Doyle, James (‘J. K. L.’) (1786–1834), catholic bishop of Kildare and Leighlin (1819–34), was born in New Ross, Co. Wexford, in the diocese of Ferns, in September 1786, the posthumous child among four children (three brothers and a sister) of James Doyle, a farmer, and his second wife, Anne Warren, an elementary school teacher.
Family, education, and early career Doyle is sometimes referred to as James Warren Doyle, but nowhere in his published work did he use the Warren name. Through his father's first marriage to Mary Downes, Doyle had an important kinship link to the Downes family who in uncle-nephew sequence provided parish priests (including Doyle's half brother, Peter) for the parish of Tintern, Clongeen and Inch between 1702 and 1831. The Doyle family lived on a farm at Ballygalvert about six miles from New Ross.
Doyle was educated in his mother's school, at another local school, and by the Augustinians in New Ross. He entered the Augustinian novitiate at Grantstown on the south Wexford coast in 1805. In 1806 he was sent to the Augustinian Colegio de Graça in Coimbra in Portugal. He matriculated into the University of Coimbra in 1807 but his studies were interrupted by the French invasion and the outbreak of the peninsular war. Doyle was jailed for a short period by the French as a British subject, and liaised between the Portuguese opposition to the French and the relieving British forces. Recalled to Ireland, he was ordained priest in Enniscorthy in 1809, and attached to the Augustinian priory in New Ross where he taught philosophy and theology until appointed to the chair of rhetoric in Carlow College in the diocese of Kildare and Leighlin in 1813. The following year he competed successfully for the chair of theology in Carlow College.
Pastoral legacy Although neither a secular clergyman nor a native of the diocese, Doyle was the first choice of the parish priests of the diocese and the bishops of the ecclesiastical province for the see of Kildare and Leighlin in 1819. He was consecrated bishop of the extensive south-eastern diocese on 14 November 1819 when only thirty-three years of age. Doyle lived at Old Derrig, Killeshin, Queen's Co., across the River Barrow from Carlow before moving to Braganza in Carlow town in 1826, a house purchased for him by priests and people of the diocese.
Doyle's immediate predecessors, Bishops Michael Corcoran (1815–19) and Daniel Delany (qv) (1787–1814), had been elderly and ill and consequently not very active pastorally. Doyle brought a new discipline to the diocese and, taking the regulations of the Council of Trent as his guide, determined on renewal and reform in every aspect of diocesan life affecting both laity and religious. Doyle made formal visitations of his parishes biennially and preached at every opportunity. He wrote regular pastoral letters and issued four national pastorals in the names of the entire hierarchy. Among his best-known and widely published pastorals were those directed against secret societies in his diocese: the politically-motivated Ribbonmen in the Kilcock deanery of north Kildare and King's Co. in 1822 and the agrarian agitators, the Whitefeet and Blackfeet, in the Maryborough deanery of Queen's Co. in 1831–2.
In his pastoral letter of June 1823, Doyle commented that ‘the progress of our religion . . . is such as to excite even our own surprise’. The building of churches took place throughout the diocese on an impressive scale during his episcopate. By 1829, Doyle had set in train the building of Carlow cathedral (which was completed and consecrated by him in 1833); twenty-seven new churches had been built; twenty-two rebuilt from their foundations and enlarged; and forty-three greatly improved. Out of a diocesan total of 104 parochial churches only twelve were not subject to building and renovation. Stone and slate churches replaced mud-walled thatched chapels.
Doyle constantly sought to improve standards in Carlow College which was both a lay college and a seminary and had a very able staff during his episcopate. He was stringent in his scrutiny of the numerous candidates who came forward for the ecclesiastical state. Carlow College turned out a supply of competent well-educated priests for Kildare and Leighlin and other Irish dioceses and, even in the 1820s, for overseas missions. Doyle ran a post-ordination course in catechesis and preaching to prepare newly ordained priests for the needs of pastoral ministry. Doyle himself was regarded as Ireland's leading preacher and was constantly in demand for charity sermons and cathedral and church dedications. He preached, for instance, at the dedication ceremony of the pro-cathedral in Dublin in 1825.
Doyle held an annual synod to revise, amend and update the statutes of the diocese. He revitalised the deanery conferences in Kildare and Leighlin, holding them once a month in five deaneries (or groups of parishes) from June to October inclusive, a total of twenty-five. The functions of such conferences, occasions of trepidation for many clergy, were to oversee on-going clerical education, to revise theological knowledge, to promote uniformity of religious observance and to foster an esprit de corps among the clergy, both secular and regular. There were also annual diocesan retreats, held separately for parish priests and curates.
At the beginning of his episcopate Doyle set about reforming those clergy who, he held, had enjoyed too relaxed a time under his predecessors. A dress code of black or grey was recommended. Exact attention to the rubrics of the liturgy was demanded. Priests who combined farming with priestly duties were curtailed. The financial remuneration of curates was improved. Clergymen displaying wayward tendencies were made amenable to the bishop's will: they either conformed to his requirements or were disciplined. This in some cases included removal from the mission and silencing.
Doyle also demanded that the regular clergy and female religious adhere strictly to their monastic rules. A disorderly house of Calced Carmelites at Leighlinbridge was suppressed, and their house at Kildare closed for some time. Under Doyle the diocesan congregation, known as the Patricians (a community of brothers founded by Bishop Daniel Delany), was given firm rules and constitutions. Two successful foundations were made. Doyle also reformed and reorganised the Brigidines (a community of nuns which had also been founded by Bishop Delany). The Presentation convent in Carlow received similar treatment and filiations were made at Maryborough and Kildare during his episcopate.
Doyle believed the religious reform of the laity must begin with the instruction of the young and his pastoral achievement is perhaps nowhere more evident than in his transformation of catechetical teaching. Doyle's main concern was to provide a church infrastructure to support those evidently disposed to deepen their faith. In his Lenten Pastoral of 1821, while remarking on ‘the desire of religious instruction which pervades all classes’, he lamented that even ‘where the most zealous clergymen are constantly employed in attending to the instruction, and the spiritual wants of their numerous congregations, that yet great numbers remain ignorant of what it would be desirable they should know, and that only a few acquire that intimate knowledge of our holy religion, and its sublime morality, which is so necessary for arriving at the perfection of a Christian life’.
It was in this context that he greatly developed and extended Sunday school catechesis, confraternities and chapel libraries throughout his diocese. Children were instructed by the young men and women of the confraternities of the Christian Doctrine and the Blessed Sacrament of the Eucharist. Confraternity members were expected to lead quiet, prayerful, sober lives and to assist the parish clergy, particularly on Sunday mornings, and before vespers, in ‘instructing the ignorant’, teaching the catechism and reading aloud books of piety. On average by 1829 there were 210 confraternity members in each parish of the diocese, and forty-five catechists and 855 children per parish in the Sunday Schools. In the diocese as a whole there were 10,000 confraternity members, from whom were selected 2,115 catechists to teach 40,000 children. These Sunday schools, which sought to promote full literacy in English to deepen the impact of catechetical instruction, were non-fee-paying and provided those too poor to attend hedge or fee-paying schools with the only schooling they received. The most popular and extensively used catechetical texts were Doyle's edition of Archbishop James Butler's (qv) Catechism and his edition of Turberville's Abridgement of the Christian doctrine, both in question and answer format, the latter especially revised for the Christian Doctrine confraternity for teaching purposes. The chapel library was also an integral part of Doyle's catechetical programme. There was a norm of 100 books in each chapel library in 1829, and these included the works of Bossuet, Alban Butler, Challoner, Dorrell, Gother, Gahan, Hays, Thomas à Kempis and Francis de Sales. Indeed Doyle endeavoured to ensure that every house in the diocese possessed a couple of religious works independently of the libraries.
The stations of confession were a particularly important aspect of contemporary religious practice, and confession was a well-attended sacrament. Mass attendance and attendance at Vespers on Sundays as well as at daily Mass was also high. In his pastoral of June 1823, Doyle praised the ‘multitudes’ who attended Mass, their ‘pious demeanour’ and ‘strict integrity’. Non-fulfilment of the Paschal requirement or Easter duty of receiving the sacraments of penance and communion (the quintessential index of catholic practice and compliance) went in only one instance as high as ten per cent and, indeed, in most parishes was down to remarkably low single figures. Confraternities encouraged more frequent reception of communion than was traditionally the norm.
In his diocesan statutes of 1824, Doyle decreed that ‘night wakes, at which large and indiscriminate concourse of persons attend, are prohibited’. The clergy were charged to encourage the recital of prayers and the reading of pious books at the obsequies; and ‘to dissuade the use of tobacco and whatever may be attended with expense, or become an incentive to sin’. During Doyle's episcopate there were approximately seventy holy wells and fifty-three pattern day celebrations in the diocese. Where these patterns were considered too exuberant they were restrained, curtailed or suppressed. In any case the pattern day tradition was rapidly falling into decay. Everywhere it seemed, according to knowledgeable observers such as John O'Donovan (qv) and Eugene O'Curry (qv) of the ordnance survey, that the old customs and traditions of an archaic society were in rapid retreat before the advance of new ideas of respectability and modernising social and cultural influences.
Doyle, with the consent of the hierarchy, secured from Rome the abolition of three holy days which were the most notorious for festive abuses, namely Easter Monday, Whit Monday and the Feast of St John the Baptist on 24 June. This was to prevent the abuse of days often spent drinking at a pattern, a fair or in public houses, with disregard to their religious nature. His was the most important catholic voice to support the temperance ideal, before Fr Theobald Mathew's (qv) temperance crusade. He wrote two letters on the subject in 1829 and 1830.
Within the hierarchy, Doyle was the driving force; he was the author of the national pastoral letter of December 1824 which called for the reform of the Irish church. He strove for uniformity of practice and the removal of anomalies in church life throughout Ireland. One such was a loophole in the church's marriage code in Ireland which made clandestine marriage possible in some dioceses though not in others. Doyle ensured that the loophole was closed in 1827. In 1829 in his Relatio Status, Doyle wrote to Rome, praising his clergy and the laity. His priests he described accurately as ‘among the most learned and disciplined of the Irish clergy’. Of the laity he wrote: ‘the morals of the people are excellent and are each year more and more exemplary. There is no abuse prevailing which the ordinary authority cannot correct’. Overall, in a Tridentine context, Doyle's pastorate was a model of religious renewal and reform.
Inter–church, educational, and political achievement In his first three years as bishop, Doyle moved warily in politics, finding his feet within the hierarchy at national level. In 1823, the year the Catholic Association was founded by Daniel O'Connell (qv), Doyle emerged as a powerful advocate of catholic emancipation. He was the association's first and most important hierarchical supporter. In his books, pamphlets and letters to the association and to the press, Doyle advanced its campaign. The sanction of his episcopal approval encouraged other bishops and the second order clergy to become involved. Doyle's political participation developed out of his pastoral concerns. His publication of a pastoral announcing a miracle attributed to the intercession of the German priest, Prince Hohenlohe, in 1823 (followed a short time later by a similar pastoral from Archbishop Daniel Murray (qv) of Dublin), led to an onslaught from evangelical protesants and inspired Doyle's publication, as J. K. L., of A vindication of the religious and civil liberties of the Irish catholics (1823) and his Defence of the Vindication (1824). These writings burned with a sense of oppression suffered by Irish catholics, and, significantly, the use of the monogram J. K. L. (James of Kildare and Leighlin) made a territorial claim forbidden in law to catholic bishops.
In 1824 Doyle endeavoured to turn the evangelical campaign on its head by proposing, in generous ecumenical terms, the reunion of the catholic and protestant churches. This aspect of Doyle's letter was largely overlooked as critics concentrated on what they deemed potential treason. Doyle was so exasperated by the failure of the British state to deal with catholic grievances that he wrote: ‘If a rebellion were raging from Carrickfergus to Cape Clear, no sentence of excommunication would ever be fulminated by a catholic bishop.’ The catholic archbishop of Armagh, Patrick Curtis (qv), wrote apologetically to the duke of Wellington (qv) that Doyle's letter ‘must be offensive to government’ and that he would have to be disavowed, silenced or suspended if he did not make full atonement for his error. For a moment Doyle considered resigning but quickly regained his usual self-confident composure. Doyle had a Lockean view of the British constitution, believing that, if the monarchy (represented by the government) failed to uphold its contract with the people (whom it was committed to protect), then the people had the right to break the contract.
His book, Letters on the state of Ireland (1825), published as J.K.L., was probably his most brilliant political work and covered all aspects of the Irish question. Debates on catholic emancipation and Ireland in the houses of parliament frequently turned into debates on the merits of Dr Doyle's latest published work, opponents of emancipation depicting Doyle as a dangerous firebrand who would replace protestant ascendancy with catholic ascendancy. Yet Doyle's diplomatic and detailed evidence before parliamentary committees on the state of Ireland in 1825 helped to dispel widespread ignorance of, and prejudice against, catholic doctrines and to convince several parliamentarians that emancipation constituted no threat to the state. In the course of the emancipation debates in parliament in 1825, the prime minister, Lord Liverpool, had contended that ‘catholics were not entitled to equal rights in a protestant country’. Doyle addressed his book, Essay on the catholic claims (1826), to Liverpool. Therein he sought to demonstrate that the allegiance of catholics was not divided between London and Rome. In 1828 Doyle addressed a letter to Wellington, then prime minister, in which he stated that Rome posed as little threat to the British state as Mecca did. Gladstone wrote later that Doyle was the prelate who, more than any other, influenced the mind of England in favour of granting catholic emancipation.
Doyle was an important public ally of O'Connell who sought and received from the bishop a letter in support of his candidacy in the Clare by-election. Behind the scenes, Doyle was not always of the same mind as O'Connell and indeed they were often at odds. In 1825, when they first fell out, Doyle was concerned that O'Connell was prepared to concede too much in return for catholic emancipation. In 1827 he was worried that O'Connell had toned down the emancipation agitation for no return from the government. In 1828, Doyle feared that O'Connell craved public support to the extent that he was prepared to act against the best interests of the Irish people.
The 1820s witnessed the advance of the ‘New Reformation’ evangelical crusade which aimed to convert catholics to protestantism. It led to debates throughout Ireland between rival divines and a fierce pamphlet war between the denominations in which Doyle was the leading catholic apologist. He contributed to the controversy by aggressive attacks on what he viewed as the excessive wealth of the established church. He entered into pamphlet controversy with the protestant archbishop of Dublin, William Magee (qv), in 1822 and again in 1827 and published pamphlets in reply to Bishop Thomas Elrington (qv) of Leighlin and Ferns in 1827 and to a leading evangelical, Lord Farnham (qv). Despite the fact that Doyle in his writings was often scathing of opponents there was also an ecumenical dimension in his work though it tended to be overwhelmed by the contemporary sectarian reality.
The evangelical crusade caused particular difficulties for the catholic church in the sphere of education, where it was unable to compete with the funding the evangelicals had at their disposal. Doyle was hostile to the activities of evangelically motivated educational societies such as the Kildare Place Society, which insisted that pupils in their schools should read the Bible without note or comment. This requirement was contrary to catholic doctrine which stated that the Bible should be interpreted according to the teachings of the church. Doyle led a long campaign to secure state funding for a system of elementary education acceptable to catholics. When this funding was not forthcoming, he founded new schools throughout his diocese which were open to all denominations, though only catholics usually attended. Doyle was an educational moderniser who was keen to see the primitive seasonal hedge schools with their ill-trained and unregulated teachers replaced by all-year-round schools staffed by teachers trained according to the latest thinking in elementary education. When the national system of education was established in 1831 on terms which allowed the catholic church to participate, Doyle urged his parish priests to co-operate with it and they were among the first to do so. Doyle's contribution to the foundation of the national system of education was his greatest educational achievement. He favoured the education of catholic and protestant children together (and along with muslims and jews if they were present in the population) and reiterated this position on several occasions. In his evidence before the parliamentary select committee on the state of the poor in Ireland in 1830 he declared: ‘I do not see how any man, wishing well to the public peace, and who looks to Ireland as his country, can think that peace can ever be permanently established, or the prosperity of the country ever well secured, if children are separated, at the commencement of life, on account of their religious opinions. I do not know any measure which would prepare the way for a better feeling in Ireland than uniting children at an early age, and bringing them up in the same school.’ However the reality of sectarianism in Irish society in the 1820s and 1830s made this virtually impossible.
In a letter to his brother in 1827, Doyle wrote: ‘if I be not destined to witness the liberation of my country from British bondage, I hope to prepare the way for that event. A scientific education, such as I have begun to look to for the bulk of the population will, if propagated, produce a revolution of some sort in the course of time ’. In his pamphlet, Letter to Daniel O'Connell on the formation of a National Literary Institute for the extension of science to all classes of Irish youth (1829), Doyle wrote that ‘an educated people will be free’. This Letter was a veiled and vain attempt to promote the foundation of a second university in Ireland. Doyle's emphasis on science in education in the Letter was probably influenced by the reforms Pombal had carried out in Portuguese university education with which he would have been familiar from his student days in Coimbra.
When O'Connell began his campaign for the repeal of the union in 1830, Doyle favoured repeal in principle but did not see how it could be achieved in practice. Instead, he urged O'Connell to seek legislative reform from the whig government especially in the area of poor law. Doyle always manifested great concern for the fate of the poor and from the mid 1820s proposed an Irish poor law based on parochial assessments. In 1825 he predicted accurately that if a major famine were to occur in Ireland a million people would die. In 1830 Doyle gave important evidence before the parliamentary committee on the state of the Irish poor. Much to his dissatisfaction, his stance did not gain support among economists or politicians – not even O'Connell supported him. Dr Doyle on poor laws in reply to Mr Senior of London (1831) was a stinging response to the political economist Nassau Senior who attacked his proposed Irish poor law. O'Connell, however, announced his conversion to Doyle's position on poor law after reading his lengthy pamphlet Letter to Thomas Spring Rice . . . on the establishment of a legal provision for the Irish poor (1831). But he subsequently changed his mind again and announced that repeal of the union was his panacea for Ireland. Early in 1832, a serious dispute on this issue broke out between the two in the public press and brought their relationship to a low point from which it never recovered.
Catholic objections to paying tithes to protestant clergy hardened following catholic emancipation. What became known as the tithe war began with the refusal of Martin Doyle (1781–1861), parish priest of Graiguenamanagh, Co. Kilkenny (in the diocese of Kildare and Leighlin) and a cousin of Bishop Doyle's, to pay tithe to the local protestant clergyman. Dr Doyle provided the intellectual leadership of the campaign. His slogan: ‘may your hatred of tithes be as lasting as your love of justice’ was well known. Doyle urged unremitting though lawful agitation. In parliament it was suggested that he should be arrested. Doyle brilliantly defended his position before parliamentary committees in 1832. Questioned on the excesses caused by the tithe war, Doyle responded: ‘what improvement has ever happened in this country that has not been effected by men pursuing justice in opposition to the law? . . . If we are prevented from pursuing the recovery of right, because in pursuing that right evils may arise, we must abandon ourselves to despotism.’ Having suffered illness frequently during his episcopate, Doyle died from tuberculosis aged not quite forty-eight on 15 June 1834 and was buried before the altar of Carlow cathedral.
Assessment Doyle was both the leading religious reformer and political spokesman of the Irish catholic church in the era of emancipation. He was zealous in the performance of his pastoral duties, robust in public defence of his Church, yet ecumenical in inter-church relations and liberal on the education together of children of all religions. One of the most gifted and prolific writers the Irish hierarchy has ever produced, he enjoyed an international reputation for his publications which, with their forthright tone, inspired confidence in Irish catholics weighed down by a penal era inferiority complex. Courageous, fearless, and intellectually formidable, Doyle was a powerful nationalist bishop and a key figure in the transition from the timid and self-effacing catholic church of the penal era to the self-confident and thrusting Church of the nineteenth century.
Archives and likenesses Doyle's extensive papers are in the Delany Archive, Carlow College. His correspondence with Archbishop John Thomas Troy (qv) and Archbishop Murray of Dublin is in the Dublin Diocesan Archives, Archbishop's House, Drumcondra, Dublin. His letters to Archbishops Robert Laffan (1765–1833) and Michael Slattery (qv) are in the Cashel and Emly Diocesan Archives, Archbishop's House, Thurles, Co. Tipperary. His correspondence is also spread throughout the NLI collections of contemporaries: Daniel O'Connell, Thomas Spring Rice (qv), Thomas Wyse (qv), and William Smith O'Brien (qv).
His likenesses include a plaster bust (nineteenth-century Irish school, NGI); a stipple by R. Cooper, published 1824 (after a drawing by J. C. Smith, NGI); a stipple by W. Holl, published 1834 (after Peter Turnerelli (qv); after bust) in the British Museum; a statue (1840) by John Hogan (qv) in Carlow cathedral; a lithograph and a full-length portrait in oils by J. P. Haverty (qv) in Carlow College, and a lithograph by Haverty in the NGI.