James E. Doyle and the Dublin Bay Colleen

From: Dublin Bay - A Century of Sailing,
Published by Dublin Bay Sailing Club, 1984

IN IRELAND NOWADAYS FEW have heard of James Edward Doyle, the Kingstown designer and builder of boats.

It was not always so. When Doyle died - of a coronary attack on 10 June, 1910 - many recognised that a designer of unusual distinction had passed away. In The Irish Times, the writer of his obituary notice declared that his reputation in all things concerning a boat was unassailable and that his name was known in waters thousands of miles from Dublin Bay

Certainly he was known to local yachtsmen who - particularly in the last decade of the century- saw him turn out a remarkable number of well-designed, eye-catching sailing craft - yachts of all shapes, sizes dimensions, from twenty-toners down to the [Water] Wags. In fact, in 1900, when the Wag was in some danger of extinction, it was Doyle who re-jigged the original design to produce the commodious and curvaceous Wag that is still going strong today in Dublin Bay.

James was clearly a person of consequence, considerably more so than his father, Michael, also a boat builder, who when he died in 1884 was referred to somewhat superciliously by writer in one of the yachting journals as "poor old Doyle".

A possible influence in raising Doyle above run-of-the-mill boat builders was his wife, Anne, a teacher of French and English in a local school for young ladies. It was Anne who induced and helped James to study for his qualification as a naval architect. A very formidable lady, Annie Doyle was a property-owner in her own right, an Irish speaker with pronounced Nationalist views who stood on the same political platform as Sean O hUadhaigh, the man most responsible for changing the name Kingstown to Dun Laoghaire. James preferred to steer clear of his wife's interests, concentrating on his profession, which, not withstanding his wife's politics, brought him the patronage and friendship of true-blue loyalists like Colonel Saunderson, the Unionist politician.

It was towards the end of 1896 that the Dublin Bay Sailing Club selected a design of Doyle's for the new class B boat to replace the Mermaid and the Half-Rater. Dr Wright, at a meeting of the Club, spoke enthusiastically of the design - the best of six or submitted by some of the most able and experienced designers of the day. 'They (the new boats) would sail well and present a handsome appearance... they would combine stiffness under canvas, stability, buoyancy, quick-staying powers be good boats, whether going to windward, reaching or with free sheets...they would also have the additional advantage of being Irish in design, Irish in material and Irish (he hoped) built....'

Among Doyle's family there exists a lingering belief that the original Colleen was, in fact, the person who actually designed the boat - not James himself, as was commonly believed, but his daughter, Mamie. Certainly, there is no doubt that Mamie was quite capable of having done so. It is well known that up to recent times the only woman ever known to have designed a yacht was this same Mamie Doyle of Kingstown. In 1901 there was quite a stir when her design for the Twenty Footer, Granuaile was published in one of the yachting journals. It was built, too - and acquired a successful racing record in the south of England.

What happened to Mamie Doyle after this, a most astonishing achievement for a young woman of the time? Well, she married and spent most of her life in Galway. She died as recently as 1964, having returned to the Borough on the death of her accountant husband, Charlie Tonry in 1954. Her daughter, Nan Lynch, remembers her as a happy, lively woman, full of fun and good spirits. Mamie seems to have have inherited her mother's taste for politics, falling out with her friends over the Treaty, for example.

It is probably unlikely that we will learn which of the two Doyles actually designed the Colleen, this most successful of Dublin Bay's early boats. James' own last years were spent in angry confrontation with the Kingstown Urban District Council, who were eventually to destroy his business by driving a new road, now Clarence Terrace, through his boatyard. He retained his workshop where Crawford's garage used to have their spare parts department. But in 1907, when DBSC enquired whether he could build their new Class B boat, he had to declare that his boatyard was no more.

Somewhere in the world today there may still be afloat some of Doyle's fast and beautiful boats. In Dun Laoghaire, certainly, there is one that we know of, the [Water] Wag, Coquette, which in 1982, with the late Seymour Cresswell at the helm, was judged by the DBSC committee as the best one-design boat of the season - continuing testimony to the old belief that James E. Doyle of Kingstown never built a slow boat.



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