Thoughts for December 2 from Fr Willie Doyle

A rare sighting of a bottlenose dolphin breaching at Killiney Bay in front of a snow-covered Dalkey Island, near Fr Doyle's family home. Photograph: John Fahy, The Irish Times

From a few more of his letters despatched at this time we can fill in some details and conditions of his life during the first two months of 1917. The cold was intense. Fr. Doyle’s references thereto are suggestive and eloquent:

“Jan. 27th. Cold!

Jan. 28th. Colder!!

Jan. 29th. More colder!!!

Jan. 30th. !!!!!!”

Once he apologises for not writing by saying that he could not hold a pencil in his fingers. “Before I have finished dressing in the mornings, not a very long process” he says, “the water in which I had washed is frozen again. One has to be very careful, too, of one’s feet, keeping them well rubbed with whale oil, otherwise you would soon find yourself unable to walk, with half a dozen frozen toes. A dug-out is not the warmest of spots just at present; but even if I felt inclined to growl, I should be ashamed to do so, seeing what the poor men are suffering in the trenches.” As a matter of fact the temperature was for over a fortnight many degrees below zero. During this time it took five or six hours of hard labour to dig a grave. “” think the limit was reached,”’ writes Fr. Doyle, “when the wine froze in the chalice at Mass, and a lamp had to be procured to melt it before going on with the Consecration. I am thinking it will take fifty lamps to thaw out the poor chaplain!”

COMMENT: This excerpt from O’Rahilly’s biography of Fr Doyle gives us some insight into the freezing conditions Fr Doyle shared with the soldiers during the war. It is opportune for those of us in Ireland and in the UK to think of Fr Doyle’s sufferings from the cold. As I write this, the weather forecasters suggest that temperatures will drop to   -12C overnight in Ireland. We have now had 6 days of snow, with more to come. For some people this is not unusual, but it is very extraordinary for this part of the world, especially at this time of year.

There are two lessons worth considering here. Firstly there is Fr Doyle’s cheerfulness. If he could remain cheerful despite sleeping in a dugout, then we too can remain cheerful despite our own inconveniences, whether that be the cold or some other problem. Secondly, Fr Doyle remained concerned about others despite his own problems. Let us copy his example by looking out for others, whether we live somewhere affected by snow or not.

Another view of the area around Dalkey covered in snow