Desmond Doyle

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Desmond Doyle (1924 - 1986) was an Irish painter, decorator and sometime pianist, whose children (Evelyn, Maurice, Noel, John, Kevin and Dermot) were taken into the custody of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) when his wife, Charlotte, left him on St. Stephen's Day, 1953. After placing the children in what he believed to be a temporary situation, Doyle left for work in England. While there, he met Jessie Cunningham, who was his landlady and later accompanied him back to Ireland as his "housekeeper." Upon his return to his homeland in the fall of 1954, Doyle petitioned for the return of his children. Nevertheless, the government denied his request, citing the best interests of the children (and, it is believed, disapproval of his living arrangements with Miss Cunningham). He subsequently fought a legal battle to regain custody of them, which required overturning the provisions of the Irish Children Act, 1941. This law prevented a father from caring for his own children in the absence of their mother unless she was living and gave written permission for him to do so. Doyle became involved in a case presented before the Irish Supreme Court in which it was claimed that the Children's Act contravened several sections of the Irish Constitution. In December 1955, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Desmond Doyle, and ordered that the children be returned to him and that his court costs were to be reimbursed by the government.

The events leading up to the Supreme Court's decision were recounted in the book Evelyn: A True Story, by eldest daughter Evelyn Doyle (2003, Orion Publishing Group, London). The story was also published as Tea and Green Ribbons: A Memoir (2003, Free Press, New York). Her sequel describing the Doyles' life and Evelyn's life after the Supreme Court decision was published as Nothing Green: The Sequel to the Bestselling "Evelyn" (2004, Orion Publishing Group, London).

A highly fictionalised account of these events has been recorded in the film Evelyn (2002), starring Pierce Brosnan (who plays Desmond), Julianna Margulies, Sophie Vavasseur, Stephen Rea and Aidan Quinn and directed by Bruce Beresford. The film only showed three children, Evelyn and two brothers (Maurice and Dermot), instead of all six of the real-life family's children.

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