Among the twenty commonest surnames in Ireland, the name DOYLE is borne by approximately one half of one per cent of the total population of the island today. It has always been found predominantly in south-eastern Leinster and it is there, with Dublin, that the majority of Doyles is still to be found. Doyle derives from the Irish dubh-ghall, meaning literally 'dark foreigner', but the term was applied generally to describe the Norsemen who settled on the east coast of Ireland from the 9th to the 11th centuries. This, of course, explains the commonness of the name as Doyles may descend from a number of distinct ancestors who were dubbed dubh-ghall. When the sparse Irish population began to increase it became necessary to broaden the base of personal identification by moving from single names to a more definite nomenclature. The prefix MAC was given to the father's christian name, or O to that of a grandfather or even earlier ancestor. At first the coat of arms was a practical matter which served a function on the battlefield and in tournaments. With his helmet covering his face and armour encasing the knight from head to foot, the only means of identification for his followers, was the insignia painted on his shield and embroidered on his surcoat, the draped and flowing garment worn over the armour.
A notable member of the name was John Doyle (1797-1868) the Irish political cartoonist, born in Dublin into an impoverished Roman Catholic family. He settled in England in 1821, where his loyalties were to liberal figures who brought about Catholic emancipation and reform. He revolutionized the art of caricature from the 18th century grotesques. His subjects were striking likenesses, handled with dignity, but not deference. Doyle was widowed young and brought up an artistically talented family, including Richard Doyle, and Charles, father of Arthur Conan Doyle.
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