Sunday, March 31, 2024

Trying to untangle the Boyles

The Newry River front light (tended by Tom Boyle?)

There have been a lack of posts here recently as I try to put some manners on the Eagle Island book so, just to give myself a break from it, I decided to try and sort out the Boyles and O'Boyles, prompted by a Facebook post from Phil Boyle.
The earliest Boyle I have is Charles Boyle, (Keeper 20) who was born in county Donegal around 1840. His father was a farmer and he joined the Ballast Board (the precursor of Irish Lights) in May 1866. He was in Mine Head in 1871, where he met his wife, Mary Power. They married in 1875 when he was stationed at Poolbeg in Dublin. He was at Drogheda East and West in 1881, on Straw Island  on the Aran Islands from at least 1882 to 1885 (with Mary as his Female Assistant) and Rotten Island in 1901. He retired to Killybegs and died in 1929.
One of his sons, Mick Boyle (144) became a keeper. Born in Mine Head in 1876, he joined the firm in 1897. One of his first stations was Eagle Island. He married Julia Kennedy from Sligo in 1903 and served at Mew Island, Fanad and the Maidens amongst others. He died in Donaghadee, three years short of retirement in 1933.

Mick Boyle and Julia

Mick and Julia had two sons who became lightkeepers. Michael Patrick Boyle (327) was born in 1908 and joined Irish Lights in 1926, serving at Sligo, Tory, Fanad and Inishtrahull, amongst others. He was known as 'Biff.' 
And Martin Anthony Boyle (351) who also seemed to end up in the northern part of the country, serving at Inisheer, Rathlin, Tory, Fanad and Inishowen. Michael joined Irish Lights in 1926 and Martin five years later.
Martin, incidentally is the only keeper I can recall off the top of my head who was ever shot. Himself and William James were duck shooting on Rathlin and, crawling through a hedge, William's gun accidentally went off, the bullet passing through Martin's wrist and into his thigh. Thankfully, he survived.
There was another keeper called Charles Boyle (314) who, based purely on his first name, may have belonged to this branch of the family. He was cerrtainly a contemporary of Michael and Martin. And Patrick James Boyle (204)  might fit in here somewhere as well.
We then travel to Malinmore near Glencolumbkille in south-west Donegal for another branch of Boyle lightkeepers. John James Boyle (261) and Patrick Francis Boyle (297) Both were musicians who played in the St. Columba's Fife and Drum Band. Their father was a carpenter and JJ was renowned for playing Irish and Scottish airs on a fiddle made by him. Both sons added the O' to their names at various times in their lives. It seems to have been optional. One joined just before WW1, one just after. The story for Patrick was that, after waiting five years to get into the service, he ended up breaking his back due to a fall during painting and retired back to Malinmore.

John James Boyle (photo courtesy Phil Boyle)

There was also a Thomas N. O'Boyle (510) who is possibly related to the two lads as there is a newspaper clipping of him getting married in 1959. The text says that he was an AK on Inishtearaght and that his father  was Sergeant John O'Boyle of Glencolumkille. It is interesting to note that Charles Boyle (20) above was born in Donegal and retired back to Killybegs, so it may well be that they are one big happy family.

Patrick Francis Boyle (photo courtesy Phil Boyle)

Peter John (PJ) O'Boyle (569) was possibly a Galway man who was 31 years a keeper before retiring from the Baily in 1996. He was a dream capture for Irish Lights, being highly-skilled in carpentry, mechanics and engineering. And also a true gentleman, by all accounts. 

PJ O'Boyle c. 1970 (photo courtesy Alex Hamilton)

A nineteen year old youth called Phil Boyle has been described as assistant keeper at Arranmore lighthouse  in the mid-1920s. As his parents lived on the island, it was more likely that he was a temporary keeper, drafted in whenever one of the two keepers was indisposed.
The story goes that, in January 1925, he was winding up the weights in the lighthouse and the chain slipped, cutting off his fingers. He was rushed to Letterkenny hospital where theuy patched him up as best they could. His mother and father collected him from the hospital and travelled back to the island aboard the Burtonport extension railway. Only it was a wild night and, crossing the Owencarrow viaduct near Creeslough, two of the carriages were blown off the track and over the edge of the viaduct. The carriages ended up hanging there but one of the roofs got ripped off and four people fell to their deaths, including Phil's parents.

The Owencarrow viaduct disaster

It may be coincidence, as there are a lot of Boyles on Arranmore, but Neil Boyle served as attendant at both  Ballagh Rocks lighthouse and Arranmore lighthouse in the first decade of the 21st century.
And Andy Newman tells me that Charlie Boyle was the attendant at Arranmore prior to that. Father of Neil?
Which only leaves us with Thomas Boyle, a 64 year old county Down native, who appears on the 1911 census as a 'Lightkeeper Under Harbour Authority' in Drummullagh, county Louth. This is interesting because Drummullagh is the townland just opposite Warrenpoint harbour and the only lights I know of 'under harbour authority' are the unique round towers in Narrow Water, just upstream from the harbour. They are more on the county Louth side than county Down. I have never heard of a keeper for these two lights. I'd like to think it was old Tom.
As per the comments below I am delighted to add that Thomas Boyle, Drummullagh, Omeath was a seaman and later a pilot for Newry. He was a son of Owen Boyle, a farmer and married Margaret O'Hagan from the same townland (whose father was also a seaman) in 1874. He died on the 16th Oct 1921 age 72.

The Newry River rear light


  1. great read well done keep up the good work

  2. Always a pleasure to take a virtual trip with you Pete, never know where it will bring you 😀
    Happy Easter and best of luck with finalising the new book

    1. Thanks Andrew. Raise a pint to the chimneys now!

  3. Thomas Boyle, Drummullagh, Omeath was a seaman and later a pilot for Newry. He was a son of Owen Boyle, a farmer and married Margaret O'Hagan from the same townland ( whose father was also a seaman ) in 1874. He died on the 16th Oct 1921 age 72.

    1. Many thanks for that. Great information. I'll add to the narrative. Am I right in thinking he probably lit and extinguished the two beacons at Narrow Water?

  4. Worked with Pj Boyle at Baily Lighthouse a Gentleman
    IF you see this Best of Luck

    1. The general consensus of opinion seems to be, yes, he was a real gentleman. Shame I don't have a better picture of him. And no, I;m not even going to attempt to sift through all the Kennedys!!!