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Arms of Doyle of Wicklow. The same or similar arms are recorded for many others of the name.

Though the name Doyle is generally regarded as quintessentially Irish, there is general agreement among the experts that the family is ultimately of Norse origin. The modern Irish form, Ó Dúill, masks the older form Ó Dubhghaill derived from the two root words "dubh" meaning black or dark and "gall" meaning foreigner. So who was the "dark foreigner" who gave rise to such a numerous family? Scandinavians, variously referred to as Danes, Vikings or simply foreigners are mentioned in Irish history before the end of the first millennium. Indeed the Annals of the Four Masters has several early references to the personal name Dubhghall, which was presumably given to individuals of foreign origin. For example -

So we see that Dubhghall, which, by the way, can be equated with the English form Dougal, was known in Ireland from a very early stage and probably arose as a nickname referring to someone of Scandinavian origin. Therefore, there is reason to suppose that at the time surnames came into being in Ireland, that is to say for the most part the eleventh and twelfth centuries, more than one quite distinct family acquired that of Ó Dubhghaill or Doyle. Strangely, however, as a surname, it does not appear in the Annals or among the great Irish genealogies and there is no record of their having been any true sept of the name, in the Gaelic-Irish fashion. Though now widely distributed it was always most closely associated with the counties of south-east Leinster (Wicklow, Wexford and Carlow) in which it is chiefly found today, as it is in the records of the fifteenth, sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

Other possible origins have been suggested. John Francis Shearman asserts that the eponymous ancestor of the east Leinster Doyles was Dubhghilla, son of Bruadar, King of Idrone (Co. Carlow) in 851. The statement that the name is derived from the Irish word doilbh (meaning dark, gloomy, melancholy) may, I think, be discounted. There is no reliable evidence for the claim which is sometimes made that some Doyles are an offshoot of the great Decies sept of O'Phelan. The fact that the Doyles don't appear among the traditional genealogies and also the fact that they are found in areas where the Danes were known to have strongholds supports the general view of their Scandinavian origin. Notwithstanding that, after 1100 years in the country, they are truly Irish having been settled there some 300 years before some of the great Anglo-Norman Irish such as Burke, Fitzgerald, etc. who did not arrive until the end of twelfth century.

Doyle (never found as O'Doyle) stands high in the list of Irish surnames arranged in order of numerical strength, holding twelfth place with approximately 21,000 souls out of a population of something less than 4 millions.

It should be added here that Doyle in Ulster is sometimes found as a synonym of MacDowell - Mac Dughghaill in Gaelic and of similar derivation - a family which came to Ireland as Gallowgiasses from the Hebrides: the name there is MacDugall. The principal settlement of this family was in Co. Roscommon, but later migration took them further north.

Up until the eighteenth century, the Doyles are not prominent in the historical records of Ireland. In 1311 John O’Doyle was charged in Waterford with way-laying John Christopher, a servant of the Bishop of Lismore. He was fined one mark and released into the custody of Adarne son of Martin le Peur (Power). In 1313 Hercules Doyle of Cork was tried for burning the Manor in Fermoy and hanged. In the 1642 James Doyle of Grange in County Meath was accused of High Treason. Elizabeth Doyle of Glasnevin in Dublin was outlawed at Kilmainham in County Dublin in 1643. In 1653 Colonel Edward Doyle, an Irish mercenary officer, was granted a licence by the English to recruit and transport 3,000 Irish soldiers to Flanders for service in the Spanish Army. Denis Doyle was proprietor of Girtin and other estates in the county of Wexford in the 16th century. This property was confiscated under Cromwellian rule and granted to the Bagenal family. Later one James Doyle obtained a perpetual lease of the estate of Kilconney.

Though of ancient origin, it was not until the eighteenth century that the family began to make history - then came a collection of remarkably able and talented Doyles.

The whimsically named Bramblestown, near the pretty village of Inistioge in County Kilkenny, nurtured a unique family. Between 1756 and 1856 came a dynasty of military men: a series of six major-generals, four of them baronets, and several Royal Navy officers. In 1911 a descendant, Colonel Arthur Doyle, did his utmost to sort them out in his book "A Hundred Years of Conflict, Being Some Records of the Services of Six Generals of the Doyle Family, 1756-1856". The number of Doyle generals was too much for the Dictionary of National Biography, which, Colonel Arthur writes, "got them all mixed up", as also did the Gentleman's Magazine. In London, a Court official who was sending out invitations, remarked to the King, "I can never distinguish between them". Said the King, "Perhaps it's just as well that they have taken good care to distinguish themselves".

Colonel Arthur Doyle tells how, "Being Catholic they were bullied by James I and bullied by Cromwell. Possibly they became Protestant by 1690 through marriage to a Scottish widow. Several were in King James's Irish army at the battle of the Boyne. Afterwards they were bullied again by William II who cut off a Doyle head and stuck it on the walls of Kilkenny Castle". They also served with the Irish Brigade in Europe where they were called Doyley and, in French, Doyelle. In the French army at that time, the Irish were at a disadvantage because of the vindictiveness of Sir Robert Walpole, the Whig Prime Minister, who made use of his friendship with a French cardinal to hold up the promotion of Irish officers.

Sir John Doyle (1756-1834), a general, was one of the four sons of Charles Doyle of Bramblestown. A graduate of Trinity College, Dublin, he served with the British army in the United States. When the Civil War ended there in 1784, he returned to Ireland where he was elected Member of Parliament for Mullingar and proved himself as eloquent a speaker as any in that talented, pre-Union, Irish House of Commons. Sir John raised the famous 87th Regiment in 1794 to serve in the Netherlands. At one time he was Private Secretary to the Prince of Wales. When he retired he was appointed Governor of Guernsey where his able administration, assisted by a nephew, also John Doyle, is commemorated by an impressive column.

Major Welbore-Ellis Doyle (1758-97) was in Philadelphia in 1788 where he founded a regiment from the Irish who were constantly deserting from the "enemy's" ranks. Called the Volunteers of Ireland, Doyle was its lieutenant-colonel. Unfortunately, the Irish, when they were displeased, had the habit of dashing back to the enemy's lines. A much-travelled soldier, Welbore was Military Envoy to Poland and Warsaw and died in Ceylon at the age of 39.

Lieutenant-General Sir Charles Doyle (1770-1842) was the soldier who introduced the "Ca Ira" cry into the British army during a deadly exchange with the French. He was sent to Spain to train the Spanish army and was made a Spanish lieutenant-general with the Doyle Triadores. He was Member of Parliament for Carlow from 1831 to 1852. He served in many European countries. In Portugal he became entangled in politics, which led to him having some financial problems with the British army. However, his honour was vindicated by burial at Windsor.

A further three distinguished Doyles were Major-General Sir Francis Doyle, Baronet (1783-1839), Major-General Charles Doyle (1787-1848), and Major-General Sir John Milley Doyle (1781-1856). They all had enterprising army careers in Europe, Egypt, Canada, America and the West Indies. Several budding Doyle generals had seen action by the tender age of ten or fourteen, enticed into the army by enthusiastic fathers, brothers or uncles. Between battles they would return to Ireland to cultivate their land, become Members of Parliament or command the local militia. Eventually, they mostly left Ireland for England, though one Doyle baronet, formerly of the Royal Irish Fusiliers, remains in the Republic of Ireland.

James Warren Doyle (1786-1834) was born in New Ross, County Wexford. His father was a farmer and his mother a Quaker. He went to college in Coimbra, Portugal, but his clerical studies were rudely interrupted by the clash between the armies of Napoleon and Wellington (who annexed him as an interpreter with the English army). When Napoleon was defeated he was able to return home and begin his clerical ministry at Carlow College. Probably marked by the rigours of war, his unorthodox battle-scarred appearance did not at first commend him to his pupils. They quickly discovered, however, that they had a knowledgeable teacher with a most original mind. He even dared express the hope of a possible union between the Established and the Catholic Churches! He was a stern disciplinarian and wrote vehemently on the state of Ireland and its Church, using the initials J.K.L. - James, Bishop of Kildare and Leighlin. Three times he was asked to give evidence before a parliamentary committee in London, where they found him impressive. "You have been examining Dr Doyle", someone remarked to the Duke of Wellington. "No, but he has been examining us", replied the Duke. Bishop Doyle renewed church discipline, built schools and the cathedral in Carlow where, worn out by overwork, he died and was buried at the age of 48.

John Doyle (1797-1868) was the forefather of a generation of Doyles who were to contribute greatly to the artistic and literary world. John first studied art in his native Dublin where he made a name painting horses. He went to London to try portrait painting, but, instead he was hugely successful as "HB", the political cartoonist who brightened the pages of Punch magazine with his sketches of people in the public eye, from 0 Connell to Disraeli and Palmerston and many other famous characters. He never descended to coarseness or vulgarity unlike many of his contemporaries.

His son, Richard Doyle (1824-83), was taught by his father and at 19 he, too, was contributing to the newly-established humorous magazine, Punch. In fact it was Richard who designed its first, and famous, cover, which included among the images surrounding Mr Punch, his own dog, Toby. When Punch indulged in vicious cartooning of the Pope, Richard resigned. He illustrated many books by popular authors including Thackeray and Puskin. On his death he was described as a "singularly sweet and noble type of English gentleman". A prime example of Irish adaptability!

His eldest brother, Charles Altamont Doyle, was also an illustrator. He had a high-born Irish wife, Mary Foley, and ten children. Charles, who did not enjoy his exile in Edinburgh as a civil servant, escaped by painting flowers, animals and fairies. Victorian critics later described his work as among the most imaginative of the period. Alas, in middle age he disappeared into the confines of a Scottish lunatic asylum. Only in 1978, when his sketch book, accidentally discovered in 1955, was published, did research reveal Charles not to be insane but merely an epileptic who was also overfond of burgundy. The Last Great Conan Doyle Mystery, written by Michael Baker, is beautifully illustrated with Doyle's sketches.

Charles was the father of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930), the Edinburgh-born medical doctor who gripped the reading public with his stories of Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson and their cliffhanging adventures in crime detection. Sir Arthur, who kept very quiet about his eccentric father, was as prolific a writer as his forebears had been artists and cartoonists.

This Doyle family has been described as the only one to have given, in the space of three generations, five separate entries to the Dictionary of National Biography, and that does not include the hapless Charles.

Henry Edward Doyle (1827-92), a Dublin painter, studied in London and Rome. In 1869 he was elected director of the National Gallery of Ireland. He was a member of the Royal Hibernian Academy and exhibited there frequently.

There were also some Doyle celebrities who were not born Doyles. One of these was "Martin Doyle", who was horn William Hickey (1788-1875). A County Cork Protestant clergyman, he tried by his writings to encourage the peasantry to improve their farming methods. He helped establish an agricultural school at Barrow, and formed the South Wexford Agricultural Society, the first of its kind. He wrote copiously on practical issues, particularly landlordism and horticulture.

In the first half of this century, "Lyn C. Doyle" was a household name. It was the pen-name of a bank manager from Downpatrick, Alexander Montgomery (1873-1961), who wrote humorous plays and stories. He was the first writer to be appointed to the Irish Censorship Board.

Jack Doyle (1913-78), the "Gorgeous Gael", was born in Cobh, Co.Cork, 31st August 1903. He became a 6'5" giant with remarkable good looks. He left home to enlist in the Irish Guards. Spotting his potential, Dan Sullivan bought him out and trained him as a heavyweight boxer. In a checkered career lasting from 1932 to 1942, he won his first 10 professional bouts all inside two rounds, making him a sensation with the boxing world. He then lost the British heavyweight crown by disquailfication to Jack Pedtersen in July 1933. His celebrity status, movie career and singing were then put ahead of his boxing, and his tally of 23 pro fights included 17 wins (13 by a clear knockout, 3 inside the distance), and 6 losses (2 by disqualification). He had style, good looks and he could also sing. Women adored Jack Doyle and followed him everywhere. He went into cabaret, did some wrestling, made form and married Monica, a film star. He was a charming playboy, until the champagne dried up when he went bankrupt and died in London.

Doyles are found scattered across Australia, doubtless the descendants of Irish transportees sent to that colony for some heinous crime such as theft of a loaf of bread.

During the Famine, many Doyles emigrated to America. Earlier, the family of John Thomas Doyle (1819-1906) had fled there after the rising of 1798. He was a lawyer who at one time was the general agent for the American Atlantic and Pacific Canal Company in Nicaragua (which failed to build the canal). He lived in California where he began to discover many facts regarding the possessions of the Roman Catholic missions during the Spanish occupancy. In fact the "Pious Fund", which he founded, recovered some of the money confiscated from the Church.

In modern times, perhaps the most famous of the name is teacher turned author, Roddy Doyle, (born 1958), author of The Commitments (1987), The Snapper (1990), The Van (1991) - all of which have been made into movies - Paddy Clarke, Ha Ha Ha (1993), for which he won the Booker Prize, and The Woman Who Walked Into Doors (1996).


Arms: Argent three bucks' heads erased Gules attired Or, within a border compony counter compony Or and Azure. Crest: A buck's head couped Gules attired Argent ducally gorged Or. Motto: Fortitudine vincit.