Today we have exciting news about two initiatives to create greater awareness of Fr Doyle and his life.
Presentation on Fr Doyle’s military career
Readers of this blog may have noticed the many expert comments by Carole Hope on aspects of Fr Doyle’s service as military chaplain. Carole is an expert on Fr Doyle’s military career, and these comments often contain wonderful new titbits of information that have not previously been in the public domain.
Carole is giving a presentation to the newly formed Dublin branch of the Western Front Association entitled Across the Divide: An Irish Padre of the Great War: Fr. William Doyle, S.J., M.C., Chaplain to the Forces 1915-1917 on Saturday 15 September in the Lecture Theatre in Collins Barracks, Dublin. Doors open at 2pm and the presentation commences at 2.30pm. There is a small fee of €3 to cover the costs incurred by the Western Front Association. Carole will focus on Fr Doyle and the war, and will not deal with Fr Doyle’s earlier life as a priest or his inner life. It promises to be an excellent event, as Carole has access to new information that has not previously been published. I’m sure it will be an informative and stimulating event for all those with an interest in the life of Fr Doyle. I am personally looking forward to it very much.
More details can be found here: http://wfadublin.webs.com/branchmeetings.htm
Collins Barracks is very easy to find – it is a few minutes from Heuston Station and the Luas stops outside. Details on the location here: http://www.museum.ie/en/list/find-us-national-museum-ireland-decorative-arts-history.aspx
Carole will also be giving the same presentation in England later in the autumn and I will post the details when I have them.
And this leads us to the second announcement which is even more exciting than the first…
The first new biography of Fr Doyle in over 7 decades
The reason Carole Hope has so much previously unpublished material on Fr Doyle is because she is currently completing a brand new biography of Fr Doyle that she has been working on for almost 6 years! She has had access to material that Alfred O’Rahilly either did not have or chose not to use. She has also done a great service for all of those interested in Fr Doyle’s life by arranging his life story in chronological sequence, something Alfred O’Rahilly did not do (he largely followed the common practice with religious biographies of the time by focussing on particular themes, devotions or virtues rather than a strict chronological account).
Carole is from Kent in England and has travelled extensively to the battlefields and memorials associated with the Great War, and has a special interest in Irish participation in the war. Some years ago she acquired a copy of the Third Edition of Professor Alfred O’Rahilly’s biography of Fr. Doyle and was instantly gripped by his character, an experience that many others can identify with. After reading the book, she decided that she would present Fr. Doyle’s story in relation to the men he served with in the 16th (Irish) Division. This has since turned into a bigger project. It is written mostly chronologically, and also covers Fr. Willie’s pre-war life and, to a small degree, his inner life.
The first draft is nearly complete and she is currently searching for a publisher.
Most interestingly of all, Carole is neither Irish nor a Catholic – a further testament to Fr Doyle’s universal and ecumenical attractiveness which was evident during his life and is still evident after his death.
I am delighted with this news and am personally very excited to learn even more about Fr Doyle’s military career when the book is published and I wish Carole every success with it.
With special permission from Carole, here is the draft Prologue of her book:
Worshipper and Worshipped: Across the Divide – an Irish Padre of the Great War Willie Doyle Chaplain to the Forces 1915-1917
Copyright Carole Hope August 2012 not to be photocopied or electronically transmitted without permission
On Friday 17th August 1917 readers of The Times picked up their newspapers, in their clean and dry cosy homes, to see the headline “Ypres Battle Resumed.”The report referred to splendid advances around Langemarck, despite stubborn resistance by the enemy. Whilst it conceded that most enemy counter-attacks had been successful, it had been at great cost to the Germans. According to the Spectator’s account “strong and promising new blows … have been struck in the new battle …” The London Correspondent of the The Irish Times reported “All seems to be going well with the British advance and the news today is good.”3 The truth of the matter was somewhat different. British army advances were far from impressive and the cost incurred was as heavy as that inflicted on the German army.
Only hours before the publication of the Friday morning newspapers, the drenched, dangerous and filthy existence of the British Army’s 48th Infantry Brigade was compounded by the loss of their Chaplain. His name was William Joseph Gabriel Doyle, born into a comfortable middle-class Catholic home in County Dublin towards the end of the nineteenth century; he died in Flanders fields at the age of forty-four, having already been awarded the Military Cross, leaving in his wake a huge out-pouring of grief.
William had quickly become Willie, but often during the last eighteen months of his life he rejoiced over his middle-name Gabriel and the angel he believed watched over him, until that fateful day in August 1917. A Belfast Orangeman wrote to the Glasgow Weekly News shortly after:
“Fr. Doyle was a good deal amongst us. We couldn’t possibly agree with his religious opinions, 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.”
Willie Doyle trusted his God and trusted his luck. On 14 August 1917 he wrote:
“I have told you all my escapes, dearest Father, because I think what I have written will give you the same confidence which I feel, that my old armchair up in Heaven is not ready yet, and I do not want you to be uneasy about me. I am all the better for these couple of days’ rest, and am quite on my fighting legs again. Leave will be possible very shortly, I think, so I shall only say au revoir in view of an early meeting.”
Sadly, whilst Fr Doyle’s faith was infinite, his luck was finite and his God claimed him two days later, from the heat of battle whilst trying to render assistance to a stricken soldier.
Major-General William Hickie’s opinion, expressed three months after Willie’s death on a Flanders battlefield in 1917, was: “I think that his was the most wonderful character that I have ever known.”