The dragons of Kilmainham Gaol

The only arrested Custom House man whose ultimate fate we haven’t traced is Peter Doyle.

Here we present what is known about him and his family.

The story runs backwards in time, as that is the best (and only) way to trace his origins.

But the trail beyond his time in Kilmainham Gaol is unclear and then peters out altogether (sorry!).

Maybe some kind Reader can help with more information?

Captured on 25 May 1921

Peter is on the British arrest lists, address 11 William’s Place, North Wall. The following day his home was raided by the Auxiliaries from Q Company. They had been part of the crown forces’ response to the Custom House attack and were also based in the Docklands area where Peter Doyle lived.

The raid report says his father Patrick, mother and four children were present in the house. Items alleged to have been found were “a quantity of seditious literature, bandoliers and khaki uniform”. The full list of what was taken away – deemed to be a challenge or threat to crown rule – is shown below.

The list made by the Auxies who searched the Doyles’ house (UK National Archives on

The most intriguing thing shown is the papers relating to an IRA court martial of the lad himself. Unfortunately no further information on this has been traced.

His father Patrick was quoted by the raiding party as saying Peter “had been absent from home since Monday morning 23rd inst. [May] and he “had no idea of his whereabouts”. No arrest was reported. Of course Peter himself was already in detention in Kilmainham. While there he signed the autograph books kept by Dan Rooney.

One of Peter’s entries in Dan Rooney’s autograph books (courtesy of the Rooney Family)

He was released with the rest of his comrades in December 1921. It wasn’t the first time Peter had been arrested by the British…

Previous Arrest as a Teenager

Back on 27 October 1920 Peter Doyle had been among 30 lads arrested at The Foresters’ Hall which was in the rear of 41 Parnell Square. Some other interesting names appear on the list which contains several leading trade unionists (The full list of names and short notes on a few of them appear at the end below).

The Hall was raided by Auxiliaries from F Company simultaneously with the Gaelic League’s premises at No. 25 Parnell Square. Their reports stated the raid was carried out to seek arms and seditious material, based on military intelligence.

When arrested Peter was recorded aged 17 and working as a Clerk. No details have been found about why he and the others were taken prisoner or what incriminating or seditious articles, if any, were found on the premises. Just being there seems to have been enough grounds for the British to arrest them. The place was long associated with the IRB and nationalism (see here).

Letter from William O’Brien to the British military concerning the detention of his union comrades and others at Foresters Hall (Raid report from findmypast)

It is not clear how all the men involved were dealt with. According to the letter above they were initially taken to Dublin Castle. Possibly some were released from there. Others were moved to Arbour Hill Detention Barracks then Collinstown. A few evidently ended up in Kilmainham Gaol. None of them appear on Mountjoy Prison records.

In any event Peter Doyle was obviously at liberty when captured at the Custom House on 25 May 1921.

Before That

This is where things get a little uncertain. Hopefully the Reader will follow the deductions – or guesses – made from records.

Based on Peter’s age in 1920 he was born about 1902 or 1903. And his father’s name was Patrick. The most likely candidate in the 1911 census is a lad at Denzille Street (now part of Fenian Street) on Dublin’s southside. Peter was then aged 8 and had been born in Co. Wicklow. His father Patrick was a General Labourer from originally from Co. Wexford. His mother Kate was a Meath woman (Born 1876 in Newhaggard, Trim).

Peter at home with his family in 1911 (NAI)

The only matching birth record shows Peter was born on 22 September 1902 in Moneyland, Arklow to parents Patrick and Kate Farnan (or Farnon). The couple had married in St Andrew’s Church, Westland Row, Dublin in 1901. Peter was their first child, they went on to have six more up to 1918 – Thomas, John, Michael, Patrick, Kathleen and Mary Anne

Peter’s origins (GRO)

Tracking the Doyle kids’ births shows they had lived at 2 Stewart’s Villas (near Macken Street) before Denzille Street from 1904 to 1908. By 1913 they had moved across the river to settle at 11 William’s Place, off Upper Sheriff Street where they remained until 1921 at least. Four of them were at home with their parents when the British raided the house on the day following the Burning.

Post 1921

Peter Doyle was released with the other Custom House internees from Kilmainham Gaol on 8 December 1921. He does not feature in any known autograph book from his time in captivity. He is not listed in the Army Census 1922 or any subsequent IRA Membership Lists. Logic suggests he was an E Coy, 2nd Battalion man based on where he lived. But even that is not certain.

Unfortunately there is a gap up to the late 1930s in records (like voter lists) which might show Peter’s location. By that stage the family had left William’s Place. However, some of them stayed around the North Wall area. The father Patrick worked as a Stableman at “the back of 94 North Wall” and lived at 12 Upper Mayor Street. He passed away there in 1933, a married man aged 62.

Some useful snippets in Peter’s father’s death notice (Evening Herald)

Very interestingly the death notice referred to his previous membership of the IT&GWU and the Irish National Foresters. Who had their old HQ at Forester’s Hall, 41 Parnell Square. Where Peter was arrested in 1920. The lad didn’t lick it off a stone…

While Mr. Doyle’s plot in Glasnevin can be identified, no other family members were buried in the same grave. So no leads as to their fates from that quarter.

Patrick Doyle’s death was registered by his son Michael (same address). The previous year Michael, a Van Driver of 12 Upper Mayor Street, married Bridget Lane from Mark Street. They may have had a daughter Sarah (apparently named for her maternal grannie) in 1934, but that is not proven. It is the last traceable record for the three of them.

The Trail Goes Cold

What happened the other members of Peter’s family has not been established. With all due respect to any Reader named Doyle, the surname is so numerous in records that in the absence of some really unique forename it is very hard to pin down the right people!

Unfortunately there is no trace of Peter Doyle himself in Irish records after his release from Kilmainham in December 1921. A man of that name, of about the right age, did die in Liverpool in 1962. However, since that city is full of Irish it’s a long shot and impossible to be sure he was the IRA man from North Wall.

Obviously, one hundred years after the Custom House attack, Volunteer Peter Doyle has gone to his grave. Sadly we do not know when or where.

All we can do is acknowledge him as one of the Custom House Fire Brigade. RIP.

Des White

Notes on some of the men arrested with Peter Doyle in 1920.

William X. O’Brien

William O’Brien: A highly influential figure in the Irish labour movement and was among the planners of the Easter Rising. A close friend of James Connolly and bitter foe of James Larkin.

Archie Heron: One-time Vice-Commandant Fingal brigade, IT&GWU and Labour Party man who later married Ina, daughter of James Connolly.

Tom Johnson

Thomas Johnson: Trade unionist and politician who went on to be Leader of the Opposition in the Dáil as Labour Party leader (1922-1927). Later a Senator.

Thomas Farren: A trade unionist, Labour Party member and Senator after Independence.

Peter Ennis: The Caretaker of Liberty Hall during the revolutionary period.

Andrew in later life (Courtesy Harry May)

Andrew Conroy: A 1916 Irish Citizen Army veteran. Born in Co. Laois (then named Queen’s County), Andy moved to Inchicore, Dublin. He was a trade union activist and joined the Irish Citizen Army, Inchicore-Crumlin No. 3 Branch.

During the Rising he was a Sergeant and head of the outpost at Hopkins & Hopkins Jewellers, targetted by heavy British shelling and sniper fire. It had to be evacuated for a time.

James Connolly then ordered his men to re-occupy the outpost. He knew Andy was a top marksman and tasked him with counter fire against British snipers. Conroy silenced several of them, notably the very active one in McBirney’s across the Liffey whom he shot from Kelly’s Gun Shop on the corner of Sackille Street opposite Hopkins & Hopkins.

On the Friday the shell of Hopkins & Hopkins had to be finally abandoned. While withdrawing Conroy was shot in the abdomen and badly wounded. He had to be carried to the GPO and then to the Coliseum Theatre, used as a casualty station by the Rebels. After the surrender next day he was removed to Jervis Street Hospital where he was under medical treatment until June.

(Courtesy Harry May)

Afterwards he helped re-organise the ICA and was promoted to Lieutenant in 1918. During the War of Independence he did intelligence work under Joe McGrath.

Andy appears in the GPO Garrison Survivors Reunion photo taken at Croke Park in 1938.

He served during The Emergency as well.

Andy married Cissie Hogarth in 1917 and they later lived in Pearse Square (formerly called Queen’s Square; he was connected to more than one place her majesty’s name was removed from!). He worked as a full-time IT&GWU official. Andrew Conroy, a widower aged 79, died in 1972 and was buried in Mount Jerome Cemetery (See MSP34REF20076).

He was a granduncle of Harry May (married to Aideen White, a first cousin of this writer). The family is very proud to have his medals and IT&GWU anniversary buttons.

Raid on Foresters Hall, Rutland (now Parnell) Square, 27 Oct 1920
Andrew Conroy16 Queen’s Square29Clerk
Thomas Kelly34 Eden Quay17Bar Tender
Peter DoyleWilliam’s Place17Clerk
Archie Heron540 North Circular Road24Trades Union Official
John Sheridan31 Lower Mayor Street21Casual Labourer
James Bowne [sic]4 Rostrevor Terrace18Mill Labourer
Thomas Barry18 Sandwith Terrace19Not employed
Patrick Farrell16 Grattan Parade28Clerk
Patrick Coates2 Spencer Street28Engine Driver
John Burne [sic]56 Summerhill23Builder’s Labourer
Thomas Nelson40 Gardiners Lane26Labourer
Thomas Johnson32 Lower Abbey Street48Secretary, Trades Union Congress
Thomas FarrenJoanna Villa, Crumlin Rd.40Trades Union Clerk
Peter EnnisLiberty Hall48Caretaker, Liberty Hall
Michael Magee103 Upper Dorset Street33(Illegible)
Michael Sheppard19 St. Michael’s Road32Clerk
Richard Mclean12 Upper Buckingham St.38Stonecutter
George Spain34 Hamilton Street25Clerk
James O’BrienGlobe Hotel, Parnell St.39Organiser, Transport Workers Union
Thomas Nolan45 York Street32Builder’s Labourer
Richard Ormsby76 Upper Dominick Street29Marble Polisher
Patrick O’Kelly100 Drumcondra Road33Clerk
Ernest Nolan5 Cambridge Ave, Ringsend23Clerk
Thomas McCann112 North Strand Road33Clerk
James Lawless20 First Avenue, Seville Place23Insurance Clerk
John Johnson21 Marlborough Street28Clerk
Joseph O’Kelly12b Connaught Street25Clerk
James Hughes19 Iona Park, Glasnevin39Clerk
William O’Doherty43 Russell Avenue30Clerk
William O’BrienReleased  
Crown forces raid report