Denis Doyle

DENNIS DOYLE FROM CUFFESGRANGE

Peter McQuillan

My story to-day is about a remarkable man from Cuffesgrange, Co. Kilkenny who emigrated to North America in the great wave of migration which followed the Great Famine of the 1840s in Ireland.
Dennis Doyle was born in 1818 and was 33 years old when he left Cuffesgrange for St. Paul, Minnesota in 1851. He was not a typical emigrant of the time, as he had been a schoolteacher in nearby Burnchurch. By an extraordinary coincidence one of his pupils in Burnchurch was a young John Ireland, later to rise to fame as Archbishop of St.Paul and one of the leading Catholic prelates of the century in North America.
Many of the frontier areas of North America had schemes to attract settlers west and, together with some others, Dennis Doyle left St. Paul and followed the newly developed Dodds Road south to Shieldsville, and onwards to undeveloped land where they carved out homes for themselves from dense forest and set about developing farms. In due time Dennis opened a shop at his home.
It was known at the time that the railway was planned to pass about a mile from Doyle’s new home and Dennis was quick enough to see that a township could develop at the point where the rail line would cross the Dodds Road. So he moved his shop there and later opened a school for 15 pupils and became its first teacher. Then in 1857 he applied to have a post office, using the name Kilkenny for the settlement. He was successful, and became the township’s first postmaster, a position he held for 31 years.
The first indoor religious services in the area were held in his house when missionary priests came from Shieldsville to celebrate Mass and people came from all around to receive the sacraments. When he married Catherine Raway, a native of France, it was the first marriage celebrated in the community. The local church and school bear the name St. Canice’s to this day.
Dennis was also active in politics. He was the first Township Clerk in Kilkenny, later he was Commissioner for Le Souer County and in 1868 served a term as State Representative. After this he was known as ‘Honourable Dennis Doyle’ until he died.
A letter which he wrote in 1857 to his brother and sister has survived. It is long, and beautifully written in elegant handwriting. He tells of the Civil War and rues the lives lost, the damage done and the huge cost, and as he says ‘all for nothing’, as he did not believe the South would ever join the Union. He tells of the revolt of the frontier Indians and the devastation this caused. He had to move his family 60 miles away and come back to fight the Indians, many of whom were killed or hanged. As he wrote the letter there were 5,000 braves only 70 miles away. He bemoaned the fact that the army, which should have been protecting them, was down south fighting what he considered ‘a fratricidal war to free the negroes’, for all of which he puts the blame on Abraham Lincoln and his Republican Party. He enquires about his family and the friends of his youth and wants to know who is still alive. Although he was then only 45, he had left home in the wake of the famine when many lives were short.
He says he holds no office now save Postmaster, Notary Public, Justice of the Peace and School Examiner. “I mind my own business and it pays better…I work hard and I have excellent health”. And so he had – he lived until 1902 and is buried in Kilkenny, Mn. far from the graveyard in Cuffesgrange where his parents lie.
A postscript: On St Patrick’s Day this year, Dennis Doyle’s great great great grandson, Kevin Taafe, current Mayor of Kilkenny, Mn., and his wife were on the reviewing stand for the parade here as guests of Mayor Ó hArgáin. The two Kilkennys have now been formally linked.
Mayor Taafe’s grandmother, Mae Zellmer Mach, has written a history of their home town, called “Remember When”, from which and from J.H. Moynihan’s Life of Archbishop John Ireland the notes for this piece were taken. Both these books are in the KAS library in Rothe House.