Belfast Telegraph

'To the day Frannie Doyle died, she never got over death of her father at hands of IRA'

Family recalls stoicism and grace of murdered judge's daughter after she loses cancer battle

By Ivan Little

The daughter of a leading Catholic judge who was murdered by the IRA in Belfast over 30 years ago has lost a long but courageous battle against cancer.

Frances Doyle's husband has said she never got over the death of her father, Judge William Doyle, who was shot dead as he left a church in the south of the city.

Rory Mills also revealed that his 50-year-old wife, who was affectionately known as Frannie, kept the seriousness of her illness from him and her friends in a bid to stop them worrying about her.

Her father was killed by the Provisionals after midday Mass at St Brigid's Church in Derryvolgie Avenue on January 16, 1983.

A 72-year-old woman who was getting a lift from the judge was seriously injured as IRA gunmen opened up on his Mercedes car.

Frannie Doyle, who was adopted, was just 17 at the time of the shooting and heard the news at the family home in nearby Broomhill Park.

"She was very close to her father and, to be honest, I don't think that to the day she died she ever got over it. Her father was her whole world to her at the time and she was very much a daddy's girl," said Mr Mills.

Ann Travers, whose sister Mary was shot dead and her magistrate father Tom injured in an IRA gun attack as they were leaving the same church 15 months later, has offered her condolences to Frannie's family.

Ms Travers, who has also been battling cancer, said: "I am so, so sorry to hear about her passing. I remember her father's murder very clearly.

"I heard the gunshots. I thought it might have been my father who had been targeted and when I ran back I saw Judge Doyle in the car. He and dad were very good friends. I will never forget the date because the murder actually happened on my dad's birthday.

"I met Frances some time later in Co Donegal and we obviously had a connection."

Frannie was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 2003 but after a mastectomy and after undergoing chemotherapy, she was given the all-clear.

The cancer returned, however, about 18 months ago.

"I have a feeling that she was told in January that she only had months to live but she didn't tell me or anyone else," said Mr Mills.

"I think she didn't want to worry other people and chose to face it in her own courageous way. That was just her.

"She fought through everything and tried her hardest, but her condition deteriorated in the last month or so and she died in the City Hospital on Saturday night."

Frannie, who was described by her family as a gifted artist, charity worker, mentor, justice campaigner and socialite, said goodbye to upwards of 40 of her friends and relatives in the hospital over the course of several weeks.

"There were queues of people in the hospital corridors wanting to see her," said her cousin Brian Kennedy, a leading barrister in Belfast.

"They were from all social divides, all religious divides and ethnic divides. She was a really sociable woman who was tremendously popular."

Rory, who's a son of the late UTV and ITN journalist and newsreader, Ivor Mills, met Frannie 15 years ago after he travelled from his home in London to attend the funeral of a relative in Belfast. They married eight years later.

"I moved to Belfast in 2003 and Frannie was diagnosed with cancer a month later. But the five years we had after she got the all-clear were wonderful," he said. "She was a great wife and very supportive to me. Her courage was immense and I will miss her, as will all her friends who have taken to social media to pay tribute to her."

Mr Kennedy said his cousin was an inspirational woman who bore her illness with remarkable dignity, integrity and defiance.

"Even after the cancer came back and we could see that she was losing weight, she played it all down," he said.

"She was a very positive woman who brought a lot of joy to a lot of people including children to whom she passed on her artistic skills.

"She was a real character who resiliently overcame learning difficulties in her youth.

"She wouldn't admit defeat over anything.

"Her late father built in huge self-confidence and a belief in justice which gave her huge strength in the face of all sorts of difficulties, not least when he was murdered.

"Her world fell apart but she pulled everything together again, but she is also an example of people who suffered during the Troubles through the loss of loved ones and had to get over the heartache that had been brought to them.

"Society moves on and forgets people like her but they struggle through the rest of their lives to compensate for what happened to them. Some people turn to drugs and drink but she didn't."

Mr Kennedy said his cousin was a tenacious and honest woman who fought for women's rights.

"Everybody who knew her loved her. She was also a woman to whom I would turn for advice and insight. She's a sad loss," he said.

Her father had been warned by police that the IRA could be planning to murder him.

But he refused an RUC escort except when he was travelling between his home off the Malone Road to the courts in Belfast city centre.

Before becoming a judge, William Doyle was a well-known QC.

One of the most high-profile cases in which he was involved was the defence of UVF leader Gusty Spence for the murder of Catholic Peter Ward in the Malvern Street murder trial in the mid-Sixties.

He was appointed as a judge in 1978 and successfully sued an English magazine which suggested he'd got the job because of his religion.

Judge Doyle was survived by his wife Frances and his two daughters Frannie and Elizabeth as well as a large extended family.

Belfast Telegraph


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