Posted by TheYank at 9/29/2009 10:35 AM EDT

You know who Fr. Duffy is, right? (If you don't, well, we need to remedy that. You can get a snippet here.) Anyway, the Royal Dublin Fusiliers had their own Fr. Duffy during World War I. He was Fr. Willie Doyle, a Jesuit priest originally from Dalkey, Co. Dublin, who was a hero to the men of the 16th (Irish) Division in the British Army just as Fr. Duffy was a hero among the men of the Fighting 69th later in the war.

Fr. Doyle's first taste of combat was at Loos in France in the spring of 1916 at the same battle where, I believe, my wife's great-grandfather was killed. From the first day his unit went into battle Fr. Doyle looked after the troops with no regard for his own welfare. He brought them water and ministered to them: hearing their confessions, saying Mass for them and, frequently, dashing out into danger to give a dying man last rites. He also risked his life to help retrieve wounded soldiers.

In this more comfortable and cynical age it's difficult to appreciate how important Fr. Doyle was to the men of the 16th Division. They were predominantly Catholic and much more committed to their faith than today's average Catholic. And that was before they were stripped of all worldly comforts and forced to live in trenches and face bullets, shells and poison gas.

General Hickie, commander of the 16th Division, wrote of Fr. Doyle: "[m]any a dying soldier on that bloody field has flashed a last look of loving recognition as our brave padre rushed to his aid, braving the fearful barrage and whistling machine-gun bullets, to give his boy a last few words of hope."

Commemorating the Nationalist 16th Div (left) and Ulster 36th Div (right)
Messine Ridge, Flanders, Belgium

Hickie also said that Fr. Doyle was "one of the bravest men who have fought or served out here." Fr. Doyle was awarded the Military Cross for his bravery during the 16th Divsion's assault on Ginchy during September 1916 during which thousands of Irishmen were killed.

Fr. Doyle was killed on August 16, 1917 during the infamous Battle of Passchendaele. Like thousands of others who died in that muddy hell-hole, Fr. Doyle's body was never identified.

Perhaps the greatest testimony to Fr. Doyle's commitment to the Irishmen who fought and died in WWI comes from this anonymous Ulster Protestant who wrote to the Glasgow Weekly News after Fr. Doyle's death.

Fr. Doyle was a good deal among us. We couldn't possibly agree with his religious opinion, but we simply worshipped him for other things. He didn't know the meaning of fear, and he didn't know what bigotry was. He was as ready to risk his life to take a drop of water to a wounded Ulsterman as to assist men of his own faith and regiment. If he risked his life in looking after Ulster Protestant soldiers once, he did it a hundred times in the last few days. . . . The Ulstermen felt his loss more keenly than anybody, and none were readier to show their marks of respect to the dead hero priest than were our Ulster Presbyterians. Fr. Doyle was a true Christian in every sense of the word, and a credit to any religious faith. He never tried to get things easy. He was always sharing the risks of the men, and had to be kept in restraint by the staff for his own protection. Many a time have I seen him walk beside a stretcher trying to console a wounded man with bullets flying around him and shells bursting every few yards.

Father Doyle's body was never identified. He's listed along with 35,000 others
on the wall at Tyne Cot Cemetery near the town of Passendale in Flanders.
Coincidentally, his name is beside that of the Reverend John Eyre-Powell,
a Protestant Chaplain also from Fr. Doyle's hometown of Dalkey, Co. Dublin.

Father Doyle was recommended for a Victoria Cross, the highest honor for a soldier in the British Army, but it was denied because, according to his biographer, the "triple disqualification of being an Irishman, a Catholic and a Jesuit, proved insuperable."

It's well past time that this is put right. He should get that Victoria Cross now (if that's possible, I have no idea). More importantly, he should be honored in Dublin. New York has Fr. Duffy Square, but there is no Fr. Doyle Square or even Fr. Doyle Street in Dublin. There should be.



jacersisityourself wrote:
Thanks to Yank for this article. Nice little bit o' history that I wasn't taught about. I never heard of Fr. Duffy. If a heroic man needs to be recognised, then let him be recognised. There are many others who are recognised by monuments etc who weren't actually heroes or heroines, just famous people. Let's give recognition to the rightfully entitled ones. Given your story, Yank, I agree... But even if Fr. Duffy isn't recognised in memorium, or in a statue, at least we can be comforted that God will recognise his work on His behalf. *High fives*
9/29/2009 6:49 PM EDT
Ajreaper wrote:
Yank I very much appreciate and enjoy your "history lessons" thanks for a very interesting piece of history.

Both Father Duffy and Doyle would scoff at being honored as they would view what they did as not heroric but simply doing thier jobs- we should honor men such as these anyway.
9/29/2009 9:56 PM EDT
TheYank wrote:

Yes, Ajreaper, you're probably right, but I wonder if Fr. Doyle wouldn't concede to allow such a monument to him if it helped revive the memory of the men he served with. It is almost impossible to convey just how much the Irishmen who served in WWI have been blanked from history here.

I know that to an American you might think, well, what about Vietnam? And it is sort of analogous, but not quite.

It took a few years for Americans to come to terms with the war in Vietnam and to honor those who died and give the vets their due, but the Irishmen who served in WWI fought for an army that was then later discredited in the eyes of a great many people here and in the official history of this state. The veterans never spoke of their service; the maimed suffered silently; the dead were never honored.

This is despite the fact that hundreds of thousands of them joined up at the behest of Irish nationalist leaders who told them that fighting for Ireland's honor and for Belgium against a ruthless German foe would secure home rule for Ireland - a 100+ year old dream.

So, I guess I'd like to see Fr. Doyle honored because it will indirectly honor all those thousands of others who didn't deserve what they got, even if it was understandable in the context of the War of Independence and the need for a new country to develop its own myths and heroes.
9/30/2009 9:52 AM EDT
Ajreaper wrote:
Yank- I never thought about it in that light before. Thank you for the explanation and the example of Vietnam very much paints the appropriate picture for me about how WW1 service for an Irishman was viewed- I would hope they were, at least, not looked down upon for their service by many as American vetrans of Vietnam were. I completely agree Fr. Doyle would concede if it brought attention to the sacrifices of the men he served. The service and sacrifice of men and women in uniform should be honored and respected regardless of one's politics or opinion of any conflict they serve in.
9/30/2009 1:30 PM EDT
jacersisityourself wrote:
On a tourist trip to beautiful Austria, I visited a church to say me prayers. Afterwards, I went into the adjoining graveyard. I was privileged to see families' honouring their sons and daughters who died youngly in battles that they didn't know what they were fighting for. Vietnam comes around again. Young people being sent to war on behalf of Old Men? Again, pls explain the American sacrifice in pursuit of the harmony that doesn't exist in the US of A.
9/30/2009 8:28 PM EDT
kickstar wrote:
I don't agree with anything being named after any clergy, Brothers, priests,nuns bishops,Cardinals,Popes ministers, or vicars I am sure you get the point.It gives the false impression that they are somewhat better that regular folk and we now know that is far from the truth.Being that so many of these folk have been found guilty of sexual and physical abuse against children and it still goes on......
9/30/2009 9:56 PM EDT
kickstar wrote:
yank you are so full of it, The British were only too glad to award the VC to an Irish man and did so very many times and certainly during a grinding standoff like the first world war as it helped with recruitment as for priests were not issued with arms and were not as such under orders so it was quite unlikely that any would be in a position to win a VC, Can you imagine the Citation "He fearlessly sprinkled holy water (as he called it)all over the trench as the shells rained down".. Here are some Irish VC winners.....
9/30/2009 10:14 PM EDT
Ajreaper wrote:
LOL, so Kickstar because some- and I would presume a small minority of clergy were involved in such terrible crimes we should paint them all with the same brush? How pathetic and small minded is that?

The vast majority of Priests are decent men who would no more harm a child then the average person would- no one should be held accountable for the sins of others.
9/30/2009 10:29 PM EDT
Padraig wrote:
Kickstar. You truly are a jaded one. Yank writes and correctly describes a good man with no prejudices, religious or otherwise. You seem very quick to point out negatives. Yes allot priest have done terrible things but so many have done so much good. People should be honored, no matter of their background. You, my jaded tart, are racist. Not in the traditional sense, but you have the combined intelligence of a goat and are as closed minded as moth to a flame. You are not able to get out of the way because of a one tract mind. You say this would give a false impression to honor a man's greatness. We as human beings need human heroes, something that we can aspire to. Humans are capable of the worst atrocities and if judged by history, we are the most terrible animal on the planet, capable of genocide. Honestly you think the Germans were the first? What about the British trading small pox filled blankets to American Indians? That killed 3/4 of the whole population. They didn't have the immune system to combat. Genocide can go farther back than that, but the point is we need heroes. There needs to be some light in the darkness, no matter where they come from. If a man grabbed your family members hand on the edge of a cliff, would you tell him to let go because he was a Catholic Priest? Or would you say pull them up? If you said pull them up, “Does that give the wrong impression.”
10/2/2009 2:13 AM EDT
TheYank wrote:

First of all, thank you for that link to the web page of Irish VC winners. I'll have to have a good look at that. My first impression is that very few of the WWI winners were from the Irish Divisions - 10th and 16th. Will have to look again.

Second, I never said that the British didn't award any VC's to Irishmen, I quoted Fr. Doyle's biographer who said that Fr. Doyle had three disqualifying marks: Irish, Catholic & a Jesuit.

As for your belittling of Fr. Doyle's bravery, that barely requires a response. General Hickie described Fr. Doyle "as one of the bravest men" who served under him. That's among thousands. You may think the sprinkling of holy water a matter of amusement, but your view is not relevant. What mattered is how the men felt about Fr. Doyle's work among them.

Also, Fr. Doyle often left the relative safety of the trench in order to retrieve a wounded soldier or - as that anonymous Protestant attests - to bring water to soldiers. Bravery has nothing to do with having a bun in your hand.
10/3/2009 1:12 PM EDT

TheYank wrote:

I'm wary of contradicting you because I'm not 100% sure myself, but the only incident I know of where the small pox blankets were used was actually as a weapon of war during what we call the French & Indian War (the Seven Years War on this side). I think it was in an attempt to lift a siege near what is Pittsburgh today. Again, I'm not that sure of my memory on that score.
10/3/2009 1:15 PM EDT
TheYank wrote:
Bravery has nothing to do with having a bun in your hand.

Too funny. There's a lot of bravery required when eating a hot dog in a bun from some of those street traders in NYC.

Obviously, I meant "gun in your hand."
10/3/2009 1:17 PM EDT
chicagoaoh wrote:
Dear Yank,

I very much appreciated your piece on Father Doyle. It has personal significance for me. My Mayo grandfather (who was of age in WWI but joined the IRA instead) had a 1920 copy of Alfred O'Rahilly's book "Father William Doyle, S.J." throughout his life. My grandfather said it was one of his favorite books, and was please I was interested in it when I visited my grandparents. After he died in 1976, my grandmother gave the book to me. It remains one of my treasured possessions. Doyle's was a unique story of courage and faith, and I am pleased you wrote about it.
10/4/2009 1:06 PM EDT
Padraig wrote:
I'll be bit more clarified in the future. Your correct 7 years war Lord Amherst. and mmm. by the way. I liked this piece.
10/5/2009 1:24 AM EDT
TheYank wrote:

I wish I had a copy of O'Rahilly's book. You're fortunate to have one. It's hard to find. You can find a copy of the text online here - which is where I got a couple of the quotes above - but I'd like to own a copy of the book.

I'm very interested in your personal story. I've often wondered how IRA men of the time felt about Fr. Doyle. Your grandfather obviously thought highly of him.
10/5/2009 4:44 AM EDT
edmundburke wrote:
Dear Yank,
I have a two screen names here, because I forgot my first, so I am both chicagoaoh and edmundburke.

Since you were curious about my grandfather in the IRA and his subsequent veneration of Fr. Doyle, I thought I would give you some information about him.

His name was James Curry and he was born in Mayo in 1891. His nationalism was ingrained in him growing up through the general nationalist sentiments of his east Mayo Catholic community and his involvement in the GAA, in which he played excellent football.

His GAA athletic career allowed him to score a lower level position with the railroad. Since he had such a job, he did not have to enlist in the army and escaped service in WWI. (As you know, conscription never went into effect.) Like many others, he was radicalized by the English response to the Easter Rebellion and joined the IRA by 1920. (Whether he was a member of the IRB before that I do not know.) Even though he was 29 then, he was one of the younger members of his east Mayo unit (interestingly). Due to his age, lack of seniority, and his job with the railroad, he was specifically not assigned to armed duty but was assigned to report on the movement of personnel by railroad. In so doing, he was able to report on troop movements and informer movements, the latter leading to reprisals. He volunteered for one military action but did not make the cut. During the last week of the war, the auxiliaries came to his town of Swinford to round him and his comrades up, but he was able to escape to the surrounding fields with the help of townsmen. While he was in hiding, the Truce was declared, and he returned to civilian life. He did not take part in the civil war. He was decorated for his IRA service in the War of Independence, and my grandmother gave me his medal after his death in 1976. The identical medal is on display (or was) in the Kilmainham Jail museum.

My grandfather became a Fianna Fail supporter. Other than that he did nothing political for the rest of his life. He was a devout Catholic and socially conservative. He told me in the 1970s that he did not favor IRA physical force in the North. As I mentioned, he admired Fr. Doyle. His sympathy to the IRA extended to his old comrades and ended in the 1920s. I hope this answers your questions.
10/6/2009 9:46 PM EDT
TheYank wrote:
Dear edmundburke,

First of all, have you looked for your grandfather's family in the 1911 Census? Be sure to check the House & Building Return. It's can be interesting when you're looking at your ancestors' hand-writing.

Thank you for the your grandfather's story.
10/7/2009 11:56 AM EDT
jacersisityourself wrote:
Lovely bit o' story by edmundburke/chicagoaoh. I hope the GAA back here in Ireland see it and record it in their future annals.
10/13/2009 7:41 PM EDT