Archie Doyle, one of three anti-Treaty members of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) who assassinated the Irish Minister for Justice Kevin O’Higgins, is born on September 29, 1903. He has a long subsequent career in the organisation’s ranks.
Doyle fights in the Irish War of Independence (1919-21) and takes the anti-Treaty side in the Irish Civil War (1922-23), and is subsequently interned among numerous others. Together with two fellow-detainees, Timothy Coughlin and Bill Gannon, he takes part in forming a secret “vengeance grouping.” The three vow that once free of imprisonment they will take revenge on their opponents, whom they consider traitors to the Irish cause.
Most such private revenge pacts are broken up by the IRA leadership when it reorganises following 1924, but Doyle and his two fellow conspirators persist and carry through their deadly aim. On July 10, 1927, the three surprised O’Higgins on his way to Mass at the Booterstown Avenue side of Cross Avenue in Blackrock, Dublin, and shoot him down.
O’Higgins is especially hated by IRA members for having ordered the executions of seventy-seven of their fellows during the Civil War, an act for which he outspokenly takes responsibility and refuses to express any remorse. Moreover, he is a dominant member of the Irish Free State government and the conspirators have good reasons to believe that his death would weaken it.
The three make their escape and are not apprehended. However, Timothy Coughlin is shot to death by police informer Sean Harling on the night of January 28, 1928, on Dublin’s Dartry Road, under circumstances which remain controversial up to the present. A second IRA man is known to have been with Coughlin that night, in surveillance of Harling’s home, and escapes unharmed. It is believed that Doyle is that second man, though this point, as many other details of this still rather mysterious affair, remains not quite certain.
Doyle is among the beneficiaries of the amnesty issued by Éamon de Valera when he comes to power in 1932, under which numerous IRA men are released from prison and the charges against others dropped. In later times Doyle openly admits his part in the killing of O’Higgins, and indeed takes pride in it, without fear of prosecution.
With the end of the IRA’s alliance with de Valera and the increasing confrontation between them, Doyle, now a veteran highly respected in the IRA circles, becomes deeply involved in the organisation’s 1940s campaigns. Harry, the memoirs of IRA man Harry White, make repeated admiring references to “Archie Doyle of Dublin, the Tan War veteran who had fought through it all.”
During the IRA’s Northern campaign, Doyle is said to have participated in the abortive raid on the British barracks at Crossmaglen, County Armagh, on September 2, 1942, in retaliation for the execution of Tom Williams earlier that morning. The IRA unit, some twenty men in a commandeered lorry and accompanying car, is discovered by a passing Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) patrol near the village of Cullaville. Doyle is mentioned in White’s memoirs as having “jumped out of the car, Thompson in hand, and started shooting at the RUC.” Since the element of surprise is lost, the attack on the barracks has to be cancelled.
A week later, on September 9, White mentions Doyle as having commanded the assassination of Sergeant Denis O’Brien, Irish Special Branch detective and himself a former IRA man, near Dublin. It is a highly controversial affair, opposed by the IRA GHQ in Belfast as damaging to the Northern campaign, and precipitates a massive manhunt by the Irish police. It is IRA Chief of Staff Charlie Kerins who is caught two years later, charged with the O’Brien assassination and eventually executed for it. White, however, claims that it is Doyle who actually commands that action, on Kerins’s orders. Doyle, who openly spoke of his part in killing O’Higgins, seems far more reticent about this part of his career.
In 1943 Doyle is assigned as the IRA’s Quartermaster General in Belfast.
On July 1, 1943, Doyle is mentioned as having participated, together with Kerins and with Jackie Griffith, in an operation of “fund-raising” for the hard-pressed IRA (i.e., robbery). The three men arrive on bikes at the gates of Player Wills factory on the South Circular Road, Dublin, and with scarves around their faces stop at gunpoint a van loaded with some £5,000 for wages, and drive away with the van and the money.
Griffith is shot down by the police in Dublin less than a week later, in what is charged to be an extrajudicial assassination, and Kerins is caught in 1944 and executed, becoming a major IRA martyr. Doyle, however, continually survives decades of a very dangerous way of life and manages to die of old age. He dies in St. James’s Hospital in Dublin in 1980.