Castleknock College Union
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John Doyle, CM - SVC 1952-66 & 1985-06

1926 - 2006

May 7, 2006
John Doyle, CM - SVC 1952-66 & 1985-06 -


John entered St Joseph’s in 1944, and I followed in 1946. He had two years over me in seniority and two inches over me in height. He was the tallest confrere in my time, and it seems to have been a sensitive point with him. Perhaps he had been teased about it at school. A common form of lightly teasing a tall boy was to enquire “Is it cold up there?”. In May of 1950, coming to the end of the first year of Glenart, the students were up in Clonliffe for the various orders. They came out to The Rock for lunch, and were greeted in front of the house by Fr Johnnie O’Connell, the superior. I happened to be near by when Johnnie asked John if he was up for minor orders. The Dublin ears were obviously not tuned to the Cork lilt, and I distinctly heard John answer “Six foot two, Father”. Incidents like that remain in my memory, and clearly in the memories of others as well, but while they are characteristic of John they do not define him.

He was from Phibsboro and had been an altar boy in St Peter’s, and was proud of his provenance. He was educated by the Christian Brothers at St Vincent’s, Glasnevin.

As he was two years ahead of me we were not together in the seminaire, but we had one year together in St Joseph’s before he moved on to Glenart, and it was really not until we were together as students there that I got to know him well.

A lasting memory is of John assisting in the laborious process of producing Evangelizare twice a year on the Gestetner duplicating machine. He did a lot of the “art and graphic design” element of the magazine, cutting into the wax sheet stencil with a stylus. A cousin of his told me once that John’s father had been a very skilled architect, so perhaps heredity was coming out in the Evangelizare office. I used to be amazed to see that as his hand approached the wax sheet it had “the shakes”, but as soon as the stylus touched the sheet his hand was absolutely steady. Perhaps that could be interpreted as a sort of parable of his life. He tended to be apprehensive in the lead-up to something, but once into it the trepidation seems often to have disappeared.

Our director in Glenart at the time was Joe Cullen, an enthusiastic bridge player. In the isolation of Glenart in August he used to long for a game, and enquired if any students knew how to play. John was one such, and made up a four with Joe many times. I believe he continued his interest in the game all through his life.

He did an honours degree in History and Latin, and after ordination went on to get an MA in history. He did not write a thesis in the ordinary sense, but edited the Letter Book of the Confederation of Kilkenny. I am not aware, and this could be sheer nescience on my part, of his ever having contributed to any historical journal. His only contributions to Colloque were his obituaries on Frank Maher and his brother Gerald. He wrote a short story for Evangelizare, which was set in France. This setting was an odd choice as he had never been there and had not done French at school. In spite of his interest in history he did not venture on to the continent for very many years; perhaps the apprehension and trepidation elements were in play. As far as I know, he never tackled any foreign language. But it was not surprising that he chose to write a short story, for he was an avid reader of fiction, particularly detective fiction. I remember being amazed at how much of it he got through, and how quickly. He also seemed to know quite a lot about the authors. Another genre of fiction in which he was interested was ghost stories, and I think he used to make up and tell some to the boys in free classes. I wonder what his own reaction would have been had he ever encountered a spectre!

I phoned my brother Brian, who had been in John’s classes, to ask how the boys rated John. His response was immediate and spontaneous: “Fantastic. We thought him great”. John had had experience of how a Christian Brother ruled a class, and he would not tolerate any messing in class. “Messing” was an indefinable misdemeanour, but well understood by a prefect of studies or dean. If a boy was veering towards the frontier of “going too far” John would point a minatory finger at him and say “One more crack like that out of you…”, with the final syllable prolonged. The boys picked up on expressions like that, or the introductory formula “Listen here till I tell you…”, which I often heard him use at table or in the community room.

There was a short period in Castleknock when boys from different years wrote and produced stage sketches, and John was in some way in overall charge. On one occasion, about ten minutes before the curtain went up, Michael Walsh, the president, said to John “I hope there are no references to the confreres in these things”. John was flabbergasted, and when recounting the interlude later put his hand over his face and uttered a favourite expletive “Crimers!”, the etymology of which I have never traced. His problem was, of course, that many of the sketches relied heavily for the laughs on references to the Vins, but John gambled, correctly, on the probability that the president would not get many of the cracks.

After he was moved to Strawberry Hill, to teach history, I had very little contact with him, and by the time I was appointed there John had moved on again. He had two superiorships which anecdotal lore would seem to suggest were not the happiest of times.

In his final years, back in Castleknock, I met him many times. In March 1990 the first section of the M50 was opened, and on the day before the official opening the new West Link bridge over the Liffey was open to pedestrians. I went for a walk with John across the new bridge, and we reminisced about previous walks together from The Rock and Glenart forty years previously.

Tom Davitt CM

Date of Birth: 6th October 1926
Entered the CM: 7th August 1944
Final Vows: 8th September 1946
Ordained Priest: 25th May 1952 in Holy Cross College, Clonliffe by Dr John Charles McQuaid, Archbishop of Dublin.

1952-1966 St Vincent’s College, Castleknock
1966-1973 St Mary’s, Strawberry Hill
1973-1976 St Patrick’s, Armagh – President
1976-1985 St Patrick’s, Drumcondra – President
1985-2006 St Vincent’s College, Castleknock
Died: 7th May 2006
Buried: Glasnevin