as a source of wood for shipbuilding, and oak was turned into charcoal for smelting ores. Strategically, too, Ireland was important as a possible back door for an invasion from England’s enemies in mainland Europe. First she imposed the Anglican faith upon the hostile Catholic population and then she began steadily expanding the previously unsuccessful plantation system.

In 1571, another of the FitzGerald nobles led a further revolt against English rule. The uprising sparked off a savage war in Munster, during which the Province was laid waste. It ended with further destruction of the FitzGerald dynasty and the confiscation of what remained of their vast estates.

The success of Elizabeth’s policies was borne out when the survivors of the 1588 Spanish Armada were washed up on the west coast of Ireland and were mostly massacred by the local Irish sheriffs and their forces.

The thorn in Elizabeth’s side was Ulster, the last outpost of the Irish Chiefs. Hugh O’Neill, Earl of Tyrone, was the prime mover in the last serious assault on English power in Ireland. As a boy, Hugh O’Neill had been taken into the care of Elizabeth’s viceroy, Sir Henry Sidney, and raised as an English nobleman.  After returning to his native County Tyrone, he had shown his loyalty by helping to suppress the Desmond rebellion in Munster.  In 1587 he was recognised as Earl of Tyrone, and was granted extensive territory under the English Crown.  A year later, however, he ignored a government order to execute survivors of the Spanish armada who landed in Ireland, and in Dublin there were increasing doubts about O’Neill’s loyalty.  The doubts were justified.  O’Neill was allowed to keep 600 men in arms at the Queen’s expense, and by regularly changing them he was able to train a substantial army.  A story is told of O’Neill ordering lead from England to roof his new castle at Dungannon;  in reality it was for making bullets. 

Elsewhere in Ireland, English government was tightening its grip.  In Connacht, the Gaelic lords had submitted to the English Crown.  In Munster, following the defeat of the second Desmond rebellion in 1583, English settlers had acquired confiscated land.  In Ulster, though, there were no English settlers or garrisons west of Lough Neagh.  With its mountains, lakes and forests, the region was eminently defensible, and O’Neill found a vigorous ally in Red Hugh O’Donnell of Tyrconnell, who had escaped from imprisonment in Dublin.  In 1593, O’Neill took the now illegal Gaelic title of “The O'Neill” and prepared to lead the Ulster chiefs in defence of territory and religion.

 From 1594, O’Neill moved into open conflict with the English and thus began the Nine Years War (1594-1603). He proved a courageous and crafty foe, and the English forces stepped up their campaign against him, but met with little success until 1601.

O’Neill was a skilful commander, and his troops exploited the difficult terrain to harry the English columns.  In 1595, he won a handsome victory at Clontibret, near Monahan, over an army commanded by his brother-in-law, Sir Henry Bagenal.  Bagenal was to lose his life during the Battle of the Yellow Ford, on the River Blackwater, in 1598.  This was O’Neill’s greatest triumph.

The Irish rose up in rebellion in 1594 and defeated an English army at the "Ford of Biscuits". However, with the arrival from England in 1600 of the very capable Lord Mountjoy as the new governor, the Irish rebellion appeared to be undermined.


The Battle of Yellow Ford



In 1601 a Spanish fleet, backed by King Philip III, landed in Ireland to assist the Irish rebellion with a reinforcement of 3,800 Spanish troops. Unfortunately, the Spanish anchored at Kinsale in County Cork, almost 480 kilometres from O’Neill’s territory. O’Neill was forced to march south to join them, and after an exhausting journey ended up fighting just outside Kinsale in unfamiliar country. The rebellion suffered a crushing blow when the Irish were defeated by the English forces under Lord Mountjoy, and the Spanish army surrendered following a siege at the Battle of Kinsale in December 1601.

The Battle of Kinsale was the end for O’Neill and for Ulster. O'Donnell fled to Spain, but O'Neill returned to Ireland. Although O’Neill and his forces made it back to Ulster, their power was broken, and 15 months later in 1603 he surrendered to Lord Mountjoy and signed the Treaty of Mellifont, handing over power and authority to the English Crown. O’Neill was allowed to stay on in Ulster on condition that he pledge allegiance to the English Crown, which he did. However, despite a generous settlement in which he retained his earldom, O’Neill found English rule unacceptable

When JamesI succeeded Queen Elizabeth the First in 1603, he resumed the plantation of English and Scottish settlers with a vengeance, especially in Northern Ireland. But in September 1607 a French ship sailed from the northern harbour of Rathmullan in Lough Swilly.  On board were Hugh O’Neill, Earl of Tyrone, and Rory O’Donnell, Earl of Tyrconnell, together with more than 90 of their family and followers. This was the "Flight of the Earls", and it left Ulster leaderless and open to English rule. (These Irish noblemen had been very prominent among the leaders of the recent rebellion.)

After a number of frustrating years of subjugation and harassment the Chiefs and Chieftains of Ulster left Ireland forever.  The ship was bound for Spain, but fierce storms forced them to disembark in France in early October.  Thereafter they made their way to Rome, where they remained in voluntary exile, and where O’Neill died in 1616.

When “The Flight of the Earls” denuded Ulster of its Gaelic aristocracy in 1607, the government took the opportunity to confiscate 6 of the 9 Ulster counties.  The subsequent “plantation” of Ulster, introducing Protestant settlers from England and Scotland, laid the foundation of today’s divided island.

This English policy of colonialisation, known as "plantation", was an organised and ambitious expropriation of land, which sowed the seeds for the division of Ulster that we see today. Huge swathes of land were confiscated from the Irish and large numbers of new settlers came from Scotland and England. They brought a new way of life and a different religion. Unlike most previous invaders, they didn’t intermarry with the native Irish, and kept their culture and religion very much to themselves. And so, living among these new Protestant landowners was an impoverished and very angry population of native Irish and "old English" Catholics.

In 1610, the settlement in County Coleraine (Derry) by a group of London livery companies caused the name of the county to be changed by the English to "Londonderry".

By 1622, more than 13,000 Protestants lived in Ulster. By 1641 their population was over 100,000. Within 30 years of the arrival of James’ first settlers, only slightly more than 10% of Ulster still belonged to the Catholic Irish.

During Plantation most of the Irish remained on their lands because the planters needed their labour, but they remained as tenants rather than owners of their own land.

By 1641, the Irish revolted again, worried by developments in England and Ireland and believing Charles I to be pro-Catholic, these Irish and "old English" Catholics took up arms. They established a national parliament in Kilkenny, which stood not only for independence but also for full liberty of religion and conscience.

A considerable number of new settlers were killed, and many Catholics were also killed, in revenge. 

In the 1640’s James Doyle of Grange in County Meath was accused of High Treason.  On the 7th of November 1642 Warrant was issued for the arrest James by a military court in Gormonstown in County Meath.  And, it was not just the men who did the fighting ... Elizabeth Doyle of Glassnevin in County Dublin was outlawed at Killmain in County Dublin on the 18th of November 1643.

Stories of the 1641 atrocities have been used in anti-Catholic propaganda ever since.

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 Last updated 30 April, 2001