Doyle Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Doyle Surname Meaning

The name Doyle is the anglicized form of the Gaelic DubhGhaill, pronounced “Du-Gall,” which contains the elements dubh, meaning “black” or “dark,” and gall, meaning “stranger.”

In Scotland, the same Gaelic name produced the surname McDowell which came to Ireland and the Scots names Dougall and MacDougall which are in fact closer in pronunciation.

As DubhGhaill, the name appears in the Annals of the Four Masters at various times between 978 and 1013. It does not appear in works concerned with Irish genealogy as the Doyles were thought to have been descended from Norsemen. But if the original nameholders were dark and strange as their description suggests, then these invaders were either Celts or more likely Danes (who were darker than the Norsemen).

The Irish Parliament of today is spelt Dail, but is pronounced “Doyle.”

Doyle  Surname Resources on The Internet

Doyle Surname Ancestry

  • from Ireland (SW Leinster)
  • to England, America, Canada, and Australia

Ireland. The Doyles are to be found along the coast of Ireland – tending to support the view that they were originally Viking arrivals by sea.

The main cluster of Doyles was and is in SW Leinster (the counties of Wicklow, Wexford, and Carlow). It was said that when the Normans took possession of Wexford in the 12th century, they settled most of the Danes in places now known as Kosslare and Ballymore where they followed their old pursuit of fishing.

These Doyles, notably William Doyle at Girtin in Kilninor parish, were later substantial landowners in north Wexford, that is until the Cromwellian confiscations. Afterwards, the failure of the Jacobite rebellion in 1690 saw many Doyles flee into exile.

During the 1798 Irish Rebellion, much of the heaviest fighting took place in Wexford. The Doyles here were involved on both sides. Many Doyles enlisted as United Irishmen and took part in the Rebellion. Others such as Sir John Doyle upheld the British Government side.

Early 19th century records for Wexford did show a sizeable number of Protestant Doyles who had a stake in the status quo. But the most famous Doyle from Wexford at this time was JKL Doyle. At the age of 33 he became the Catholic Bishop of Kildare and Leighlin and led the campaign for Catholic emancipation in Ireland (which was finally passed in 1829).

However, there had begun the steady flow of emigration which reached a flood in the mid-19th century at the time of the potato famine. The population of SW Leinster (Doyle country) dropped by more than 20 percent at that time, due to death or emigration.

In the 1880’s, Michael Doyle of Tagoat in Wexford was an active Land Leaguer. This Michael was also the father of Canon Patrick Doyle, a parish priest of Ferns and later President of the renowned St Peter’s College in Wexford. Later the Doyles of the area were split again in their loyalties – during the convulsions of the Easter Rebellion and the Anglo-Irish and subsequent Treaty conflicts.

England and Scotland. The whimsically named village of Bramblestown in Kilkenny nurtured a unique family. Between 1756 and 1856 came a dynasty of military men, most of whom ended up settling in England. In 1911, a descendant, Colonel Arthur Doyle, did his utmost to sort them out in his book, One Hiundred Years of Conflict: Being Some Records of the Services of Six Generals of the Doyle Family.

John Doyle was the Irish forefather of a generation of Doyles who were to contribute greatly to the artistic and literary world in London. Foremost among these Doyles was Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of the famous detective Sherlock Holmes.

But most Doyle immigrants were poor and came with little of their advantages. They headed for the industrial towns of Lancashire or to Glasgow. The lives of few were recorded. Dan Doyle, son of an Irish immigrant, did become Scotland’s first footballing superstar in the 1890’s.

America. Perhaps the first Doyles to reach America had been indentured servants from Ireland, John Doyle into Maryland in 1677 and Edmund Doyle into Pennsylvania in 1683.

Doyles of more substance came later:

  • Edward Doyle bought land in Bucks county, Pennsylvania in 1730 in what is now called Doylestown.
  • and around the same time Dennis Doyle arrived from Ireland. He settled in Albemarle county, Virginia and, before his death, had amassed an extensive estate along the Moorman river where he grew tobacco. His son John fought in the Revolutionary War and later moved to Kaskaskie in Illinois where he had been granted 400 acres of frontier land.

Later Arrivals.  The main influx of Doyles came in the mid-19th century after the potato famine. The statistics show that most Doyles settled in New York, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania on the Eastern Seaboard. Their best known legacy is probably their bars.

Doyle’s Cafe is an institution in Boston. John Doyle, father and son, have run bars in Philadelphia since the 1930’s. Mike Doyle once famously ran twenty bars in that town, including Slainte which is the first sign visitors see greeting them on leaving the train station.

A number of Doyles ventured further afield. John Doyle from Wexford settled in Iowa. As did Bobbie Doyle who had entered the country via Canada. Dennis Doyle, born in Kilkenny, reached Minnesota in 1856 and gave the name of Kilkenny to the village in which he settled.

“He represented Le Suear county in the state legislature and for forty one years dispensed justice in the village and town of Kilkenny. He lived to see his little claim grow and become a thriving little city and the country which, when he arrived was the heart of a virgin forest, develop into the finest farming country in the world.”

Robert Doyle, also from Kilkenny, settled in Oshkosh, Wisconsin in the 1870’s. From these roots came the Doyles who rejuvenated the Democratic Party in Wisconsin, including Jim Doyle the Governor from 2003 to 2011.

California.  Manville Doyle, who as a little boy had met Abraham Lincoln, set off from Illinois for California in 1850 and became a leading banker in the new state. Doyle Drive, built in the 1930’s to connect with the Golden Gate Bridge, was named after a descendant.

Thomas and Mary Doyle from Boston reached San Francisco in the early 1850’s. Thomas died soon after in a boating accident. But Mary remained to raise a family.

Canada. A number of Doyles came to Canada after the 1798 Rebellion failed, Arthur Doyle to Newfoundland and Laurence Doyle to Nova Scotia. His son became a lawyer and political figure in Halifax.

Patrick Doyle, born in Newfoundland, started out as a sea captain plying the waters between St. John and Bristol. Later he was strongly involved in the work of the Benevolent Irish Society which did much to alleviate the plight of poor Irish Catholic immigrants.

Australia. The first Doyle to arrive in Australia was probably Michael Doyle, convicted in London to seven years transportation and onboard the third convict fleet which arrived in 1791. The numbers swelled after the Irish Rebellion of 1798, with a total of twenty Doyles being arrested, tried, and transported to Australia between 1800 and 1806.

One of these Doyles, however, soon prospered through land holdings in New South Wales. Andrew Doyle began accumulating land along the Hawkesbury river in 1804. His possessions were greatly expanded by his son Cyrus and his family moved among the elite pioneer families of the new colony.

More Doyles arrived in the 1850’s. John Doyle was the son of Doyle immigrants during the gold rush in Western Australia. He became a pioneer of the timber industry in Queensland, starting his own sawmill on the upper Mary river in the 1890’s. The present Doyle’s Timber and Hardware stores are run by fourth generation descendants.

Doyle Surname Miscellany

The Gaelic Word for Foreigner.  During the Viking age the term Dubhghoill was used to describe the Vikings, usually Danes, and the term Fionnghoill (“fair foreigners”) was used to describe the Norwegians.  It is commonly held that these terms were used to distinguish the darker-haired Danes from faire-haired Norwegians.

Later Fionnghoill was used to describe Scottish Gaels from the Hebrides and sometimes the Hiberno-Normans.  The most common term for the Hiberno-Normans was Seanghoill (“old foreigners”) to distinguish them from the Dubhghoill, the new or dark foreigners.

Old Killadreenan (Wicklow) Burials in the 18th Century

1711 Simon Doyly 1757 Elinor Doyle
1717 James Doyly 1769 Margaret
1732 Darby Doyle 1774 Edward Doyle
1734 Rev. Laughlin Doyle 1775 Hugh Doyle
1735 Christopher Doyle 1777 Matthew
1749 Sarah Doyle 1788 Patrick Doyle
1753 Morgan Doyle 1792 Bridget Doyle

Mary Doyle in the 1798 Insurrection.  Many heroines had no chronicler but Mary Doyle of Castleboro stood out for her gallantry at the Battle of New Ross in Wexford.  She cut off the cross belts of the fallen dragoons with a bill hook and handed them together with the cartouche boxes [cases for holding gun cartridges] to her comrades.

She is referred to in P. F. Kavanagh’s A Popular History of the Insurrection of 1798 as “an amazon named Doyle, who marched with the insurgent army and bore herself as gallantly as the most courageous man.” There is no conclusive evidence as to what happened to Mary Doyle after the Battle of Ross.  But it is thought that she perished in the flames that consumed much of the town at that time.

Joseph Holt recorded in his Memoirs: “We had several women in the camp;” and he described how the women were engaged in making gunpowder.

The Doyles’ Migration from Canada to Iowa.  Bobbie Doyle had arrived in Canada from Ireland in 1833.  Six years later, he married Bessie Smith.  At that time Bobbie taught school and owned a 100 acre farm near Perth.  Once, when he served on a jury, he met a man who was organizing a group of Catholics to go to the US and settle in Oregon territory.  Unknown to his wife and family, he sold his farm in preparation to moving.

The family moved by a team of oxen into the US.  They were on their way to Omaha to meet more immigrants and to form a group large enough to give protection from the danger of scalping by Indians.  When Mrs. Doyle heard this, she said, “That settled it!” for she would go no place where her children would be scalped by the Indians.

The family tried to buy a farm in Illinois on the Pecatonica River but, because of the ending of the Civil War, they were unable to get a clear deed.  They continued west and, since the Illinois Central Railroad was being built, Mr. Doyle wanted to put his wife and children on the train so they could ride as far west as the train would go.  Since she refused, Grandfather Smith was put on the train with two wooden chests and he went as far west as Aplington, Iowa, until the family arrived with the ox team.

Arthur Conan Doyle and Sherlock Holmes.  In 1886, Conan Doyle started writing the novel which catapulted him to fame.  At first it was named A Tangled Skein and the two main characters were called Sheridan Hope and Ormond Sacker.  Two years later this novel was published in Beeton’s Christmas Annual, under the title A Study in Scarlet.  This introduced the world to Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson.

Five years later, he made the most profitable decision of his life, that of writing a series of short stories featuring the same characters.  By then, Conan Doyle was represented by A. P. Watt whose duty was to relieve him of “hateful bargaining.”

Hence it was Watt who made the deal with The Strand magazine to publish the Sherlock Holmes stories.  The “image” of Holmes was created by Sidney Paget.  This collaboration lasted for many decades and was instrumental in making the author, the magazine and the artist world famous.

However, in 1893, in spite of everyone’s entreaties, Conan Doyle decided to get rid of Sherlock Holmes  During a trip to Switzerland, he found the spot where his hero was to come to his end.  In The Final Problem, published in December 1893, Sherlock Holmes and Professor Moriarty plunged to their deaths at The Reichenbach Falls.  As a result, twenty thousand readers cancelled their subscriptions to The Strand.

Eight years later, to the delight of thousands of frustrated fans, The Strand magazine published the first episode of The Hound of the Baskervilles.  This Sherlock Holmes novel became, and is to this day, a worldwide sensation.

Dan Doyle: The Life and Death of a Wild Rover.  Dan Doyle’s dad, like most of the Irish in Scotland in the 1860s, was employed variously as an iron or coal miner or as a general laborer.  It was hard work for little pay.  Life couldn’t have been good to him.  He died of paralysis in August 1870 at the age of 36 in the poor house in Paisley.

So Dan, aged only 6, would have been in the poor house watching his dad die.  His mother soon abandoned him as, throughout the 1870’s, he grew up with his father’s family, his aunt Cecilia and his uncle Felix.

In 1881, at the age of 16, Dan was employed as a coal miner. However, by 1889 he was in England playing football for Grimsby Town FC.  He then went to Everton. living in a boarding house with five other Evertonians.  He stayed with that team for a year, 1890-91, the season they won their first league championship, and then moved to the almighty Glasgow Celtic.

Dan was to play a good six seasons for Celtic and was capped for Scotland.  He is still well-remembered by Celtic fans, enough to merit his own book with the fabulous title of The Life and Death of a Wild Rover.

“Legendary Scotland and Celtic captain Dan Doyle was a character unlike any other, before or since, in the world of football. A brilliant player but with a stormy temper and a troubled relationship with gambling and drink, Doyle’s life on and off the pitch makes for an incredible story.

Until his retirement in 1899, Doyle was always a controversial figure. Involved in an on-pitch incident that resulted in the death of another player, prone to vocal outbursts against opponents, referees and the FA and even the subject of a prolonged campaign in the English press to have him permanently banned from playing in the country, Doyle never tempered his character.  He was free to do as he liked because of his incredible gift as a footballer and because a Celtic or Scotland team with him was infinitely better than one without him.

Dan Doyle: The Life and Death of a Wild Rover is the story of Scotland’s first bad-boy football superstar.”

Doyle’s Cafe.  Welcome to Doyle’s – home of the best corned beef and cabbage dinner and the largest selection of draft beer in New England!  Over the years Doyle’s has been known for good food, conversation, and a wide variety of draft beer.

Doyle’s is regularly recognized as being the best neighborhood bar and restaurant in Boston.  Authentic wartime posters hang over the original bar which dates back to 1882.  It was Dennis Doyle who built the original Doyle’s at that time.

His son Barney assumed ownership after Dennis’s death in 1900 and it stayed with the Doyle family until 1971.  During prohibition not a single day was lost.  Doyle’s was a speakeasy until the glorious day in 1933 after repeal when none other than Mayor Curley personally opened Doyle’s up again “legitimately.”

Because of its authentic atmosphere Doyle’s is often used as a location for movie scenes, television commercials, and book signings.

Paddy Doyle – The God Squad.  Paddy Doyle was born in Wexford in 1951.  His mother died of cancer four years later.  His father committed suicide shortly thereafter.  Paddy Doyle was then sentenced at an Irish district court to be detained in an industrial school for eleven years.  He was just four years old.

The title of his book – the God squad – is a testament of the institutionalized Ireland of only 25 years ago, as seen through the bewildered eyes of a child.  During his detention, Paddy was viciously assaulted and sexually abused by his religious custodians.  Within three years his experiences began to result in physical manifestations of trauma.  He was taken one night to hospital and left there, never to see his custodians again.

So began his long round of hospitals, mainly in the company of dying old men, while doctors tried to diagnose his condition.  This period of his life, during which he was a constant witness to death, culminating in brain surgery at the age of 10 – by which time he had become permanently disabled.

His book is the true story of a survivor, told with a lack of bitterness for one so shockingly and shamefully treated.  In Paddy Doyle’s own words:

“It is about society’s abdication of responsibility to a child. The fact that I was that child, and that the book is about my life, is largely irrelevant. The probability is that there were, and still are, thousands of ‘me’s.'”

Doyle Names

  • JKL Doyle, the Bishop of Kildare and Leighlin in the early 19th century, was a church organizer, campaigner for Catholic emancipation, and the builder of Carlow cathedral.
  • John Doyle, better known by his pen-name H.B, was an Irish painter and political cartoonist who came to London in 1822 and made it in fashionable society there.
  • Patrick Doyle was a leading political and business figure in Newfoundland in the first half of the 19th century.
  • Dennis Doyle was a big game hunter and explorer in southern Africa in the 1880’s and 1890’s.
  • Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, born in Scotland of Irish roots, was the creator of the famous detective Sherlock Holmes.
  • Stuart Doyle founded the Australian Broadcasting Company to provide a national wireless service (it was taken over by the Australian Government in 1932).
  • Jack Doyle, known as “the gorgeous Gael,” was a well-known boxer and playboy of the 1930’s.
  • PV Doyle was a larger-than-life hotelier in Dublin in the 1970’s and 1980’s.
  • Roddy Doyle is the teacher turned author who has written such books as The Commitments. 
  • Jim Doyle is the recent Governor of Wisconsin.

Doyle Numbers Today

  • 32,000 in the UK (most numerous in Surrey)
  • 45,000 in America (most numerous in California)
  • 65,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Ireland)

Doyle and Like Surnames 

The Irish clan or sept names come through the mists of time until they were found in Irish records such as The Annals of the Four Masters.  The names were Gaelic and this Gaelic order was preserved until it was battered down by the English in the 1600’s.

Some made peace with the English.  “Wild geese” fled to fight abroad.  But most stayed and suffered, losing land and even the use of their language.  Irish names became anglicized, although sometimes in a mishmash of spellings.  Mass emigration happened after the potato famine of the 1840’s.

Some surnames – such as Kelly, Murphy and O’Connor – span all parts of Ireland.  But most will have a territorial focus in one of the four Irish provinces – Leinster, Munster, Ulster, and Connacht.

Leinster in SE Ireland covers the counties of Carlow, Dublin, Kilkenny, Offaly, Laois, Longford, Louth, Meath, West Meath, Wexford, and Wicklow.  Here are some of the Leinster surnames that you can check out.


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Written by Colin Shelley

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