On the 11th April, 1944, the Irish Independent reported from Belfast:
BELFAST YOUTH SHOT DEAD
A Belfast youth, John Doyle (16) of Britton’s Drive. Whiterock Rd, Belfast, died in hospital from a bullet wound in the head. He was found wounded in his home. It is believed that he was examining a revolver when it went off. Other members of the family were absent at the time.
The police, it was announced, found in the house six Mills bombs and 130 rounds of ammunition in a wall cavity. A search was being made last night for an acquaintance of Doyle, who is alleged to have been in the house at the time of the shooting.
According to Antrim’s Patriot Dead, Doyle was a member of Na Fianna Éireann and his sluagh had been receiving a lecture on arms when the gun accidentally discharged. The day he was killed was his sixteenth birthday. His father, James, was arrested and charged with possession of the arms found in the house.
The previous year, Sean’s older brother Liam had been arrested with a party of Na Fianna which had been training with revolvers in Murphy’s clay pits off the Springfield Road on the night of Thursday 20th May (roughly opposite New Barnsley police station). More than a dozen Fian were in attendance and, for training, they had drawn four revolvers and ammunition from a dump. Fian from the Falls, Ardoyne, North Queen Street and Carrickhill were present.
Then an RUC unit arrived, later claiming that they had been summoned after a man had been seen signalling and acting suspiciously near the clay pit. According to RUC Sergeant Anderson, the RUC tried to surprise the Fianna but were spotted and the Fianna attempted to escape. Anderson then opened fire with a shotgun wounding Joseph Doyle and James Mooney and the Fianna had to take cover, returning fire with the revolvers they had been using for training. After a protracted exchange of gunfire, the Fianna surrendered, with Liam Doyle, Arthur Steele, James Mooney and Joseph Doyle taking responsibility for possession of the four revolvers and ammunition.
By the time the RUC had brought charges in the Police Court on Saturday, twenty-one youths had been arrested, aged between sixteen and twenty. Nine were eventually discharged by the court on 10th June, while two juveniles were given forty shilling fines (one of them, apparently, was Sean Doyle). Dan Liddy, Sam McCotter and Hugh English each got three months each with hard labour, while Dessie Brady and Robert O’Neill each got two months. The four charged with possession of the revolvers were tried and sentenced in August. Joseph Doyle and Arthur Steele each were sentenced to twelve years and twelve strokes of the whip, while James Mooney received ten years and twelve strokes of the whip. All three had been arrested in possession of revolvers that had been fired. Liam Doyle received ten years but was spared the cat (as whipping was called) since his revolver had not been fired. He had been involved in the strip strike and other protests in A wing in Crumlin Road in 1943. He was not allowed to attend Sean’s funeral.
The day after Sean’s death, his father James Doyle, was charged with possession of the weapons found hidden in a wall cavity in the house including seven Mills’ bomb cases, a bayonet and scabbard, one hundred and thirty rounds of rifle ammunition, thirty-one rounds of assorted ammunition, and a pair of revolver hand grips. He was remanded on bail until the 25th April, then again until the 9th May when the charges were finally dropped.
James had been interned on the prison ship, Al Rawdah, in 1940 and had only been released after contracting tuberculosis on the prison ship. He died, aged 46, on 9th July 1945.*
*Thanks to his grand-daughter, Sally Campbell, for this information.