Academic who pioneered teaching of American history

David Doyle: December 22nd, 1944 - May 3rd, 2015

The University College Dublin historian David Doyle, who has died aged 70, pioneered the teaching of American and Irish-American history at the university and was one of the leading authorities on that history.

His colleagues described him as an extremely kind and generous person with both his time and his very extensive scholarly knowledge. They noted his range of interests and capacity for making unusual connections among politics, religion, education and culture, particularly between Ireland and America.

David Doyle lived in Drumcondra and Skerries in Co Dublin until the age of eight, when the family moved to Whitehead, Co Antrim. His father, Conan, worked in sales and his mother, Eileen Dempsey, was a civil servant before her marriage.

He attended Our Lady of Lourdes Primary School, Whitehead and received his secondary schooling at St Malachy’s in Belfast, where he was a keen debater and also academically successful.


His university education began at Queen’s University, Belfast, where he took a BA in history and geography. In a period of increasing political and sectarian tension, his North/South background enabled him to bridge the gaps between different groups. This gave rise to friendships, continuing throughout his life, with people in significant positions in Northern educational and academic life.

He decided to specialise in history and went to the US for further study, taking his master's degree at Marquette University, Milwaukee, where his thesis on the decade of American expansion, 1890-1901, focused on American Catholics, racism and imperialism.


His PhD at the University of


in Iowa City concentrated on the same decade but this time analysed the structures, divisions and attitudes of Irish-Americans towards Native Americans and national empires. His work on Irish-America reflected the scholarly broadmindedness he had become noted for at Queen’s.

He spent the academic year 1972-73 lecturing at Loyola University in Chicago and then took up an appointment at UCD, where he was to spend the rest of his career, rising from lecturer to associate professor. He taught courses in Irish-American history, American history, and democracy and Christianity in the 19th and 20th centuries.

His major publications were Irish-Americans, Native Rights and National Empires 1890-1901 (1976); Ireland, Irishmen and Revolutionary America 1760-1820 (1981); (eds.), The Encyclopedia of Irish-America (2000, with Michael Glazier et al) and Irish Immigrants in the Land of Canaan: Letters and Memoirs from Colonial and Revolutionary America 1678-1815 (2003; with Kerby A Miller et al). He contributed "The Irish in North America 1776-1845" and "The Remaking of Irish-America 1845-80" to the New History of Ireland, volumes V and VI.

He met his future wife, Kathy Cleary from Yonkers, New York, when they were both studying at the University of Iowa and they married in August 1969.

He lived in Ballinteer, which he loved because of its views of and closeness to the Dublin mountains. Walking in the Dublin and Wicklow mountains or at the seaside in Skerries, where he grew up, always refreshed his spirits.

He is survived by his widow, Kathy, sons Colin, Matthew, Stephen and Gregory, sisters Felicity and Marian, and brothers Gréagóir, Jim, Raphael, Malachy and Mícheál.