Boyle, William (1853–1923), dramatist and civil servant, was born 4 April 1853 in Dromisken, Co. Louth, the son of Patrick Boyle and his wife, Mary (née Meehan). Educated at St Mary's College, Dundalk, in 1874 he entered the civil service in London and worked in the inland revenue and excise offices. He began his literary career as a contributor of light verse and humorous sketches to publications such as United Ireland, the Nation and the People's Friend of Dundee. These were later published as A kish of brogues (1899), which was followed by Comic capers (1903), a collection of verse. He was an authority on the life and poetry of James Clarence Mangan (qv) and occasionally lectured on this topic.
Boyle's most significant contributions to literature were three plays staged at the Abbey theatre in 1905 and 1906. Their undoubted popular appeal relied a good deal on a broad humour grounded in the audience's delight at the representation on stage of recognisable contemporary types, but Boyle was also a fine stage technician. The first, ‘The building fund’ (which opened in April 1905), was a satire on the acquisitive obsessions of a provincial family, the Grogans. It was the first play to fill the Abbey and was well received by critics. It became a staple of the Abbey repertoire for many years, in Dublin and on tour. This was followed in rapid succession by ‘The eloquent Dempsey’ (January 1906) and ‘The mineral workers’ (October 1906). Boyle is regarded as an exemplar of the realist school of early Abbey drama; the language of his plays has been described as ‘flat as the land of the counties Louth and Meath from which the dramatist drew his characters’ (Sahal, 30). He reflected the conversation of the public house and the subjects of editorial pages: money, unprincipled politicians, the need to develop industry, and the arrival of the agricultural adviser. W. B. Yeats (qv) – who despised what he regarded as the plays’ ‘vulgarity’ (Foster, 343) – admitted through gritted teeth that ‘the popularity of the Theatre at this moment depends on two writers, Mr Boyle and Lady Gregory . . . these are the only two writers who can be counted upon to draw audiences’ (Hogan and Kilroy, iii, 82). Actors loved his parts; William Fay (qv) claimed that the corrupt politician Dempsey was his favourite, and Arthur Sinclair revelled in various Boyle roles.
When, in early 1907, Boyle severed his association with the Abbey in protest at Synge's ‘Playboy of the western world’, this was widely publicised and regarded as a severe blow to the theatre's prospects: ‘the Abbey's knell is rung’ (Hogan and O'Neill, 86). His relations with Yeats and Lady Gregory (qv) were by then strained, as he sensed their lack of respect, while he was highly critical of the influence that Annie Horniman (qv) exercised. His next play, ‘The confederates’, was produced by the Irish Literary Society in London in 1909, but remains unpublished. Despite his distaste Yeats wooed Boyle back to the Abbey; he returned with a one-act farce, ‘The love charm’ (September 1911), and followed this with ‘Family failing’ (March 1912). In 1916 a comedy, ‘Nic’, was his final contribution to the company.
Boyle's politics were those of a constitutional nationalist; he was a supporter and associate of both C. S. Parnell (qv) and John Redmond (qv), and contributed on Irish matters to the Quarterly Review. Having retired from the civil service in 1914, Boyle returned to live in Louth, where he built a new house near the place of his birth and was appointed a local magistrate. His views and position placed him at odds with revolutionary Ireland and in 1921 he abandoned Louth for London, where he died, in Dulwich, on 6 March 1923, leaving £798 10s. 2d. He was married to Maud Monica Cross. The NLI holds letters from Boyle to Joseph Holloway (qv) and D. J. O'Donoghue (qv).