Wicklow-man Jimmy Doyle survived the carnage in Clanwilliam House and the explosion of his rifle during the Easter Rising. He continued the fight in the IRA years and saw plenty of action with the ASU until arrested at the Custom House. He took no part in the Civil War but returned to his native county to become a farmer. Doyle left two significant Witness Statements in the late 1940s. He died peacefully at the age of 82, the last survivor of the Battle of Mount Street Bridge.
Origin and Background
James Joseph Doyle was born to farmer James Doyle and his wife Rosanna née McDonald on 27 August 1898 at Coolroe, Tinahely, Co Wicklow. He had one older sister Ellen ‘Nellie’ and a little brother John who did not survive infancy. His father began working as a Steward on a local estate before transferring to one in Finglas, Co. Dublin. It seems Jimmy spent some years as a youngster in the city where his mother had relatives. In 1911 the small Doyle family was living on North King Street, Dublin. James senior had switched jobs to become a Salesman and Shop-keeper. Jimmy himself went on to become a Shop Assistant.
Volunteers and IRB
Doyle says he joined the Volunteers C Coy, 3rd Battalion, Dublin Brigade around October 1914. About two months before the Rising he was sworn into the IRB at 41 York Street by Con Colbert. He said he was introduced by a Na Fianna member named James Cullen who was later a printing compositor for An tÓglach, the IRA magazine and an officer in the Irish Army. Jimmy was arrested at Croke Park in 1915 while acting under Irish Volunteer orders. He was then made Quartermaster for his Coy and arranged arms raids and dumps.
Doyle gives a graphic account of his experiences in the bloodiest battle of the Rising in BMH.WS0309, adding some more information and names in BMH.WS0127. In the former, he admits to gaps in his recollections at several stages. Not because he had forgotten, but some events had just not registered at the time. That the teenager could not take everything in is no surprise in view of the hellish intensity of the action with bullets, grenades, fire, blood and death all around him in Clanwilliam House.
He saw some comrades killed and undoubtedly shot some Sherwood Foresters as they were repeatedly ordered to take his outpost. For hour after hour the tiny Clanwilliam House garrison gave better than they got against overwhelming odds. They kept up a devastating weight of fire, but inevitably were faced with invaders in the house they held. Eventually they were forced to evacuate or die on the spot.
Only four of the Volunteers from Clanwilliam House survived. O/C George Reynolds, Richard Murphy and Patrick Doyle died at their posts and little was found of their remains after the building burned out. Remarkably, brothers Tom and James Walsh, William Ronan and Doyle managed to avoid death and evade capture.
Jimmy had been briefly knocked unconscious when his over-heated Martini rifle burst and exploded, fragments hitting him in the face, head and arms. He later suffered other bullet wounds while escaping the vicinity. He was disoriented and almost semi-conscious. Yet he kept going, climbing over walls fuelled by adrenalin. At one stage during his retreat he had to shoot a pursuing British soldier and not long afterwards barely got away from a crowd of hostile locals. Doyle finally received aid and assistance from sympathetic people near Merrion Square. Remarkably he did recall the name of one man who helped him, James Fields. After brief hospital treatment for his wounds he found refuge with a cousin in James’s Street and a few weeks later left Dublin to lay low in the country. Jimmy returned to the city around Christmas 1916.
He was pictured with his three fellow survivors from Clanwilliam House and again with the other lads who lived through the battles for the Rebel outposts around Mount Street Bridge.
He went to work as a shop assistant for M. and A. Reynolds, the sisters of his late O/C Lt. George Reynolds, at 1-2 Redmond’s Hill, near Bishop Street, Dublin.
During 1917-18, Jimmy was also busy in altogether different activities with his Coy at their hall on York Street and up the Dublin Mountains. He says training was intensive leading up to the anti-Conscription Campaign. As Coy Quartermaster, he was engaged in buying and securing arms and bomb-making. Doyle spent a week in Newry for the Sinn Féin election campaign in Co. Armagh, was one of the armed guard on the Mansion House and defended Sinn Féin HQ, Harcourt Street, Dublin against a unionist mob on Armistice Day, November 1918.
He continued his work securing arms for the Movement – one action he took part in involved the disarming of two RIC men he recalled as Sgt. Lawson and Const. Jones at Ticknock in early 1919.
War of Independence
During 1920 Jimmy was on several raids – capture of arms at the United Services Club, St. Stephen’s Green; the unsuccessful search for a wanted RIC Inspector at Lower Gardiner Street; capture of the Dublin Castle mails at Westland Row (now Pearse) rail station; and the burning of the Tax Office on Nassau Street at Easter. That November he was out on Bloody Sunday at 28 Pembroke Street, after which his O/C Joe O’Connor paid a high tribute to Doyle’s indomitable and cool courage in ensuring their escape. O’Connor added that Paddy Flanagan, late O/C ASU, had great trust in Jimmy Doyle and always had something for him to do.
As 1921 dawned he was elected 1st Lieutenant of his Coy and participated in ambushes at Dunne Street, Grafton Street and Redmond Hill. Jimmy was acting Captain from March before being selected for ASU Section No. 3 in April. With them, Doyle took part in raids for useful supplies (one was on a premises beside the Castle!) as well as many ambushes on Auxies and military around the city. One, at the Ha’penny Bridge, also involved Mick Stephenson and Paddy Brunton, fellow ASU men and later Custom House attackers. Jimmy Gibbons, ASU Adjutant, who was in Kilmainham with Doyle later said “He was one of the most outstanding soldiers produced by the Irish Republican Army“.
Jimmy’s luck ran out on 25 May 1921 at the Custom House. In his Military Pension application he says he was one of the men responsible for holding the staff in the internal yard as they were herded down from their offices by their comrades. Their instructions were to let them out at intervals of a second. Then, “a racket started outside [the gun battle with the Auxies] and there was a bit of a stampede… [So] we held our prisoners and when the place went alight we let them out [onto] Store Street. By that time Tom Flood and Paddy Flanagan drew the lock off the door to try and get out the back. Military [sic] opened fire on us. Reilly [this may have been Stephen] got hit. We went to the front and we could not get out that way so we had to surrender or be burned alive.” Deja vue, almost a repeat of his Easter Rising experience…
Doyle was arrested and gave his address as 21 Rathmines Road. He was somewhat lucky not to have been captured with Flood and some other ASU hauled off to Mountjoy on capital charges. He was in the large contingent taken to Arbour Hill, then ended up in Kilmainham Gaol. He appears in a couple of photos taken there.
Jimmy was released with the other Kilmainham internees on 8 December 1921. He rejoined the IRA and continued his Quartermaster role up to the occupation of the Ballast House by an anti-Treaty garrison in early 1922. After about five days duty he decided to resign. His active service ended at that stage and he took no part in the Civil War.
Jimmy went back to working at the Reynolds’ shop until 1929 when the effect of the world economic depression on the Irish retail trade put him out of work for almost two years. He was then with the Irish Hospitals’ Trust for some time and lived at 1 Desmond Street, South Circular Road in Dublin.
He attended the 1939 reunion of ASU comrades in Dublin and we can imagine there were some great stories swopped about their times in action together.
Skirmishes with the State System
From the early to mid-1920s Doyle had suffered from progressive deafness as well as nervous complaints (termed neurasthenia) which he put down to the accident with his rifle in 1916. As the conditions were affecting his ability to work, he made a claim for compensation for war wounds. However, while a medical board confirmed his disabilities – including 50% deafness – it held they were not attributable to his military service and Jimmy received no award.
As regards a Military Pension, weird as it may sound he did not qualify under the 1924 Act despite his Easter Rising heroics. An applicant needed to have served in the National Army. So it wasn’t until the 1934 Act broadened eligibility that he could seek a pension for his time as a soldier with the Volunteers and IRA. Initially he was awarded one based on 6¼ year service.
He was forced to appeal that decision, seeking recognition for his full service during 1920 and 1921 which – incredibly – had not been reckoned in the original grant. There was also a grading issue. In the 1940s his case was re-examined following a successful High Court action by fellow Custom House veteran Frank Brennan. On this occasion Jimmy won out, receiving an increase in his pension based on an additional six months service with effect from 1947.
At some stage before that he had left Dublin and relocated to his native Co. Wicklow where he lived and farmed at The Rock, Coolattin. During the Emergency, Doyle joined up with the 26th (Old IRA) Battalion. In 1950 he was named among the pre-Truce ASU survivors awarded Service Certificates at a function in Dublin, but does not appear in the photo taken on that occasion. He never married and appears to have lived alone for most of the remainder of his life.
James Joseph Doyle was retired when he passed away in Baltinglass District Hospital on 21 July 1980, aged 81. Jimmy was late of The Bungalow, Carnew, Arklow and was survived by cousins, relatives and friends.
An obituary in the Irish Press highlighted his actions in 1916 and later with the ASU. It noted that “although he was a friend of the late Mr. De Valera, he took neither side in the Civil War“. It was also said he had lived for some time with his sister Nellie who pre-deceased him by a couple of years. She had been married to Michael Joseph Molloy who, with Liam O’Brien, did the type-compositing for Christopher Brady to print the Proclamation at Liberty Hall in 1916. All three men had previously been employed on The Workers Republic for James Connolly.
Jimmy Doyle was buried in Tomacork Cemetery near Shillelagh, Co Wicklow.
The glowing tributes paid to James J. Doyle by some of his comrades show how much respect he earned during his military service.
They contrast starkly with the mindset of the government system deciding his pension entitlements.
That a hero of 1916 was forced to go almost cap in hand to get what he justly deserved for his long service to the country is, sadly, not a unique case in the archives of the Military Pension scheme (Indeed, such a restrictive and penny-pinching approach towards citizens’ entitlements are still all-too-familiar in a wide range of government-funded schemes).
But such bureaucratic issues are not the main point of this article.
Instead, let us remember Jimmy Doyle, a committed Irish patriot who narrowly survived two major events during the armed pursuit of independence. RIP.