A Memorial of John Boyle O'Reilly from the City of Boston/Outline of John Boyle O'Reilly's Life

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OUTLINE OF JOHN BOYLE O'REILLY'S LIFE.




John Boyle O'Reilly was born in Dowth Castle, County Meath, Ire., June 28, 1844. His father was William David O'Reilly, principal of the Netterville Institution, at Drogheda, a fine scholar, especially strong in mathematics. His mother was Eliza Boyle, a woman of rarely beautiful character and brilliant mind. Her love for Ireland became in her son the ruling passion of his life. Her fine literary tastes grew in him to the height of genius.

He received a good English education in his father's school, and at the age of fourteen went into the office of the "Drogheda Argus" as a type-setter. Later he became an expert short-hand writer, and found employment on several newspapers in England.

He entered into the Fenian movement with characteristic ardor. He told the writer of this sketch that he never fully realized the movement until he found himself in prison for his share in it. "They only said to us, 'Come, boys, it's prison or death; but it's for Ireland;' and we came."

In riper years, he enlisted with all the force, fervor, and single-heartedness of his nature on the side of constitutional agitation, and was unquestionably the greatest factor in making the American people a unit for Parnell and Irish Home Rule.

In 1863 he returned to Ireland, and enlisted in the 10th Hussars, where he spent three years, furthering the revolutionary cause and learning the art of war for future use.

In 1866 he was arrested in Dublin on the secret evidence of an informer, tried before a special military commission, with Color-Sergeant McCarthy and the late Corporal Thomas Chambers, and on June 27, the eve of his twenty-second birthday, was convicted on five capital charges, and sentenced to death. Later the sentence was commuted, first to imprisonment for life, then to twenty years' penal servitude. He was imprisoned successively in the English prisons at Chatham, Portsmouth, Portland, and Dartmoor. At this last he and his comrades reverently gathered and buried the bones of the French and American prisoners of the War of 1812, which the English authorities had left uncovered, after they had been uprooted from their shallow graves by the prison pigs. Over the grave they raised a humble slab bearing the motto: "Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori"

In October, 1867, he was transported to the penal colony of Western Australia with sixty other political prisoners, among them Denis B. Cashman, now of Boston. In February, 1869, he escaped from the penal colony in a boat, assisted by the Rev. Patrick McCabe, a Catholic priest stationed in his district, and some other devoted Irish-Australians. He was picked up at sea, after many hardships ashore and afloat, by the American whaling bark "Gazelle," commanded by Captain David R. Gifford, of New Bedford, Mass., who treated him with the greatest kindness for the six months he remained on board, and who lent him twenty guineas, all the money he had with him, when they separated off the Cape of Good Hope. Captain Gifford put O'Reilly on board another American ship, the "Sapphire," of Boston, bound to Liverpool. This vessel carried him safely to England, where, by the aid of her Yankee officers, he was shipped as an American sailor on board the "Bombay," of Bath, Me., Captain Frank Jordan, which landed him in Philadelphia in November, 1869. He was twenty-five years of age, strong and hopeful, but he did not know a soul in America.

On the day that O'Reilly landed in Philadelphia, November 23, he made application for American citizenship, at the United States Court in that city. He made but a brief stay in Philadelphia, and also in New York, to which he next directed his steps. He arrived in Boston, January 2, 1870, accompanied the Fenian raid into Canada the same year, sending descriptive letters thereof to the Boston papers. In the summer of 1870 he secured editorial employment on "The Pilot;" and in his intervals of leisure began to give to the world his poems, the outgrowth of the observation and endurance of the crowded years of his short life.

Horace Greeley was among the first to feel the original and striking presence that had come into the literary world, and some of O'Reilly's best narrative poems appeared in the "New York Tribune."

The "Atlantic Monthly," Harper's, Scribner's, and others of the best American literary publications welcomed him to their pages. He was a valued contributor to the "Dark Blue," the magazine of the University of Oxford, till it found out that he was a Fenian and an ex-political convict.

He married, on August 15, 1872, Miss Mary Murphy, of Charlestown. The fruit of this marriage was four beautiful young daughters,—Mollie, Bessie, Agnes, and Blanid. Of his wife he wrote, dedicating to her his "Songs, Legends, and Ballads:" "Her rare and loving judgment has been a standard I have tried to reach." His last volume of poems, "In Bohemia," was dedicated "To My Four Little Daughters."

In 1876 Mr. O'Reilly, already for some years editor of "The Pilot," became its proprietor, with Archbishop Williams, of Boston. Under his direction it became accounted a foremost exponent of Irish-American thought, and one of the stanchest and ablest defenders of Catholic interests.

Mr. O'Reilly's poems are published in four volumes, as follows: "Songs of the Southern Seas," 1873; "Songs, Legends, and Ballads," 1878; "Statues in the Block," 1881; "In Bohemia;' 1886. His novel, "Moondyne," appeared in 1880; his "Athletics and Manly Sport," in 1887. He edited many books and prefaced not a few, including among the latter George Makepeace Towle's "Young People's History of Ireland," Justin McCarthy's "Ireland's Cause and England's Parliament," and Mrs. J. Ellen Foster's "Crime against Ireland." He had several works in preparation; among them "The Country with a Roof," an allegory, illustrating the defects in the American social system; and a work on the material resources of Ireland.

He was for many years past in great demand as a lecturer, and has been the chosen spokesman of the city of his home on several historic occasions. Perhaps the best of his orations is, "The Common Citizen Soldier," delivered in Boston on Memorial Day, 1886. The oftenest in demand were his "Illustrious Irishmen of one Century," and "Irish Poetry and Song."

Perhaps the best estimate of his literary genius is implied in the fact that he, for the past seven years, was called upon to write where Longfellow, or Whittier, or Holmes would have been chosen ere the infirmities of age made them shrink from the tasks involved. He ranked next to these beloved names in the popular heart of New England and America. Three of the greatest poems of the past decade, "Wendell Phillips," "Crispus Attucks," and "The Pilgrim Fathers," are John Boyle O'Reilly's.

But in his poems of Ireland he touched, as was meet, the high-water mark of his genius. His "Exile of the Gael" is the best tribute the English language has ever paid to the Irish race. Of the rest, his poetry is in the hearts of the people.

He wrote, by invitation, the poem, "From the Heights," for the opening of the Catholic University at Washington, D.C., last November, which he also read, being the only layman, except the President of the United States and the Secretary of State, to speak before that magnificent assemblage.

He had much work under way at the time of his death,—lectures outlined, poems half finished, works of benevolence pledged for the coming season. The last week of his life was the most crowded. He was on the reception committee for the Grand Army encampment in Boston; he was bringing out a Grand Army number of "The Pilot." He held his pen for the last time in the service of the country of his adoption, the country which he loved and served with a whole-hearted affection, and which held him in her heart among her noblest and best defenders. On Wednesday, August 6, one of the hottest days of the season, he umpired the Irish games at Highland Lake Grove.

On Saturday, August 9, he spent the morning in "The Pilot" office as usual, taking thought, in the midst of his work and care, for arrangements that all his employes might have good places for a view of the Grand Army of the Republic procession on Tuesday. He was apparently well, but evidently tired. He took an early boat to his summer residence in Hull. He had been suffering for several nights from insomnia, and on Saturday night walked a long way with his brother-in-law, Mr. John R. Murphy, who had been spending the evening with him, in the hope that physical fatigue would induce the needed sleep. Next morning, Sunday, August 10, the city and country were shocked by the news of his sudden death.

The sad tidings caused national grief and consternation, for the death of John Boyle O'Reilly in the fulness of his powers and usefulness is one of those rare calamities against which the most moderate pen sets with full advertence the weighty word—irreparable.