Republic of Ireland news

Archbishop Eamon Martin urged to support honour for WWI priest

Seamus McKinney
09 July, 2016 01:00

Archbishop Eamon Martin has been asked to support a campaign to have a priest killed in the First World War posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross.

Fr Willie Doyle, from Dalkey in Co Dublin, died during the Battle of Passchendaele on August 16 1917.

His body was never found but accounts of his courage and care for soldiers across the sectarian divide have survived.

Fr Doyle joined the British army as a chaplain to the 16th Irish Division - known as Redmond’s Volunteers, after nationalist MP John Redmond - in 1914.

While his duty was to provide spiritual support for the mainly Catholic recruits, he won praise for his work across all faiths, including Ulster Protestants.

Fr Doyle also stood out from many other First World War clergymen in that he accompanied the soldiers into battle to tend to them as they died.

Following his death, 39 men of all ranks and from different regiments campaigned to have the Jesuit priest awarded the Victoria Cross, Britain’s highest medal for bravery.

Despite citing 11 acts of courage, it is believed Fr Doyle was denied the VC merely because he was a Catholic priest.

Last month he featured in a television documentary highlighting his courage after his Rosary beads and 500 letters he sent were found in archives held by the Jesuit Order.

His cause has been championed by Co Tyrone businessman Ernest Black, who attends the Battle of the Somme commemoration in France every year.

He said it would be fitting if Fr Doyle was honoured on the centenary of his death next year.

“I know that Alan McFarland of the Somme Association is working hard on this and moves to have the VC awarded or a statue unveiled to Fr Willie Doyle are gathering pace.

"(Last) Friday, I met Archbishop Martin at the Somme. I can say his gesture in attending the commemoration was greatly appreciated by all who have honoured the Somme dead down through the years.

“I asked the archbishop if he would lend his support to the campaign because Fr Doyle is one of the great forgotten heroes of the First World War. I hope Archbishop Martin will become involved in this campaign which I think can be unifying campaign."

09 July, 2016 01:00 Republic of Ireland news