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 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 out. 

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 1756-1856.

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.)

Victoria Cross
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 Front.

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 Volunteers.

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 than that.

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 of action.

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.

1916 to 1940's    

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