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Unsung Irish : Martin Doyle, VC May 1, 2007

Posted by Rambling Man in The Unsung Irish.

Martin Doyle, from Gusserane, New Ross, in my home county of Wexford, was a soldier born in 1891 and at age 26, a recipient of the Victoria Cross military medal. Serving with the Royal Munster Fusiliers, he was awarded this medal for gallantry in the First World War while fighting at Reincourt, France in 1918. Up until last week I had never heard of him, yet he was born and lived not 5 miles from my home-place. It seems people didn’t talk of that time …

As a young man, Doyle enlisted in the Royal Irish Regiment and was soon drafted to India where he attended classes and training in order to better himself. At the outbreak of the Great War in 1914, he was called home and then with the Royal Dublin Fusiliers was dispatched to the French front where he was promoted to sergeant in 1915. After the Battle of Mons, now a Company Sergeant-Major and a military medal winner he transferred to the Royal Munster Fusiliers.

Doyle earned his Victoria Cross at Reincourt in September 1918 by carrying to safety a wounded soldier and helping to free a group of his men pinned down by German forces. He returned to the scene and defended a tank which was under heavy fire, subsequently taking the enemy position.

On his return to Ireland in 1919, Doyle received a warm welcome in his native New Ross. Soon thereafter he retired from the British Army and joined the IRA when the War of Independence was at its most vicious. He spent the next years fighting the crown forces in Ireland and was wounded in the arm during the Civil War – he was at the time serving with the Free State Army in the south east. He had during his military career served in the British Army, the IRA, the Free State Army and later, the regular Irish army.

Having retired from the Irish Army in 1937, he went to work for Guinness’s but died of polio at the young age of 46. He is buried in Grangegorman cemetery in Dublin.

Doyle is one of 159 Irishmen to receive the Victoria Cross and but one of 210,000+ Irish to serve. Approximately 35,000 of them didn’t come home.

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1. laurie - May 1, 2007

great post. soldier stories are always sobering. the last time i was in dublin, doug and i went to see a play at the abbey theatre called “observe the sons of ulster marching toward the somme.” it was brilliant. all those brave and scared young men.

the last line of the play was this: “they were all brave, and they all died.” and i started sobbing…

2. Rambling Man - May 1, 2007

thanks laurie – a lot of people here don’t want anything to do with the men from north and south who served and died in WWI. The country, as it was then, wasn’t divided along modern political lines so the British army was the one the majority of men volunteered into – lots of Irish men also volunteered in the Canadian and continental European forces.

3. laurie - May 1, 2007

and weren’t a lot of them pressured, too, into joining up with the brits? england had delayed home rule for ireland, but then wanted irish men to fight with them? complicated, complicated times.

4. Rambling Man - May 1, 2007

pressured might’ve been the wrong word but yes there was an element of that to it – at home there was the famous phrase “england’s disadvantage is Irelands gain” – many men thought they were fighting for home rule which was shelved at the time … however, man fought the austro-hungary-german-turk forces because they believed that was a force that should have been stopped or that would cause damage to their way of life it they hadn’t …

5. Laurie - May 1, 2007

i have to confess, when we were in england i suddenly launched into a rant about the queen. my husband had to practically stuff a napkin in my mouth to get me to shut up. it all started because i’d been reading in the london press about why the prince dumped his girlfriend. one story speculated it ws because her mother was working class. and that made me come to the brilliant conclusion that one of the main differences bewteen ireland and england was class: england is a class-based society, and ireland isn’t. and then i started thinking about how england had oppressed ireland for 800 years, and then i started my rant… ok, yes, beer was also involved….

6. Gemma - May 16, 2007

Martin Doyle was my grandad..very proud of him !!

Pat Groom - April 25, 2009

Hi Gemma, I think I’m your Aunt, Martin Doyle was my Mother’s brother, if you’d like to get in touch contact me.

7. Rambling Man - May 17, 2007

wow – thanks for looking in gemma. yes we should all be proud of him.

8. pauline - June 26, 2007

Hi message for gemma i thought that Martin Doyle might be my grandad i wonder if we are related? my dad who would be your uncle died when i was very young Lawrence Christopher Doyle. Ring any bells, hope you look in at this……

9. Padraig Ryan - July 27, 2007

Hello Gemma
I dont know if you know this but you have a lot of realations in New Ross
Martin Doyles Sister Elizabeth was my gradnmother
She was married to J Ryan (Builder)and lived at the Irishtown new Ross
There was a photo your Grandfather on the wall in her sitting room recieving his VC from Georgre the 1V
any way at a guess I would think that you have at least 100 relations in New Ross who are all proud of M Doyle
The family story is that he first joined the army on St Stephens day 1910 and that his father sold a cow to buy him out but Martin enlisted a second time

When he returned to New Ross he received a heros welcome
When he Joined the IRA I dont think he served in the served in the south east but in Co Clare

Off my head cant recall a Lawrence but the name Lawrence is in the family
I have a family tree that was done up a few years ago
I will have a look at this to see if there is any mention of him

10. Pauline Doyle - September 5, 2007

Padraig, thanks for that would love to see if we are all related, very interesting

11. Rambling Man - September 6, 2007

glad i had a little to do with putting you all in touch …

12. Gemma - September 14, 2007

Hi |Padraig…sorry not looked in for a while, be nice to hear from you. Rambling Man, do you have access to the email addrs of people posting on her ?. If so, can you pass on my email addr to Padraig ? (not really good practice to publish it on the web). If not, just post here and I’ll then have to publish my addr. Pauine, I’ll email you, pls check your trashmail as I wont be in your address book.

13. Rambling Man - September 15, 2007

hi gemma
no the site only records emails if people enter them whilst making comments … sorry

14. Gemma - September 20, 2007

oh well, here goes, hope I dont get tons of trashmail. Padraig…it’s gmwa9@hotmail.com, please email…love to hear from you, maybe arrange visit next time we are over. I have driven down to New Ross on a previous occasion to see my Grandmothers grave but didn’t know about your side of the family.

15. MATHEW O'HAGAN - January 4, 2009

hi Gemma, Padraig, Pauline, my sister is well into her geneology and we found out that Martin Doyle is a relation, one of Martins Sisters was my great grandmother …will find out which one! so it looks like we are all related! I have done some research on Martin, he appears to have joined the Army at a very young age as a proffesional soldier and seemed to love it, hence the extremely quick rise in the ranks, i think he was Company seargeant major at the age of 25. On his return he joined the ira as an intelligence officer and then as a profesional soldier in the newly formed army.

gemma - May 23, 2009

Sorry not spotted I could reply from here, please email when yoiu get a mo.

Rambling Man - May 24, 2009

matthew – gemma
nice to know you lnked up through my site … can you supply eachother with email addresses please and continue contact that way … thank you

16. Lee - March 19, 2009

Like all veterans of WW1 and those who sadly lost their lives in that conflict this brave old soldier deserves to be remembered and honoured for ever. I salute him and his comrades.

17. gemma - May 23, 2009

Hi mathew…please email me…..my address is on one of the replies, Would like to here more of anything you have discovered about your ties to my grandad.

18. Dave - January 15, 2010

He fought to free the World from German tyranny in the Great War and then fought against the British to free his own country from the tyranny of Britain. What a man, what moral courage, as an Englishman I am surprised that he is not more lauded in Eire than he is. If I had the skill I’d write his biography I.m sure it would be a bestseller in Ireland.

19. Shane - March 2, 2010

Saw this interview on irishphiladelphia.com and having had read this blog for some time I recalled this one so I figured I’d add this. Dublin-born singer in Philadelphia wrote a song called Ballad of Martin Doyle. Haven’t heard it myself yet, don’t feel like buying a whole CD for one song by an artist I don’t know. Just thought I’d pass along….

“That’s not to say Byrne had rejected the Irish sound altogether. The most autobiographical songs on his CD have a Celtic lilt and one, The Ballad of Martin Doyle, is a trad song in the making. Traditional songs were all new once, after all.

“That song came from my uncle, David O’Brien, who works with a nonprofit organization in Northern Ireland that is trying to bring communities together,” he explains. “He tells this story when he’s trying to show people from different communities that they have more in common than they have differences.”

It’s the true story of an Irishman named Martin Doyle who joined the British Army to fight in World War I, lured by the promise the British made to the Irish that if they did the patriotic thing, the British would consider home rule. After his service, for which he was highly decorated, Doyle returned to Ireland—a post-Easter Uprising Ireland, where those who were martyrs to the free Irish cause made anything British very unpopular. He and the other World War I veterans from Ireland came home to less than a hero’s welcome.

Though Doyle joined the Irish Republican Army and again fought bravely—this time against the British–at his death he chose to be buried in his British World War I uniform. “When David was telling me this story, he asked me, ‘What do you think?’ What I think is that Doyle was trying to honor the Irishmen who fought in World War I and were betrayed by both the British and their own people,” says Byrne. He chose his British uniform, as Byrne writes, because it was “the uniform of another war that treated us like men.”

His uncle encouraged him to write a song about Doyle. “Usually, I can’t just write about something, but this one just came,” he says. “

20. martin doyle - December 21, 2011


21. Marian Jacobson Schillig - February 26, 2012

Martin is also my grandfather. Gemma is my cousin. Trying to find some family history and ancestry.com. Need to pick my mom’s memory for some more information.

pAT gROOM - February 26, 2012


Serina - November 19, 2015

Hi Marian

I was wondering what if any more info you learned on Martin.
My mother-in-law was brought up with a story in her family that her dad was Martin’s son but he was raised by one of Martin’s sisters, who married a McManus and moved to Scotland, did McManus come up on your ancestry search?

Any info would be appreciated, thanks in advance

22. Pauline Scarborough - January 9, 2013

Just today visited Grangegorman cemetary for the first time and saw the grave of Michael Doyle. Absolutely fascinating story. Did he choose to be buried there?

23. Sarah Marston-Perchard - February 4, 2015

My Daughter is doing a History project on Martin Doyle as he is her Great Great Uncle, her Grandad is Martin’s Sisters Son, My Granny.
We are learning so much about this wonderful man and have been in contact with new family we didn’t know we had, my Granny would be so proud that Martin’s memory is still being kept alive three generations on by his Great Great Niece.
We hope to visit his grave and new family in Ireland later this year.

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