Life of John Boyle O'Reilly/Chapter 20

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The City of Boston Honors his Memory—Great Citizens' Meeting in Tremont Temple—Liberal Subscriptions to a Public Monument—Memorial Meetings in New York and Elsewhere—The "Month's Mind"—Eloquent Sermon of Bishop Healy—The Poet's Grave in Holyhood.

THE City of Boston took official action on the death of John Boyle O'Reilly by holding a citizens' meeting at Tremont Temple on the evening of September 2, Mayor Hart presiding. The platform was filled with representative citizens of every ancestry and creed. A fine crayon portrait of the dead poet, flanked by the Stars and Stripes and the Irish flag, was placed on the wall of the platform.

Mayor Hart delivered a graceful address, and then introduced the chairman of the evening, Hon. Charles Levi Woodbury.

"Had he been George Washington, Sam Adams, or John Hancock," said Judge Woodbury," he could not have loved more the institutions of America than these great statesmen loved that which they had created and which they saw around them. We feel so much for him as a citizen that we almost forget he was born in another clime. He assimilated himself so perfectly among us that I we hardly turned to remember that he came to us an exile, a fugitive, a man whom the oppressors of Great Britain had tried to brand as a felon, and to put the mark of ignominy upon him, because he was a patriot and loved his people."

Judge Woodbury was followed by the Very Rev. William Byrne, D.D., Vicar-General of Boston, a native of O'Reilly's County of Meath, and a warm personal friend of the poet. He could speak from his own experience of the associations and influences which had molded the character of the young patriot. He said:

He was a Roman Catholic in religion. He was Catholic in faith because he gave the assent of his will to all the truths of religion made known to him by reason, revelation, and the teaching of the Church which he knew was founded by Christ. He was a Roman Catholic because he accepted the Bishop of Rome as the divinely ordained head of that Church, and the ultimate judge in all disputed questions of faith or morals. He knew the limits of human intelligence and the fallibility of reason in the domain of religion, and was content to rest his faith on well-authenticated revelation, made through divinely appointed channels. His mind was too sane to rebel against these limitations, and too pious to blame the Creator for not making man perfect. Hence he was free from that intellectual pride and self-sufficiency which impel some men to try to hew out for themselves a pathway in the mysterious regions of religion, and to invent a way of salvation all their own.

As Father Byrne could speak for the dead hero's religious character, so Colonel Chas. H. Taylor, of the Boston Globe, could testify to his professional ability. Best proof of the journalist' s worth was that to which Colonel Taylor bore witness:

No man was ever jealous of John Boyle O'Reilly. On the contrary, all were delighted with the position attained by this large-hearted, generous soul,—this manly man among manly men.

The next speaker was General Benjamin F. Butler, who had been, as he said:

For twenty years the legal adviser of John Boyle O'Reilly,—a most unprofitable client, for he has never had a lawsuit or a contention. He had one weakness, which was a very uncomfortable one to him, and that was, he could not hear a tale of woe or misfortune, that he did not set himself about rectifying or relieving it. He could never resist not only an appeal when made to him, but the most casual information of wrong done, and especially wrong done to the poor and unprotected.

Colonel Thomas Wentworth Higginson, himself a soldier and brave advocate in the cause of the oppressed, was then introduced and spoke eloquently of O'Reilly's great mission:

So momentous for Boston, so momentous for America, so momentous for the World, that it might well make a man willing to die before he is fifty, if he could contribute but a little toward accomplishing it,—the reconciliation in this community between the Roman Catholic Irishman and the Protestant American.

That was the mission that Boyle O'Reilly seemed just as distinctly seat among us to do, as if he had been born with that mission stamped upon his forehead, and as if a hundred vicar-generals had annointed and ordained him for the work.

And in doing this work he showed not merely the lovableness of his temperament, but its far-sightedness. He knew that unless that work could be done, our city and our State and our country are confessed, failures. He knew that American civilization was a failure if it was only large enough to furnish a safe and convenient shelter for the descendants of Puritans and Anglo-Saxons, leaving Irishmen and Catholics outside.

As a literary man, Colonel Higginson gave O'Reilly a high place in the world of letters. As a patriot, he admired him for remembering and loving his native land. He continued:

I never have been among those who believed it to be the duty of an Irishman, as soon as he set foot on this soil and looked around for his naturalization papers, to forget the wrongs and sorrows he had left behind him.

I cannot complain of Boyle O'Reilly that through life in his spirit he kept the green flag waving beside the Stars and Stripes, any more than I can forget the recorded joy of McClellan in the terrible battles of the Wilderness when he saw the green flags borne by each regiment of Meagher's Irish Brigade come from the Second Army Corps to his relief.

In some ways Boyle O'Reilly was not enough of a reformer for me. I never could quite forgive him for not being—like my friend and his associate. Col. Taylor—a strong advocate of woman suffrage. But I can tell you that when the man who is doing two men's work all day still spends night after night in attending the invalid wife to whom he owes so much; and when, in making his last will, he has the courage and the justice to leave that wife in undisturbed possession of all his property and the executrix of his will, I am ready to sign an amnesty with him on the woman suffrage question.

Colonel Higginson was followed by President E. H. Capen, D.D., of Tufts College, who said of the deceased:

He was more than a patriot, because wherever he saw humanity oppressed he saw a brother in woe, and determined to give voice to the wrong. Nay, he could rise, not only above the prejudices of his race and the traditions of his nation, but above even the scruples of his religion, and that is the hardest thing for man to accomplish in this world.

This man, a Roman Catholic on New England soil, in daily association with the sons of Puritans and Pilgrims, the sons of men who hated the Papacy as the instrument of Satan, and whose descendants have not entirely got beyond the narrowness of their forefathers, could yet describe in fitting terms, showing the appreciation of his mind and soul for the achievements of the founders of New England.

So that it is not only Ireland and America that may mourn his death, it is humanity, civilization, our common Christianity.

What honor shall we pay to such a man? It will be honor enough, though I doubt if we can, to take all the virtues and all the achievements of his life into our own souls.

Then spoke a representative of the race for which O'Reilly had zealously worked and written and spoken, Mr. Edwin G. Walker, the colored lawyer and orator. Said he:

With his pen John Boyle O'Reilly sent through the columns of a newspaper that he edited in this city, words in our behalf that were Christian, and anathemas that were just. Not only that—but he went on to the platform and in bold and defiant language he denounced the murderers of our people and advised us to strike the tyrants back. It was at a time when the cloud was most heavy and more threatening than at any other period since reconstruction. At that time our Wendell Phillips was stricken by the hand of death, and then it was that some doubted that they would ever be able to see a clear sky. But in the midst of all the gloom we could hear Mr. O'Reilly declaring his determination to stand by the colored American in all contests where his rights were at stake.

The last speaker was Hon. Patrick A. Collins, the orator and patriot who had stood beside O'Reilly for twenty years in the long fight for Ireland's cause. He spoke as follows:

"For Lycidas is dead ere his prime
* * * and has not left a peer."

Even in this solemn hour of public mourning it seems hard to realize that we shall see him no more. Men who knew us both will expect from me no eulogy of Boyle O'Reilly. You mourn the journalist, the orator, the poet, the patriot of two peoples—the strong, tender, true, and knightly character. I mourn with you, and I also mourn—alone.

But, after all, the dead speak for themselves. No friend in prose or verse can add a cubit to his stature. No foe, however mendacious, can lessen his fame or the love humanity bears him.

Yet we owe, not to him, but to the living and to the future, these manifold expressions of regard—these estimates of his worth. The feverish age needs always teaching.

Here was a branded outcast some twenty years ago, stranded in a strange land, friendless and penniless; to-day wept for all over the world where men are free or seeking to be free, for his large heart went out to all in trouble, and his soul was the soul of a freeman; all he had he gave to humanity and asked no return.

Take the lesson of his life to your hearts, young men; you who are scrambling and wrangling for petty dignities and small honors. This man held no office and had no title. The man was larger than any office, and no title could ennoble him. He was born without an atom of prejudice, and he lived and died without an evil or ungenerous thought.

He was Irish and American; intensely both, but more than both. The world was his country and mankind was his kin. Often he struck, but he always struck power, never the helpless. He seemed to feel with the dying regicide in "Les Miserables," "I weep with you for the son of the king, murdered in the temple, but weep with m e for the children of the people—they have suffered longest." Numbered and marked and branded; officially called rebel, traitor, convict, and felon, wherever the red flag floats; denied the sad privilege of kneeling on the grave of his mother—thus died this superb citizen of the great Republic.

But his soul was always free—vain are all mortal interdicts. By the banks of that lovely river, where the blood of four nations once commingled, in sight of the monument to the alien victor, hard by the great mysterious Rath, over one sanctified spot dearer than all others to him, where the dew glistened on the softest green, the spirit of O'Reilly hovered, and shook the stillness of the Irish dawn on its journey to the stars.

A memorial committee was appointed which held several meetings and did its work so well that before the close of the year it had collected about $13,000 of the sum required for the erection of "a statue or other monument to John Boyle O'Reilly in the city of Boston." When that object shall have been achieved, it is intended to commemorate the dead poet further by endowing an Alcove of Celtic Literature in the new Public Library of Boston.

Another great Memorial meeting was held at Huntington Hall, Lowell, on the evening of September 7, at which addresses were made by Rev. Michael O'Brien, Mayor Charles D. Palmer, Governor Brackett, General Butler, Philip J. Farley, Esq., and Rev. D. M. Byrnes, O.M.L

In New York City on the following evening the Metropolitan Opera House was filled with a large audience, Governor Hill acting as chairman of the meeting. A fine poem was read by Joseph I. C. Clarke, and Judge James Fitzgerald delivered an oration of eulogy. Governor Leon Abbett also spoke, and letters of sympathy were read from President Harrison,—paying honor "to the memory of the distinguished and patriotic citizen,"—from Senator Hiscock, President Low of Columbia College, General O. O. Howard, U.S.A., ex-Senator Platt, and others.

The beautiful Catholic ceremony of the "Month's Mind" was celebrated, at the instance of the Catholic Union of Boston, at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross, on Wednesday morning, September 10. The large church was filled with relatives and friends of the dead poet, representatives of the several national, religious, and social organizations to which he had belonged, and mourning citizens of all creeds and classes.

The celebrant of the Pontifical Mass of Requiem was the Most Rev. John J. Williams, Archbishop of Boston; assistant priest, the Very Rev. John B. Hogan, D.D., director of the Catholic University of America; deacon of the mass, the Rev. Arthur J. Teeling of Newburyport, Mass.; subdeacon, the Rev. John F. Ford, superintendent of the Workingboy's Home, Boston; deacons of honor, the Rev. James McGlew, Chelsea, Mass., and the Rev. J. W. McMahon, rector of St. Mary's, Charlestown, Mass. The master of ceremonies was the Rev. James P. Talbot, D.D., of the Cathedral.

Rt. Rev. James A. Healy, Bishop of Portland, Me., delivered the funeral oration, from the following text:

"Our friend sleepeth; but I go that I may wake him out of sleep.—John, xi."

Thus spoke our Divine Master of his friend Lazarus; and I am come, not as a better friend of the dead, nor as more fit to speak on this occasion, but as one of the earliest in this city, and, I trust, one of the most constant of his friends—not my friend only, but he was our friend—we all knew him, watched him, loved him as our friend.


Our friend, the man whom we loved as a friend, sleepeth, Let us consider our friend as a man. I am not here to sing his praises as an angel, nor yet as a man of so sublime and ascetic life as we ascribe to the superhuman on earth. Our friend was a human man. I am not here to tell of his attainments in letters, or of his success as a writer for the press, as an author, a poet, gifted with a versatile and ever-ready and competent pen and tongue; nor even to recall the oft-told story of his early life—his efforts for Ireland, his captivity, his escape by help of generous sons of America; nor even to describe the manly form, the noble presence, the hardy and athletic temperament that we looked upon with wonder and delight; but I would wish to remind you of the characteristics of our friend as a man. In the holy book one is described as "a man simple and right"; that is straightforward, direct. Have you known one who sought by direct ways and means the end he aimed at—who for that end was willing to wait, to endure, to suffer; who in the weakness and helplessness of subject youth invited others to dare and suffer, but led the way as captain of the forlorn hope; who in prison walls could not be prevented from piously gathering and consigning to mother earth the disinterred bones of former captives—of those hapless Americans who died in English prisons; who for his country's sake bravely bore the horrors of the prison ship, the brutality of a convict settlement; and yet, everywhere, and in all things, the straightforward, the manly, the long-suffering but unconquered spirit? Such was our friend.

Have you known an ardent soul, loving his dear old country as a sorrowing and afflicted mother, loving her as only an Irish exile can love; and yet turning with admiring love to the new country, which had become his from the day he landed on her shores? He loved Ireland as his mother. He loved America as man loves a blooming and happy spouse. At times there may have been those who found fault with his unwavering devotion and constant efforts for the old land. But I will venture to say here, under this sacred roof, no one who has not seen the beautiful island and its oppressed people; aye, more, no
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one who has not felt and endured the yoke of cruel inhuman tyranny, that for centuries has weighed down a gallant, a generous, a noble people, in spite of faults incident to humanity, can properly enter into the ardent, patriotic love of Irishmen for Ireland or their hatred of oppression and the oppressor. And such, in his ardent love for his native country, was our friend.

A word of his home life. If we follow him a young and brilliant man, we see him repairing from the conversation, from the club, from the evening joys, and hastening home to the bedside of his sick wife, to the children anxious to greet him, to the playfulness of a warm father, in whom they felt they had a friend. Such was he as a husband and a father.

On such an occasion and within these walls, the mouth-piece of the Lord would speak to no purpose unless he should speak of the disciple of Christ as he was, or as he ought to be. And our friend was a Christian, a child of the Church of God.

He is gone—our friend sleepeth. The body, indeed, rests in the tomb, far from the land he longed so much to revisit; but the soul liveth unto God. And do you now, venerable pontiff, and his friend, begin those prayers of Holy Church which follow the departing soul even to the throne of God. Do you, brethren in Faith, join your prayers with the pontiff, asking for him rest, light, life, the awakening unto God; and do Thou, O Divine Lord, whose words we have quoted for Thy friend—"I go to wake him"—do Thou come at the last great day to wake him, to wake the body from the grave, that thus, soul and body reunited in light and glory and joy eternal, our friend may rejoice forevermore.

The Catholic Union of Boston, the Charitable Irish Society, the Boston Press Club, and hundreds of other organizations throughout the country, and on both sides of the ocean, passed similar resolutions, the mere chronicling of which would be but a reiteration of the fact, known to all the English speaking world, that John Boyle O'Reilly was the most sincerely loved and the most truly mourned man of his generation.

His body lay in the receiving tomb of Calvary until November 7, when it was removed to Holyhood cemetery, Brookline, Mass., for final interment.

The poet's grave is marked by a natural monument worthy of the man. On the highest point of Holyhood there crops out a ledge of rock, over the face of which, countless ages ago, the great glacial plow cut its way, leaving a polished surface to mark its passage. On the crest of this ledge, deposited by the mighty glacier, rests a giant boulder, about fifteen feet high, and, roughly speaking, twelve feet square,—seventy-five tons of weather-stained, conglomerate rock. It stands a picturesque land-mark, solitary, massive and majestic.

It is to be the tombstone of John Boyle O'Reilly, whose grave is at its base. No mark save a single tablet let in to its face shall mar the severe simplicity of the monolith—nature's fitting memorial to God's nobleman.