Hi, it is the boy from Barrystown, glorious, resplendent, triumphal, accomplished, non-conceited, humble, inspiring and inspired, innovative, original, a right boyo, blessed among women, historian supreme, and a stellar talent as St Kevin of Kilcavan prophesised. I could write a thousand books about myself if I were a braggart but a native of Bannow never brags—recording the truth is a different matter.
Lloyd-George’s wife said during the World War I that Lord Kitchener, when he spoke, was like a light-house illuminating all about it, over an enormous area, momentarily—before all returned to darkness. The reports in olden newspapers about how Arthur Conan Doyle was the son or grandson of a Doyle of Kilcavan are of a similar scope: on initial reading one feels that all is explained and then later one feels that it is not.
On December 26th 1903 The People in a long article on Bannow broke forth in illumination equivalent to that of the Hook light-house:–
“It is a remarkable fact, too, that the father of Sir Conan Doyle was a native of Bannow and his family for generations resided near Kilcavan. In “Who’s Who” I find the following description of him:–
“Arthur Conan Doyle, novelist; born in Edinburgh, 22nd May 1859; son of Charles Doyle, artist; nephew of Richard Doyle of “Punch”, grandson of John Doyle (famous as H. B., the caricaturist); educated at Stoneyhurst and Edinburgh University. Practised as doctor at Southsea, 1882—90; travelled Arctic regions, West Coast of Africa, etc. M. D. (Edinburgh).
By the way, the celebrated “Dickey Doyle” of Punch was, also, of the Bannow family.”
To paraphrase somebody or other, the above is as clear as mud but other sources do seem to indicate that Arthur Conan Doyle had antecedents at |Kilcavan. Maybe some of my millions of readers will illuminate this matter.
Doyle believed in the fairies and became the victim of a hoax, carried out by two children, in which photographs of dolls—suspended by strings— were shown to him as fairies or something like that: those who want to believe in fairies and ghosts will find proof as a matter of inevitability. Their determined gullibility invites hoaxes and they never learn.
Medicine in Doyle’s time was often gruesome: in my next blog I intend to quote a letter written, on the 24th of August 1836, by Dr Richard Long M. D. Arthurstown Dispensary and Fever Hospital, on his treatment of a girl, aged 13 years, with hydrophobia, or rabies; the disease was bad but the remedies devised look like something prescribed on the hobs of hell.
The concluding part of the obituary on Tom Boyse in the Wexford Independent on the 21st of January 1854 sketched the early life of a local poet, or aspiring poet.
After relating that Tom Boyse had repeatedly turned down offers to represent the Co. Wexford in Parliament and to become a member of the House of Lords it continued:
“His only ambition was to fight the political battles of his country—to reward modest merit—and prevent, as far in him lay, many an intellectual flower from being
—————born to blush unseen
And waste its sweetness on the desert air.
We give one instance out of many. Having heard that there was a poor schoolmaster’s son living in a neighbouring village, who exhibited much evidence of talent, but whose father was unable to pay for him at a proper school, in order to its cultivation—he sent for he boy—found, after testing him, the rumour well founded—placed him at St Peter’s College and promised to raise him ultimately to that position which his future progress might warrant. This lad was Martin Mc Donnell Doyle, the poet. Unfortunately for himself, he was only a poet—“lisped in numbers”, like Pope, lived only in regions of fancy and could not bring himself down to the stern realities of life. Poor Doyle could never jump the pons assinorum in science, or grasp the meaning of a sentence in Sallust or Lucian; and having given up the pursuit of literature as the means to an end of any useful profession, was finally placed by Thomas Moore in a subordinate situation in the Dublin Stamp Office. On the occasion of the Irish Anaereon’s visit to Bannow in 1835, the young aspirant after Parnassian honors, thus sung of his Mæcenas:–
“Lone, pining in her dark retreat,
A nameless, friendless thing she grew,
Wild as the wild flow’rs at her feet,
As simple and as lowly too.
In sooth she was a lonesome muse,
And few would care to list her voice,
Till as she sung of Ireland’s woes,
She touched the manly heart of Boyse”
[pons assinorum in translation from the Latin means the bridge of the asses: Brother Tom Mc Donagh—now in the heavenly mansions—told us at school that a particular theorem in the geometry was so named as the weaker students always failed at it, never in a manner of speaking crossed it.]
According to the report of Moore’s visit to Bannow in August 1835:–
“All the addresses having been read and answered a young man named Martin M’c Donald Doyle, of the parish of Tintern, was introduced to Mr Moore by his friend and neighbour, Mr John M’Brien, as a humble follower in the train of the Pierian Maids. He told Tom Moore—
“It is unnecessary for me here to expatiate on his merits—your honourable friend and his kind patron (pointing to Mr Boyse), who knows how to appreciate them, will speak to you of him as he deserves”
Young M’c Donald Doyle then stepped forward and read the poetry that he had composed to welcome Moore; the report added:–
“The production of the youthful minstrel was listened to with profound attention and rewarded with the most gratifying applause and approbation of all present. Mr Moore immediately took him by the hand, shook it with great heartiness and said—“I am happy to meet such a brother poet here; it is the first time we have met, it must not be the last.”
I would describe the poetry composed by young M’Donald Doyle for Moore’s visit as accomplished, even if it lacked star quality; the vocabulary is wide and there are pedantic allusions; the final stanza is promising, even a trifle eloquent:–
“Oh! long shall Bannow’s unborn race
As countless ages roll along
In Bannow’s rural records trace
This visit of “The Child of Song”
Then pardon this untutored lay
And deign t’accept his humble thanks
Who rhyming in his brainsick way’,
Thus welcomes thee to Bannow’s banks.”
The usual spelling of his name was M’Donald Doyle; in that era “Mc” was give as M’. I assume that his mother was a Mc Donald; the inclusion of the mother’s name usually only occurred if the mother was a rich or famous person or came of such a family. The indications are that young Doyle was of a poor family so the construction of his name is a mystery. I doubt if he was an ancestor, direct or otherwise, of the boy from Barrystown.
The Wexford Independent on January 25th 1840 published a poem entitled “Bannow’s Banks” by Martin M’Donald Doyle, then resident in Dublin and presumably working in the Stamp Office. He explicitly states that Boyse had encouraged his Muse, or gift of poetry.
According to the People on July 30th 1938 Tom Boyse sometimes when in Wexford town lodged at Mr N. Sparrow’s in the Bull Ring. That is where he went at the time of Moore’s visit.
Tom Boyse headed the list of subscribers to the fund for “The O’Connell Monument” published in The Wexford Guardian on November 20th 1847—he gave ten pounds. Every child knows that Dan O’Connell won Catholic Emancipation in 1829 and was ever after referred to by the soubriquet “The Liberator”
Another great cause of O’Connell was the campaign against the tithes—the levy on all arable crops of one tenth value payable to the Protestant rector by all, Catholic and Dissenter as well as Protestant. Tom Boyse won stellar fame for his speeches in that campaign. On the 27th of June 1836 The Wexford Independent observed—
“On Sunday next, the great meeting on Coppenagh Hill in the County Kilkenny, will take place, at which Mr Boyse, in consequence of its being on his family property and in obedience to the call of the sovereign people, will preside.” At that meeting Tom Boyse jested about the part of the people of the Co. Wexford that had not come; there were an estimated 250,000 people present.
The Wexford Independent on January 3rd 1849 related—“Upwards of twenty years ago, he [Mr Boyse] received the Royal Dublin Society’s gold medal, as a good and improving landlord.”
From the Wexford Independent 25th February 1835:-
On Tuesday last in the chapel of Ballymitty, by the Rev. Peter Corish, Mr John Pettit of Hilltown, to Kate, youngest daughter of the late Mr C. O’Brien of Coolbroook, in this county.”
From The People 25th November 1891:–
Breen—November 18 at Dublin, James Breen, eldest son of John Breen, Carrig, aged 20 years. Funeral will reach Wexford at 10 am on to-day (Saturday) for interment in Bannow. Deeply regretted by a large circle of friends. American papers please copy.”
If American papers are asked to copy that indicates relatives in America.
In August 1836 the Lord Lieutenant Mulgrave (Harry Constantine) came on a glorious tour of the Co. Wexford and tens of thousands of people poured into the roads to see and follow him. In Jamaica he had abolished slavery and his agenda in Ireland was that of reform favourable to the Catholic community; he detested the Orange Order and removed all members of it from public positions. Dan O’Connell’s visit in 1838 was, also, triumphal but in terms of the popular excitement and intense emotions Mulgrave’s visit was matched only by that of Jack Kennedy in June 1963. The inhabitants of Wexford town “with one spontaneous accord, illuminated their houses, in honour of His Excellency’s visit…..St Peter’s College, situated on an elevation in our vicinity, presented a magnificent coup d’œil from the town, there being nearly two thousand lights emblazoning this splendid establishment.”
At the conclusion of his address to the gathering of dignitaries in Wexford town Mulgrave gave the toast—“The Ladies of Ireland”; there followed a general cry for Tom Boyse of Bannow to reply to the toast; Mr Boyse said that he could not understand why he was so called rather than one of the other gentlemen who surrounded him “but particularly in one, he meant, in possessing the enviable privilege of greener years [a younger man, that is!]”. He later stated, in relation to his advancing years:–
“But the snows of time are fast thickening upon my temples and its accursed frost is fast cooling the ardour of a temperature, which for half a century or so, has freely recognised the rightful supremacy of the sex over the heart, aye, and over the understanding of man.”
[a covering of frost was a common metaphor for one’s hair going grey in that era].
This is a puzzling statement by Tom Boyse: if he had been of so a high a temperature in his urge towards women why did he not get married until the 6th of January 1846, when he married the widow of Caesar Colclough, the former Jane Kirwan, the daughter of a Dublin barrister? She left him after three months and later liaised with a French man, in the best modern way. When Tom Moore came to Bannow in 1835, he depicts Boyse, in his diary, as a trifle uneasy, dancing with the local maidens. Did Tom Boyse have a previous marriage, which possibly broke up? Did he have a series of girls and that is why the assembled notables in Wexford called, in unison, on him to address the toast to the ladies? I am, frankly, puzzled as to why Boyse was called upon to address the toast. He certainly waxed eloquently about the ladies:–
“Without them the world would be a wilderness, a solitude, an earth without a sun—an earthy from which I should not care how soon some locomotive magic were to bear me away on the vaporous wings of steam; or by some less tardy conveyance to become the denizen of some more favoured planet. (Cheers). But as things are at present, I am in no hurry to go (much laughter). For—
As long as this world have such eloquent eyes,
As those which before this moment I see;
They may talk, as they will of their orbs in the skies
But this earth’s the planet for you love! And me.
(Here Mr Boyse pointed to a lovely girl in the gallery which caused much laughter). Gentlemen, His Excellency has travelled, he has looked upon the beauties of other climes—and, although, he has not yet reached to other planets, he has visited another hemisphere of our own mores hominum multorum vidit—et mulierum. But, with all possible deference, I would invite His Excellency to bring before us if he will, one of the dusky daughters of Jamaica and a more classically moulded damigella from the banks of Arno, I will place beside these outlandish loves, a thorough bred “alien” Irish lassie (applause). Then, gentlemen, we may submit their rival pretensions to the proverbially impartial umpirage of our illustrious Guest and I think, I know, to which of the three, His Excellency, would award the golden apple, at least, if “Detar Digniori” be made the canon of adjudication (Loud Cheers).”
The reference to Mulgrave in Jamaica may have been a rhetorical ploy to focus attention on his reforming record there, particularly his freeing of the slaves, a core principle of the Liberal canon. The sentiments and the ornate language plus the possibly chivalric nature of Tom Boyse’s address on the ladies reflected the attitude of men towards women in that era: such an address, if uttered today, might incur a feminist censure. That mode of mawkish praise of women would in latter times seem inappropriate—maybe that is why Tom Boyse failed for so long to find a partner, a spouse and that when he did find one, she went away so quickly!
James Tenison Edwards, the agent to the Boyse estate, died at Bannow House on the 30th day of November 1885 and does not seem to have made a will or last testament. Major Henry Arthur Hunt Boyse became the Administrator of the estate of the Mr Edwards; he was granted Letters of administration on the 31st of March 1886. Thomas Boyd & Son, New Ross, Solicitors for Major Boyse on the 3rd of April 1886 publicly announced that they would distribute the assets of the deceased among the parties thereto entitled on the 15th of July 1886 “having regard only to the claims of which notice and particulars shall have been given to us as above required.” I presume that this Boyd was related to the Dr Boyd who had served at Bannow previously.