Colonel E.D. Doyle (1919-2009)

Professor Eunan O’Halpin of Trinity College Dublin has kindly allowed us to reproduce his memorial to Colonel E.D. Doyle who passed away last week.

Ned Doyle was the first Research Associate in the Centre for Contemporary Irish History in 2003. He gave freely of his vast experience, knowledge and insight, not only of military affairs but of Irish life, during and after the weekly seminars. He did this in the most self-effacing way, and it was sometimes hard to get him to talk about his own experiences, as opposed to events of which he was an observer. In 2006 he gave a brilliant presentation on aspects of signals traffic during the Second World War from an Irish perspective: I particularly recall his use of a morse trainer key to show just how individual operators developed their own distinctive ‘hand’. In the same year, he made a pithy and timely comment during a witness seminar involving relatives of 1916 veterans (his father had fought in Dublin), cutting into a rather inconsequential tour de table on the justification or otherwise of rebellion by saying: ‘At some point you had to fight to get them out’. This drew unprecedented applause and got us off the ‘what ifs’. Despite intermittent health problems, he attended many of the seminars in 2008/9 and when asked he always had something of value to say.

Ned had a very distinguished military career which owed nothing to patronage, class or political connections. He grew up in poor circumstances in hard times. His father was a gas company worker widowed when Ned, the eldest child, was only nine: at a seminar dealing with public health last year Ned spoke movingly of how close he had been to her and of what a catastrophe her early death had been for him. In about 1936 Ned secured a trainee clerical position in the Post Office through open competition. There he discovered an aptitude for telegraphy which was to be central to his metamorphosis from telegraph boy and part-time member of the Volunteer Corps c. 1938, to full-time private soldier to commissioned officer and eventually to Director of the Signals Corps. During the Emergency he studied at night or when off duty, cycling in from Baldonnell at the end of his shift to attend classes in Kevin Street. He ultimately qualified as a chartered engineer.

Ned Doyle was also by far the best commentator on international military affairs writing in the Irish media in my lifetime. As recently as last year he was a regular attender at seminars in the Institute of Strategic Studies in London, and he continued to read, to learn and to reflect until the end. His contributions in The Irish Times, initially at the invitation of his great friend Douglas Gageby, were clear, measured, well-informed and incisive. The somewhat inaccurate news story of his death in that paper’s Wednesday edition mentions particularly his work on the first Gulf war, but I think  that his writing on the breakup of Yugoslavia was particularly acute. He dissected and explained the abject failure of the UN and the EU to match rhetoric with decisive action in instances such as the shelling of Sarajevo and the slowly unfolding disaster of Srebrenica, while his appreciation of Russian concerns and mentality, and his long experience of United Nations involvements in inter-ethnic conflicts, meant that his commentaries were always both informed and balanced.

We shall all miss him.

Eunan O’Halpin

Professor of Contemporary Irish History

Trinity College

Dublin 2

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