Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Doyle, James Warren

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DOYLE, JAMES WARREN (1786–1834), Roman catholic bishop of Kildare and Leighlin, whose polemical and political writings under his episcopal initials of ‘J. K. L.’ exercised in their day an enormous influence, was born near New Ross, Wexford, in the autumn of 1786. He was the posthumous son of James Doyle, a farmer in reduced circumstances, who occupied a holding at Donard or Ballinvegga, about six miles from Ross on the Enniscorthy side, by his second wife, Ann Warren of Loughnageera, a Roman catholic but of quaker extraction. He was from early life designed for the priesthood, and at nine years of age was prophetically pointed out by a flattering female beggar as predestined to the episcopacy. When eleven years old he witnessed all the horrors of the battle of New Ross in the rebellion of 1798, and on one occasion had a narrow escape. Doyle was indebted to his mother for his earlier instruction, but was afterwards sent to a school conducted by Mr. Grace, near Rathnarague, where both protestants and Roman catholics sat side by side. In 1800 he entered a seminary in New Ross kept by the Rev. John Crane, a zealous member of the order of St. Augustine, and as soon as he had attained the canonical age, in June 1805, he commenced his noviciate in the convent of Grantstown, near Carnsore Point. In January 1806 he made his profession, and took the vows of the order. A few weeks later he passed thence to the university of Coimbra in Portugal; but his studies were soon interrupted by the invasion of Portugal under Napoleon. He joined the army of Sir Arthur Wellesley as a volunteer, and, young as he was, acted as interpreter for part of the forces. After the defeat of the French at Vimeira, 21 Aug. 1808, Doyle accompanied Colonel Murray with the articles of convention to Lisbon. During his sojourn in that city he had confidential interviews with the members of the royal junta. It was there, it is supposed, that tempting proposals were made to him by the government, who had formed a high opinion of his talent for diplomacy. In a pastoral charge which he addressed to his flock in 1823 he made interesting allusion to this epoch of his life. Doyle returned to Ireland at the close of 1808, having spent only about two years at Coimbra, and was welcomed back by his old preceptor at Ross. He was ordained at Enniscorthy in 1809, and returned to his convent, where he was appointed to teach logic. Here he remained until 1813, when he removed to Carlow College to fill, first, the chair of rhetoric, then of humanity, and finally of theology. Some eccentricities of dress and demeanour disposed the students to ridicule the new professor. ‘There was a tone of authority in his voice, however, which at once arrested attention and imposed something like awe,’ wrote one of his pupils years afterwards. ‘The success of his inaugural oration rendered him at once the most popular professor in the house and the college itself famous throughout Ireland.’ In the spring of 1819 Doyle was elected by the clergy as Dr. Corcoran's successor in the see of Kildare and Leighlin. The career of Doyle as a bishop is identified with the history of the social struggles which were checked for a while by the passing of the first Reform Bill. For ten years he stood forth as the champion of the Roman catholic cause, which he defended with unrivalled ability. His first care, however, was to reform the discipline of his diocese, which a succession for a century of old and infirm bishops had allowed to fall into a state of utter confusion. He established schools in every parish; he personally visited the districts disturbed by ribbonism and Whitefeet; ‘and it was,’ relates his biographer, ‘no unusual sight to see the bishop, with crozier grasped, standing on the side of a steep hill in a remote county, addressing and converting vast crowds of the disaffected people.’ The celebrated charge of Magee, protestant archbishop of Dublin, first brought Doyle prominently before the public as a politician and a controversialist. It was delivered at his primary visitation in St. Patrick's Cathedral on 24 Oct. 1822, and contained the famous antithesis that ‘the catholics had a church without a religion, and the dissenters a religion without a church.’ Doyle at once retorted. Writing under the signature of ‘J. K. L.’ (James, Kildare and Leighlin), he attacked the established church with great vehemence. His attack called forth numerous antagonists, among whom were Dr. William Phelan, writing under the name of ‘Declan,’ and Dr. Mortimer O'Sullivan. In 1824 Doyle replied in ‘A Vindication of the Religious and Civil Principles of the Irish Catholics.’ Friend and foe alike read ‘J. K. L.’ It was impossible not to admire ‘the cunning of fence, the grace of action, and the almost irresistible might’ of his argument. His ‘Letters on the State of Ireland’ (1824, 1825) followed, and were as eagerly read. In March 1825 Doyle went to London to be examined by parliamentary committees on the state of Ireland. He was subsequently examined before the lords' committee, when peers vied with each other in rendering him kind offices and gifts. The Duke of Wellington gracefully acknowledged the rare ability of the prelate by protesting that it was not the peers who were examining Dr. Doyle, but Dr. Doyle who was examining the peers; while another nobleman remarked that Doyle surpassed O'Connell as much as O'Connell surpassed other men in his evidence. Doyle did not, however, speak very respectfully of his noble examiners. (His comment will be found in his ‘Life’ by W. J. Fitzpatrick, 2nd ed., i. 409.) He was again summoned to give evidence in 1830 and in 1832. He wrote much and ably in support of a legal provision for the poor. On this subject he was first supported, then opposed, by O'Connell, but his views prevailed. The repeal agitation he regarded as a mere phantom. A life of unceasing mental toil wore out his body. He died at his residence, Braganza, near Carlow, on 16 June 1834. He was buried at Carlow in front of the altar of the cathedral he had built, being, he said, the only monument he would leave behind him ‘in stone.’ It is now adorned with a fine statue of him by Hogan. In person Doyle was tall and commanding. Of a kindly, generous nature, he was too often austere and even arrogant in his manner towards strangers. Among the priesthood of his own diocese the sternness of his discipline caused him to be more respected than beloved. His unpublished ‘Essay on Education and the State of Ireland’ was printed by W. J. Fitzpatrick in 1880.

There is an engraved portrait of Doyle by R. Cooper, after J. C. Smith, and another by W. Holl from the bust by P. Turnerelli (Evans, Cat. of Engraved Portraits, ii. 130).

[Fitzpatrick's Life, Times, and Correspondence of Dr. Doyle, 1861, new edition, 1880; Reviews in Athenæum, 25 May 1861, pp. 685–7, and in Dublin Univ. Mag. lviii. 237–51; Gent. Mag. new ser. ii. 533–4.]

G. G.