The story of a WW1 hero who later joined the IRA

By Shane Harrison
BBC NI Dublin correspondent

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Image source, PA
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It is 100 years since World War One broke out, lasting from 1914-18

BBC News has been looking at some of the more unusual stories from World War One.

One of the most striking accounts is the story of the Irish war hero who won the Victoria Cross for outstanding acts of bravery but who later joined the IRA to fight for Irish Independence.

In recent times, New Ross in the south-east of Ireland is probably more associated with the family of former US President John Fitzgerald Kennedy than anything else.

It was from the County Wexford port that his ancestors sailed for a new life.

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Martin Doyle fought in the British Army, the IRA and the Irish Free-State Army

But it was just outside New Ross that Martin Doyle was born in 1894 and where he grew up.


He enlisted with the British army when he was 15 and saw service in India before joining the Royal Munster Fusiliers in 1914 and fighting on the Western Front.

Martin Doyle was involved in all the major battles.

He was gassed, bombed and wounded.

He won the Military Medal and the Victoria Cross, the highest and most prestigious award for gallantry in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces, for two notable acts of bravery.

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Irish military historian Ronnie Daly said Martin Doyle got a job in a military barracks and passed intelligence about British troops, transport and patrols to the IRA

He killed several German soldiers while rescuing the crew of a British tank that had come under heavy military fire.

Ronnie Daly, an Irish military historian, said: "He also attacked a barn that had a machine gun post in it with 15 Germans, killing some and capturing the rest."

The County Wexford man received his medals from the Royal Family.

'IRA intelligence'

But when the war was over and after demobilisation he returned to Ireland in 1919 and joined the Irish Republican Army in west Clare in the Irish War of Independence fighting his former comrades.

"He got a job in the local military barracks down there," says Ronnie Daly, "so, he was able to give intelligence of British troop movements, transport and patrols to the IRA".

When the truce between the two sides came in 1922 Martin Doyle sided with Michael Collins and fought against republicans in the Irish Civil War serving in the new Irish Free-State Army.

Martin Doyle, is buried in the British military cemetery in Grangegorman, near Dublin's Phoenix Park.

It is a relatively small, quiet, well-kept cemetery that is a reminder of the Irish contribution to the United Kingdom's past military campaign both at home and abroad.

Image caption,
Martin Doyle's headstone in the British military cemetery in Grangegorman, Dublin

His simple headstone was erected by former soldiers in the Munster Fusiliers.

Normally for Victoria Cross holders, their regimental emblem is removed from the stone and replaced with the Victoria Cross's.

But his is an exception, perhaps, reflecting his changing loyalties.

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