Doyle, James Michael (1906–97), musician, soldier, and administrator, was born 24 August 1906, the eldest son and second of seven children of James Michael Doyle (1864–1946), chief clerk to ships’ chandlers McCann Verdon, and his wife Lucy Josephine née Brady (1881–1965), of 13 Iona Rd, Glasnevin, Dublin. Doyle's paternal grandparents had come from Gorey c.1850; his maternal grandfather was a carpenter from an old Dublin family. Three of his maternal uncles were British army officers of lower rank, who had joined during the Boer war. The Doyle family was musical. Influenced by Vincent O'Brien (qv) when a pupil at Richmond St. O'Connell schools, James Michael Sr and his brother, the tenor ‘J. C.’ (John Christopher) Doyle (1866–1939), both frequent concert soloists, were founders of the Feis Ceoil, members of the Bohemian Quartet and also of the (then paid) choir of St Francis Xavier's church, Gardiner St. Amongst their fellow Feis Ceoil associates were John McCormack (qv) and James Joyce (qv). This uncle ‘J. C.’ (who is mentioned several times in Ulysses) was a guest singer at the first concert of the Army No.1 Band in 1923, which led John Larchet (qv), musical adviser to the army, to suggest that Doyle's sixteen year old nephew James Michael (who was present at the concert) should join the army.
After education in the model national school, Drumcondra, and the O'Connell schools, Doyle joined the nascent Army School of Music in November 1924. His subsequent matriculation for NUI was assisted by Fr Joseph Union, for whom he played piano at a boys' club. Doyle's musical formation was in the RIAM and UCD under Michele Esposito (qv), Larchet, and O'Brien, and in the army under Col. Fritz Brase (qv). He paid for his keep during his RIAM scholarships by professional solo playing, concert accompaniments and playing in the ‘pit’ to the clicking reels of silent films. All his life he retained the unspoilt patriotic attachment of the first years of independence, a loyalty nurtured by the merger in his own family of the middle-brow and opera-loving musical culture of late Victorian Dublin with the more national emphasis which came with the Feis Ceoil. But Doyle's central formation was classical, first as pianist, then as conductor and arranger; this gave him the opportunity of friendship with his generation's composers, including Frederick May (qv).
Having led the Army no. 1 Band and the first army jumping team into the RDS arena for the Aga Khan competition in 1926, the following year, as sergeant bandmaster, he took part in the state's first major military tattoo. He conducted the Army No.1 for the Tailteann games in 1928, and the catholic emancipation centenary celebrations in 1929, the year he was commissioned and appointed the band's official conductor, and as such led the No. 1 during the Eucharistic Congress in 1932. Radio Éireann in 1936 chose him to act as its musical director, his initial secondment from the army being later extended to three years. As such he was conductor of the newly formed studio orchestra and indeed prepared it for its first symphony concert on 11 April 1937, under guest conductor Sir Adrian Boult, then musical director of the BBC. On Col. Brase's death, Doyle was recalled to the Army in 1941, becoming assistant director of the school of music, and in November 1947 its first native-born director, a position he held until his retirement in November 1971. As director, he was meticulous in the training of his musicians, many of whom later had light orchestral and show-band careers. Aware of their low incomes, he encouraged double-jobbing and ran Mondays leniently. But he chafed at the time surrendered to his bandsmen's other duties as members of the ambulance corps. Working in an era before photocopiers, he frequently copied his own arrangement parts by hand for each member of the band. He was never an ‘officers’ mess’ soldier, both from temperament and the multiple demands of his calling. He continued as periodic guest conductor of the Radio Éireann symphony orchestra, varying the standard symphonic repertoire with performances of music by Massenet, Chabrier, Turina and Nielsen, as well as Irish composers, including Brian Boydell (qv).
He took a new direction as founder and first director of the Dublin Grand Opera Society (DGOS) in February 1941, with Col. Bill O'Kelly as chairman and John Lynskey as producer. The background for founding the DGOS lay with the Dublin Philharmonic Society and Dublin Operatic Society. Doyle had co-conducted the latter with Arthur Hammond in 1937–40 and he and other Army No.1 Band musicians had assisted the former in its concerts. In the first DGOS season he directed and conducted La Traviata, Il Trovatore, La Bohème, and Faust at the Gaiety theatre in Dublin in May, repeating the season in Limerick in June, and doing quite a different programme back at the Gaiety in November. These were the favourites of a conservative opera-loving public in Dublin since the 1870s. The rehearsal circumstances were often taxing, as the sequence was demanding. The war years threw Ireland upon its own musical resources, kept good soloists at home, and marked Doyle as a director of a high order, potentially another Hamilton Harty (qv), as Larchet put it at the time.
His family traditions, the tastes of the Irish public, the variable functions of the army bands, and those of Dublin orchestras and musical societies, meant his own taste and appreciations were broad, from the symphonic to light music; he admired Frank Chacksfield as he did Boult, Thomas Beecham and Malcolm Sargent; his preferred composers ranged from Benjamin Britten to Leonard Bernstein. But in later years his greatest comfort was probably in accompanying and guiding Irish and French song and lieder, at his home, Halcyon on Rathgar Rd, which became a centre for encouraging both old friends and family, and younger musical soloists. The counter-point between his public roles and these more private ones enriched him. For thirty years he refused to let chronic arthritis of the hands stop such service. He regarded the high-points of his public career as his bi-centennial performance of Handel's Messiah in Dublin in 1942, and his conducting Our Lady's Choral Society in St Peter's Rome, before Pope Pius XII and in the Teatro Argentina, Rome, as well at Notre Dame in Paris in October 1950.
On 24 April 1935, he married the cellist Nance McLoughlin (1907–85), younger daughter of a deceased judge J. H. McLoughlin of Pembroke road, Ballsbridge. They had three daughters, Ann, Paula and Margaret. He lived to see great-grandchildren, and died 24 October 1997 three months short of his 91st birthday. He is interred in the family plot in Glasnevin.