Evelyn: Changing The Law In Ireland - A DOYLE VICTORY

A DOYLE VICTORY (Illustration) Civil Rights Film History Social Studies Trials Tragedies and Triumphs Law and Politics

St. Joseph's Industrial School, in Letterfrack (County Galway), was one of the places where children were detained when their families could not care for them.  It opened in 1887 and closed in 1974.  The Committee investigating child abuse in Industrial Schools found that of the 2,819 boys who had passed through Letterfrack, about 147 had died there.  Some of the boys endured beatings with a horse whip.  Image online, courtesy Ireland's Child Abuse Commission.  PD


T.J. Conolly and his team argued Doyle v Ireland to the country's Supreme Court located (in 1955) at Dublin's Four Courts (along Inns Quay).

While the family was still together, Des sometimes took Charlotte and the children to the place he loved most as a boy: "Strawberry Beds," an area west of Dublin along the Liffey River. During the various Supreme Court hearings, when Des needed to think, he went back to the Strawberry Beds. There he contemplated what to do if the court ruled against him.

The day of decision finally arrived, in December of 1955. Waiting for the Justices to read their opinion, Evelyn and her father walked walked along St. Stephen's Green, near the court house and TJ Conolly's office. They saw Ha'penny Bridge which crosses the River Liffey.

It was a difficult wait. Just before lunch, the Chief Justice had addressed the court. He observed how serious it is to invalidate a law "that contained provisions which, if they stood alone, would be quite in accord with the Constitution."

When court finally reconvened, Justice O'Dalaigh spoke first. He rejected the government's argument that Article 42 of the Constitution did not apply to broken families:

...desertion on the part of a mother without just cause leaves the authority of the family unimpaired and in no way diminishes the parental right with regard to the education of the children.

So far, so good. Then the Chief Justice issued the words Des Doyle had longed to hear:

...Section 10 of the Children Act is invalid as being repugnant to the Constitution, inasmuch and insofar as it deprives a parent with whose consent a child has been sent to a certified industrial school of the right to resume control of that child so as to provide for its education when that parent is willing and able to do so.

Not only did Des win, the Supreme Court also ordered the government to "pay to the said Desmond Doyle his costs of the case stated."

Waiting outside the courtroom was Denis Larkin, the Lord Mayor of Dublin. Offering his Rolls Royce to Des, he said:

Congratulations, Mr. Doyle! My car is at your disposal. Shall we go and collect your daughter now?

Evelyn, and her brothers, were reunited with their joyous father. It was the first time anyone had successfully mounted a constitutional challenge to an Irish statute involving children.

Was Evelyn as excited as her father about the Court's decision? Fifty years later, in her book, she observes:

I said I was happy, though I didn't know if I was or not.

As she climbed into the Mayor's Rolls:

I clutched my rosary tightly and asked Our Lady to leave the convent with me. (Tea and Green Ribbons, page 240.)

Many people had the impression that the Court's decision in the Doyle case would also free all the other children who were forced to attend industrial schools.

They were mistaken.

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Author: Carole D. Bos, J.D. 5190stories and lessons created

Original Release: Dec 01, 2002

Updated Last Revision: Apr 30, 2019

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