Page:Life of John Boyle O'Reilly.djvu/35

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HIS LIFE, POEMS AND SPEECHES.

under Owen Roe O'Neil, at the battle of Benburb. The family had its share of traditionary myths. In the County Cavan, near the old seat of their sovereignty, there still stands a tree on which one of their beloved chiefs was hanged in an ancient "rising." It is withered and leafless—tradition says it never bore foliage again after that day. The fortune of war overcame this race of gallant fighters. Many of them sought in foreign lands the career denied them at home, and the name, illustrious for centuries, gained new renown in France, Spain, Austria, and the wide domains of Spanish America. The O'Reillys were ever distinguished as soldiers, prelates, and scholars.

Four miles above the town of Drogheda, on the south bank of the beautiful Boyne, in the center of a vast basin of the most fertile and storied land in Ireland, stands Dowth Castle, where John Boyle O'Reilly was born, on June 28, 1844. Within three hundred yards of it is the Moat of Dowth, built in the pre-historic period. Four miles to the west rises the hill of Tara, while three miles to the north is the hill of Slane, where St. Patrick lit his fire on Beltane night. One mile further to the north are the majestic ruins of Mellifont Abbey; and two miles down the river an obelisk 150 feet high marks the spot where King James lost his crown and the liberties of Ireland. A mile to the east is the vast royal burying ground of Rossna-ree, the oldest and richest depository of Irish historical treasures.

Dowth Castle dates back to the days of the English Pale, and is said to have been built by Hugh De Lacy. Early in the present century. Viscount Netterville, an eccentric Irish nobleman, bequeathed the castle and some of his lands for the charitable object of educating and maintaining widows and orphans. The Netterville Institution, as it was called, embraced also a National School, built on its grounds, of which William David O'Reilly was the master for thirty-five years.

Here the young poet spent the first eleven years of his life. The Castle lay about half a mile from the river, the