Thoughts for August 17

Remembering Fr Doyle in Dalkey

Yesterday I visited the Church of the Assumption in Dalkey, just a few minutes from where Fr Doyle grew up. He used to attend Mass in this Church with his family, and if I am not mistaken, he used to occasionally play the organ here.

I was delighted to see that Fr Doyle is still remembered here: a special plaque commemorating Fr Doyle was placed on the altar steps, and he was remembered at Mass.

It was also good to bump into some other locals who I had never met before who also hold Fr Doyle in high esteem and have a devotion to him.

But the best surprise was when I got a call a few hours later from the local priest saying that he was going on a tour of Melrose, Fr Doyle’s old home, and that I was welcome if I would like to come.

Fr Doyle's old home as it appears today

Thankfully the new owners of Melrose are very interested in Fr Doyle and his memory. It was wonderful to visit the bedroom where it is assumed he was born.

Beside this bedroom is a room that was probably the nursery. And this brings to mind the following passage from O’Rahilly’s biography:

For all his future holiness, Willie was by no means a stilted or unnatural child. He played games and he played pranks; and though he cannot be said to have been naughty, he was also far from being irritatingly or obtrusively pious. It is consoling to find that, like most of us, he played at being a soldier. He was seven years old when it was decided that he should emerge from the stage of velvet suit and long curls. On his return from the fateful visit to the hairdresser’s, his mother seemed sad on seeing Willie with his shorn locks. But the little fellow himself was delighted, and sturdily insisted that soldiers did not wear curls, at least not nowadays. His mother had to make a soldier’s suit for him, with red stripes down the sides; and when he won a great battle, a couple of stripes had to be added to one sleeve! This is how his old nurse describes his youthful exploits:

“His love to be a soldier even from his babyhood was wonderful to fight for Ireland. He would arrange his soldiers and have them all ready for battle. The nursery was turned upside down, to have plenty of room for fighting, building castles, putting up tents, all for his soldiers. Poor nurse looked on, but was too fond of him to say anything. He and a brother with some other little boys were having a great battle one day. He was fighting for Ireland; his brother was fighting for England, as he said his grandmother was English. There was a flag put up to see who was able to get it; the battle went on for some time, then in a moment, Master Willie dashed in and had the flag in his hand, though they were all guarding it. They could not tell how he got it; he was the youngest and smallest of the lot.”

And what was recently found under the floorboards of what was probably the nursery only a small, old toy soldier!!

Was this one of Willie’s little soldiers? If so, it is one of the most substantial “relics” of his still left to us. But while it seems probable, we shall never know for certain.

And speaking of relics, I was also privileged to see an old legitimate relic of Fr Doyle yesterday.

These pieces of Fr Doyle’s uniform were apparently widely distributed from the 1920’s onwards, but it is unfortunately impossible to get them anywhere now.

The final surprise yesterday was to discover that Fr Doyle is apparebtly the only Catholic priest ever to be a member of the Orange Order (whether he wanted to be or not!). This is extraordinary if true. Apparently he was made an honorary member posthumously for his services in the war to Protestant soldiers from Ulster. This brings to mind the following testimony from a Belfast Orangeman:

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.

Interesting testimony for this ecumenical age.