James Warren Doyle

From A Compendium of Irish Biography, 1878

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Doyle, James Warren, Bishop of Kildare and Leighlin, was born at New Ross in 1786, the posthumous son of a respectable farmer: his mother (Anne Warren, of Quaker extraction) was living in poverty at the time of his birth. He was a quick-witted, intelligent child. At eleven years of age he witnessed all the horrors of the battle of Ross. He received his early education at the school of a Mr. Grace, and in 1800 was placed under the care of the Rev. John Crane, an Augustine monk, in New Ross.

In 1805 he entered upon his novitiate at the convent of Grantstown, near Carnsore Point, and in the following year took the vows of voluntary poverty, obedience, and chastity, and was received into the order of St. Augustine. From 1806 to 1808 he spent in the monastery of Coimbra, in Portugal, completing his education.

During the Peninsular War he shouldered his musket for the Spaniards, and young as he was acted as interpreter for a portion of the British forces. In 1808 he returned to Ireland, then in the depths of misery and hopelessness. The next year he was ordained a priest, and for some time resided in New Ross, teaching at the Friary. In 1813 he was appointed Professor of Rhetoric in Carlow College, where his rather rough and uncouth appearance at first caused some merriment among the students; but they soon learned to appreciate the depth of his reading, and the extent of his knowledge.

The following instance of his readiness in dealing with his pupils is related by his biographer. "If you had gone up as you came down," he remarked to a lad who had ascended the pulpit in a confident state of mind to deliver a thesis, and had then broken down, "you would have come down as you went up." In 1814 he was appointed to the chair of theology. His abilities must have attracted general attention, for in 1819, when the bishopric of Kildare and Leighlin became vacant through the death of Dr. Corcoran, he was elected, and his name was sent for confirmation to Rome.

An era in the Irish Catholic Church may be said to have opened with his consecration. Up to that time the persecutions it had undergone had more or less disintegrated its structure, and the poverty of the congregations and buildings had led to carelessness and disregard of appearances in religious ceremonies. Bishop Doyle rapidly set about the task of repressing all disorders within his diocese with a stern and uncompromising hand.

He entered into politics heart and soul, in the determination to aid in securing Catholic Emancipation, and under the signature of "J. K. L." soon became one of the best known public writers of his day. It would be quite impossible to specify his untiring efforts in the great struggles of the time. His statesmanlike abilities were recognized by all, and he became a power in the country on the questions of Emancipation, Education Reform, Anti-Tithe, and Poor-Relief. In his diocese he had much to contend with in the turbulent character of many of his flock, and was incessant in his endeavour to suppress the illegal combinations consequent upon the unsettled state of the country. He was often at issue with O'Connell, particularly on the Repeal movement, which he thought unadvisable so long as Ireland could hope to secure ameliorative measures from the Imperial Parliament. He did not allow politics to interfere with his episcopal functions, or with the correspondence which he kept up with members of his family and persons who sought his spiritual advice.

He was the first prelate that joined the Catholic Association, and thereby opened the way for its ultimate success. At one time he entertained hopes of the possibility of a union of the Established and Catholic churches. On no occasion did he more closely rivet public attention than during his examinations before committees of Parliament in 1825, '30 and '32. The readiness of his answers and the grasp of his mind much impressed the public.— "Well, you have been examining Dr. Doyle," a person remarked to the Duke of Wellington, "No, but he has been examining us," was the reply. A life of constant mental strain and patriotic devotion to the interests of his church and his country broke down his constitution at an early age.

He died at Carlow, 16th June 1834, aged 48, and was buried in the cathedral he had built, and which is now adorned with a splendid statue of him by Hogan. In person he was tall and commanding; his countenance was intellectual. Though endowed with much softness of heart, his presence was on the whole austere. Like many other men who have begun public life as liberals, and have seen the reforms they advocated accomplished, he tended in his latter days towards conservatism.


106. Doyle, Most Rev. J. W., Bishop of Kildare and Leighlin: William J. FitzPatrick. Dublin, 1861.
Drake, Francis S., see No. 37a.

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