Thursday, October 13, 2011

Irish Custer Writer Discovers 7th Cavalry Ancestor!

Michael Doyle & Mary Clarke 1884 Wedding

The Curragh, County Kildare - It’s who you are. Your blood, your genes and, some would say, your personality I can be influenced by your ancestors, the family members that came before you. It should be essential knowledge for anyone to have and yet there is hesitancy by many to undertake what seems an onerous task. However, it’s never been easier to uncover the past.

To see what brought me to this stage in my life, I endeavored to retrace a path far beyond the point of my birth, even beyond the birth of my grandparents. In centuries past when life itself was an adventurous struggle, I sensed that whatever I found out about my ancestors would be fascinating. And so it turned out to be…with a twist!

As a resident of Ireland , I had the advantage of my geographical location to trace the Doyle’s on my father’s side and the Lalor’s on my maternal side using first hand sources, although on-line resources are almost as definitive. However, there is something mesmerizing about turning the page on a 200-year old baptismal register and seeing the neat calligraphy-like writing of a priest recording the baptism of your great, great-grandfather.

Some parishes allow visitors with prior notice to view the original transcripts. However, if that fails, the National Library of Ireland is the fulcrum of all genealogical research for professionals and amateurs alike.

Most parish records have been transferred to microfiche and are readily accessible in the magnificent building located beside the Irish Parliament in Dublin.  Far from being a difficult task, I loved becoming an investigator, delving into the lives of people that I knew little about but who made me the person I am.

So where did the journey bring me? The Doyle’s originally hailed from Aghowle, a townland on the border between Counties Carlow and Wicklow, before two of the sons moved north to Baltinglass, twenty miles away.  One of the brothers, Michael, established a hardware store and hotel in 1881;  Premises that remained in my family until my father’s recent retirement saw it sold. 

On The Left 

Michael Doyle's Hotel & Hardware Store
Baltinglass, Co. Wicklow 1912
Courtesy of Robert Doyle


On The Right 
Horans Pub

as it is today on Main St, Baltinglass Co. Wicklow! 

Adventurers on the Doyle side? 

It just so happens that my great, great grandfather on my grandmother’s side, Patrick Colgan, fought in the Crimean War as a sergeant-major in the 19th Foot Infantry Regiment. He saw combat in all the major battles of the campaign and survived to continue his service in India . His son then also joined the British Army and fought in the Boer War. You could have knocked me over with a feather such was my shock at uncovering this but there was even more stunning information to be uncovered.
F. Otto Becker's colorful 1896 lithograph of "Custer's Last Fight

Since I was a small boy, I have always had a keen interest, some would say obsession, with Custer’s Last Stand and the Irish who fought in the 7th US Cavalry. I have been researching the life of Myles Keogh, Custer’s only Irish-born officer, for decades and I even visited the battlefield in Montana during a trip to America . An unexplained fascination…until now.

North Dakota Historical Society
Myles Keogh (bottom step, just left of center) with a group of officers of the 7th Cavalry. 

Stepping back through my mother’s family tree brought me to a William Lalor from Co. Laois - my great, great-grandfather. Although he never left Ireland , the name looked familiar so I cross referenced it with Irish participants who fought the Sioux and Cheyenne warriors along the banks of the Little Bighorn River that day in 1876. Sure enough, on the regiments’ muster roll there was a Cpl. William Lalor from Queens County [as County Laois was known during British rule]. To see if there was a connection between the two William Lalor’s, I went on-line only to discover that Corporal Lalor’s father was John Lalor, my great, great grandfather’s brother! Corporal William Lalor, Company M, 7th Cavalry was my great, great grandfather’s nephew!

I had undertaken decades of research into a battle that, unbeknownst to me, I had a direct family connection to.  Unseen forces at work? As I said at the start, it’s who we are.

ABOUT THIS BLOGGER: Contributing Editor Robert Doyle is a Kildare-based writer with a particular interest in Carlow native Myles Walter Keogh, who served in the Company of St. Patrick and who was killed while fighting with the U.S. Seventh Cavalry at Little Bighorn in 1876. Doyle is co-producer of

Read Doyle's 3 part article:  Custer's Last Irishmen:  The Irish who fought at the Battle of the Little Bighorn here on

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