James Warren Doyle, Roman Catholic Bishop of Kildare and Leighlin, who uses the signature “JKL”, an acronym from “James Kildare and Leighlin,” dies on June 15, 1834. He is active in the Anti-Tithe movement and a campaigner for Catholic emancipation until it is attained in 1829. He is also an educator, church organiser and the builder of the Cathedral of the Assumption in Carlow.
Doyle is born close to New Ross, County Wexford in 1786, the posthumous son of a respectable Catholic farmer. His mother, Anne Warren, of Quaker extraction, is living in poverty at the time of his birth. At the age of eleven he witnesses the horrors of the Battle of New Ross between the United Irishmen and British Crown forces supplemented by the militia and yeomanry.
Doyle receives his early education at Clonleigh, at Rathconrogue at the school of a Mr. Grace, and later at the Augustinian College, New Ross under the care of an Augustinian monk, Rev. John Crane.
Doyle joins the Augustinian friars in 1805 at Grantstown, County Wexford, and then studies for his doctorate at Coimbra in Portugal (1806–08). His studies are disturbed by the Peninsular War, during which he serves as a sentry in Coimbra. Later, he accompanies the British Army with Arthur Wellesley‘s forces to Lisbon as an interpreter.
Following Doyle’s return to Ireland, he is ordained to the priesthood on October 1, 1809, at Enniscorthy. He teaches logic at the Augustinian College, New Ross. In 1813, he is appointed to a professorship at St. Patrick’s, Carlow College, holding the Chair of Rhetoric and in 1814, the Professorship of Theology.
Michael Corcoran, Bishop of Kildare and Leighlin, dies on February 22, 1819. Doyle is a popular choice of the clergy and bishops of the Archdiocese of Dublin and is chosen by the Holy See as Corcoran’s successor. He is formally named in August 1819 and is duly consecrated in Carlow Parish Church on November 14. During his fifteen-year tenure as Bishop of Kildare and Leighlin, he earns respect nationwide for his polemics in furtherance of the Catholic position in both Irish and British society, and in supporting the work of the Catholic Association. His books on pastoral, political, educational and inter-denominational matters provide a rich source of material for social and religious historians. He is a close ally of Daniel O’Connell in the political campaign for Catholic emancipation which is finally passed in 1829 by the Wellington government.
In 1830, the new tithe-proctor of Graigue, a parish of 4,779 Catholics and 63 Protestants, decides to break with the tradition of Doyle’s predecessor and to enforce seizure orders for the collection of arrears of Tithes. Tithes provide financial support of the established Anglican Church of Ireland. Some of the recalcitrant Catholics habitually transfer ownership of their livestock to Doyle in order to avoid seizure at the town fair. The new proctor requests their priest’s cooperation in handing over the assets. Doyle refuses, and the proctor, aided by the Royal Irish Constabulary, seize some of the livestock. A mass riot breaks out at the fair and there are several casualties. A civil disobedience campaign follows, peppered with sporadic violence mostly at country fairs over the seizure of livestock. A period of instability that becomes known as the Tithe War follows.
Doyle is a leader of nonviolent resistance to the Tithe, devoting himself both to strengthening the nonviolent resistance and to discouraging like paramilitary secret societies who have taken to using violence to drive out tithe-collectors and to intimidate collaborators. He says, “I maintain the right which [Irish Catholics] have of withholding, in a manner consistent with the law and their duty as subjects, the payment of tithe in kind or in money until it is extorted from them by the operation of the law.”
Given Doyle’s prior experience in education, his major contribution is arguably in helping the establishment of National Schools across Ireland from 1831, the initiative of Edward Smith-Stanley, Chief Secretary for Ireland, which are initially started with a UK government grant of £30,000. The proposed system is ahead of state provision for education in England or Scotland at that time. This Model School prototype is, in some respects, experimental. His involvement is a sign of his practicality and foresight.
Doyle makes statements on other issues: the theological status of ‘non-Catholic’ Christians, freedom to convert to Protestantism, mixed marriages and, as already mentioned, on the union of Catholics and Anglicans. On this last issue he is asked to resign by Rome and is eventually allowed to continue after agreeing not to speak on the issue again.
The construction of Carlow Cathedral of the Assumption crowns Doyle’s career, being started in 1828 and finished at the end of November 1833. He falls ill for a number of months before dying on June 15, 1834. He is buried in his new cathedral. A sculpture, by John Hogan, in memorial to Doyle is finished in 1839.
Several biographies are written on Doyle before 1900 and his influence on the later Irish Catholic bishops in the period 1834-1900 is considerable. He had proved that negotiations with government could be beneficial to his church, his congregation, and its finances.