Remembering John Boyle O'Reilly – Irish Revolutionaries
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Remembering John Boyle O'Reilly

Remembering John Boyle O'Reilly

Born in County Meath in 1844, he moved to his Aunt's residence in England as a teenager and joined the British Army.

O'Reilly left the army in 1863 as he became angry at how the British army treated the Irish, so he returned to Ireland in 1864 and joined the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB).

In 1866 he was arrested by the British, tried for treason, found guilty and sentenced to death, which was commuted to twenty years penal servitude in Australia, where he was sent in 1867.

But in 1869 he escaped to the USA and in 1870 settled in Charlestown, a neighbourhood in Boston, which had a large Irish community.

There he embarked on a successful writing and journalism career that produced works such as Moondyne (1879) and Songs from the Southern Seas (1873), and poems such as The Cry of the Dreamer and The White Rose and In Bohemia.

On August 15th, 1872, O'Reilly married Mary Murphy (1850-1897), a journalist who wrote for the Young Crusader under the name of Agnes Smiley. They had four daughters: Mary, Eliza, Agnes and Blanid.

O'Reilly remained an active Irish Republican throughout his life in the USA helping to plan the Catalpa rescue in Australia, giving lectures in support of Irish freedom and while working as a reporter for the Pilot, he reported on the failed Fenian invasion of Canada in 1870.

O'Reilly was heavily involved in the Irish community in Boston and used his role as the editor of the Pilot to promote Irish culture, but he was also a civil rights campaigner for the African American community and native Americans.

In his later years, O'Reilly became prone to illness and suffered from bouts of insomnia. He published his final poem "The Useless Ones" in The Pilot on February 1st 1890.

On the night of August 9th, 1890, O'Reilly took some of his wife's sleeping medicine which contained chloral hydrate.

Around 2 am the next morning his wife woke up finding him unconscious sitting in a chair, the family's physician Dr Litchfield, spent nearly an hour trying to revive him, but O'Reilly died shortly before 5 am on August 10th, 1890, at the age of forty-six.

Thousands attended his funeral in Boston; the funeral bearers were O'Donovan Rossa, Michael Fitzgerald, James A. Wrenn, Capt. Lawrence O'Brien, and Denis Cashman.

In 1891, James Jeffrey Roche, O'Reilly's assistant editor of the Boston Pilot, published a biography of O'Reilly's life titled Life of John Boyle O'Reilly, in 1896 a multi-figure bronze sculpture of O'Reilly was unveiled in Boston.

There are books written about his escape from Australia; there are associations in Ireland & Australia named after him, in 1999 the then English Prime Minister Tony Blair declined calls from Western Australian leader Geoff Gallop to give O'Reilly a pardon.

His poetry, his reporting, his Irish Republicanism and his civil rights campaigning are still celebrated & revered today in Ireland, America & Australia.

John Boyle O'Reilly certainly made his mark.


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