John Boyle O’Reilly (1844-90)

b. 28 June, at Dowth Castle, nr. Drogheda, Co. Louth; son of William David O’Reilly, a school master in National School pertaining to the Netterville Inst.; his mother was Eliza Boyle, related to Col. John Allen of 1798 fame; second child of 5 dgs. and 3 sons; apprenticed to newspaper compositor on Drogheda Argus, 1855 (aetat. 11), up to the death of the proprietor; went to live with relatives in Preston, England, sailing from Drogheda on ship under command of Capt. John Watkinson, who was married to a sis. of Mrs O’Reilly; employed on Preston Guardian; joined 11th Lancashire Rifle Vols.; called home by father, March 1863; settled in Dublin; enlists in 10th Hussars, stationed in Dublin, 1863;
joined Fenians [IRB], 1865; purportedly swore in 80 soldiers as Fenians; arrested and sentenced to death by court martial, 9 July 1866; sentence commuted to life imprisonment [var. 20 years]; he inscribed on Mountjoy cell wall, ‘once an Irish soldier, now an English felon, and proud of the exchange’, 17 July 1866; spent a year in solitary confinement in Millbank Penitentiary - under the puritanical regime of that prison; moved to Dartmoor, from which he escaped and was recaptured after some days; transported to Western Australia on board Hougoumont, with Denis B. Cashman - who kept copies of O‘Reilly’s poems in his manuscript diary - and others, 1867; arrived at Fremantle, and there held as prisoner No. 9843; worked as ticket-of-leave man; served as aide to the parish priest, and supervisor of a lending library;

afterwards assigned to a Bunbury-Vasse road crew, working as as clerk and messenger; fell in love with Jessie, daughter of the Warder Henry Woodman; attempted suicide by cutting wrists, 27 Dec. 1868; planned his escape with Fr. Patrick MacCabe and a settler named James McGuire; deserted from his road-crew, 18 Feb. 1869, and suffered hardships in the dunes when the designated carrier, Vigilant, failed to spot his boat; finally escaped to America on board the Bedford whaler Gazelle, having been blackmailed by a ticket-of-leave man called Henderson (alias Martin Bowman), who secured his own passage on the whaler;

befriended the captain and third mate (Gifford and Hathaway), and survived British search at Rodrigues, when Bowman was handed over in chains; faked suicide overboard to convince the British of his death; changed ship at sea and joined the Sapphire, another whaler, as a working sailor; landed at Liverpool, and departed for America on the Bombay; reached Philadelphia, 23 Nov. 1869; moved to Boston, 1870; joined The Pilot newspaper (Boston), 1870, becoming co-prop. with Archbishop Williams, 1876-90 [see infra]; condemned the Custer massacres of native Americans [Indians], 1876, and campaigned for civil rights for Black Americans - but not for women;
m. Mary Murphy (orig. from Charleston, Co. Mayo), 1872; worked as a lecturer and a writer; issued Songs from the Southern Seas (1873) and Songs, Legends and Ballads (1878), the latter of which ran to 8 edns.; participated in Fenian Canada Raid and the Catalpa expedition to rescue sick Fenian prisoners from Western Australia, 1875 [see John Devoy, q.v.]; issued two other vols. of poetry and novel, Moondyne (ser. in The Pilot [Boston], 1878; Kennedy 1879), the story of his Australian experiences, sometimes called the first Australian novel, which went into 12 eds.; he presented an address welcoming Parnell to New York, 1880;
he was invited to speak at Ottawa on St. Patrick’s Day, but refused permission by British Govt.; also The Statues in the Block (1881), poems; offered reward for apprehension of Invincibles after Phoenix Park Murders; published letter of Lakota Chief Red Cloud at land-robbery of Dawes Act, 1887; accused of association with the murders in the ‘Parnell forgeries’ (London Times), and awarded £10,000; issued In Bohemia (1889), poems; also The Ethics of Boxing and Manly Sports (1888); opposed anti-semitism and anti-black prejudice; refused permission to speak in Ottawa by British Government;
d. 10 Aug., Hull, Boston, from an accidental overdose of sleeping tablets - or ‘Heart Failure, superinduced, perhaps, by an overdose of chloral, taken for insomnia’, acc. to his death certificate; bur. Holywood cemetery, Brookline, Mass., with O’Donovan Rossa among the pall-bearers; he had counted among his friends Oliver Wendell Holmes, President Grover Cleveland, Edward G. Walker (Pres. of Tufts), and Cardinal Gibbons (Primate of the Catholic Church in America); as an editor, he encouraged Louise Imogen Guiney, and other Irish writers; he was considered a vital ambassador between the WASP establishment and Catholic Irish-America; survived by his wife and four dgs. - Mollie, Eliza, Agnes and Blanid; obituaries appeared widely in the American and Irish newspapers and journals; a pontifical mass was held in Boston Cathedral, 10 Sept.;
a life was written by J. Jeffrey Roche, appearing with his poems and speeches, edited by his widow (NY 1891); a bronze monument with three figures and Celtic plinth in stone by Daniel Chester French was dedicated to his memory at Fenway, Boston, Massachusetts, 1896; his papers are held at Boston College; a centennial address was delivered by Charles S. O’Connor in Boston on 26 Nov. 1944; the Alcove of Celtic Literature in Boston Public Library is dedicated to him; there is a monument at his birthplace in Dowth; a poem of his was quoted by President Kennedy in his address to Oireachtas: ‘The world is large when its weary leagues two loving hearts divided / But the world is small when your enemy is loose on the other side,’ - adding ‘the supreme reality of our time is our indivisibility as children of God and our common vulnerability on this planet’; his modern biographers note that his advocacy for ‘prisoners everywhere’ was not equalled by an equal sympathy for the subjects of colonial power or for women’s rights. CAB JMC ODNB DBIV DIB DIH OCAL MKA OCIL

John Boyle O'Reilly
O’Reilly’s prison photograph of 1866 comes from the Thomas Larcom Mountjoy Prison Collection; the portrait is from the Life by J. J. Roche (1891) [enlarged]; the John Boyle O’Reilly Monument stands in Boston.

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  • Songs from the Southern Seas and other poems (Boston 1873);
  • Songs, Legends and Ballads (Boston Pilot 1878);
  • The Statues and the Block, and Other Poems (1881);
  • In Bohemia: A Collection of Poems (1886);
  • Moondyne: A Story from the Under-world (NY: Kennedy 1879) - digital copy, ed. Susan Ashton, available at CELT [ref. E850005-001; see details]
  • The King’s Men (Scribner 1884); others,
  • The Poetry and Song of Ireland, with biog. sketches (NY 1887);
  • Ethics of Boxing and Manly Sport (Boston 1888).
Collections & reprints
  • James Jeffry Roche, ed., John Boyle O’Reilly, His Life and Poems and Speeches; together with his complete poems and speeches, edited by Mrs John Boyle O’Reilly, introduced by James Cardinal Gibbons [Archbishop of Baltimore] (NY: Mershon Co. 1891), 790pp. [of which “Poems”, pp.429-710; Speeches, pp.711-790]. Note: The story of the Catalpa is given in Chap. IX.

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Bibliographical details

Moondyne - The CELT Edition
Copytext: The Moondyne [1st Australian Edn.] (Melbourne: George Robertson Publs. 1878, 1880), 255pp. Other editions cited Moondyne: A Story of Convict Life (London: Routledge, 188?); Do., as The Golden Secret, or Bond and Free: ATale of Bush and Convict Life (Melbourne, Australia: E. W. Cole 189?) [Go to CELT edition - online, and see notes, infra].

See also works by John Boyle O’Reilly incl. Moondye (1879) and poems, together with the Life by James Jeffery Roche [ed. Mrs. Boyle O’Reilly] (1891) are given in Wikisource - online.

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  • [Daniel Connolly,] John Boyle O’Reilly [Biogram No. 2] The Irish Monthly, XIV, (March 1886), pp.155-56,
  • anon., notice in in The Nation (24 Nov. 1888);
  • ‘John Boyle O’Reilly by a Friend’, in “Contributors Club” The Atlantic Monthly, 66, 396 (October 1890), pp. 572ff [see infra];
  • A memorial of John Boyle O’Reilly from the city of Boston [... &c.] (Boston 1891), 67pp. [copy in Library of Congress];
  • Edward A. Moseley, ‘John Boyle O’Reilly, The Man’, in Donahoe’s Magazine, 30, 3 (Sept. 1893), and Do. [rep.] (Boston: Donahoe’s Magazine Co. 1893), 103pp. [copy in Burns Library, Boston Coll.; former property of Helen Landreth];
  • Count George Noble Plunkett, [obit.; q.t.], in Irish Monthly, 9 (1891), revised & reprinted in Ireland-American Review, 1 [1938];
  • Charles S. O’Connor, ‘John Boyle O’Reilly’ [Centennial Address; 26 Nov. 1944] (1944), 14pp.
  • Francis Russell, ‘John Boyle O’Reilly: A Forgotten Poet’, in Irish Writing, 28 (Sept. 1954), pp.51-60;
  • William G. Scholfield, Seek for A Hero: The Story of John Boyle O’Reilly (NY: Kenedy 1956) 309pp.
  • J. David Hogan, ‘The Fenian Tradition and its Power: John Boyle O’Reilly: A Gallant Figure’, in Sunday Press (21 April 1957), p.11 [with sequel the following week];
  • John R. Betts, "The Negro and the New England Conscience in the Days of John Boyle O’Reilly," in Journal of Negro History, 51 (1966), pp.246–61.
  • John R. Betts, “John Boyle O’Reilly and the American Paideia’, in Éire Ireland, 2 (1967), pp.36–37.
  • Kevin T. Shanley, ‘John Boyle O’Reilly and Civil Rights’, in Éire-Ireland, 4, 3 (Autumn 1969), pp.55-81;
  • Nollaig Ó Gadhra, John Boyle O’Reilly agus an glór Gael-Mheiriceánach (Baile Átha Cliath: Foilseacháin Náisiúinta Tta. 1976), 103pp.
  • V. Nadanasabapathy, John Boyle O’Reilly: A Bibliography, including references to the “Catalpa” Incident (Murdoch UP 1976), 22pp.
  • Con Costello, Botany Bay: The Story of the Convicts Transported from Ireland to Australia, 1791–1853 (Cork & Dublin: Mercier Press 1987) [q.pp.].
  • A[anthony] G. Evans, A Fanatic Heart: A Life of John Boyle O’Reilly, 1844-1890, Boston: Northwestern UP 1997), xv, 280pp. [see review details]; James M. O’Toole Reviewed work(s): Fanatic Heart: A Life of John Boyle O’Reilly, 1844-1890 by A. G. Evans, The New England Quarterly, 73, 2 (Jun., 2000), pp.332-35
  • Thomas Keneally, The Great Shame: A Story of the Irish in the Old World and the New (London: Chatto & Windus 1998), 540-42, et passim.
  • Susanna M. Ashton, ‘O’Reilly and The Moondyne’, in History Ireland, 10, 1 (Spring 2002), pp.38–42.
  • Ian Kenneally, From the Earth, A Cry: The Story of John Boyle O’Reilly (Cork: Collins Press 2011), 380pp., ill. [+16pp. photos.]

See also Betsy Grey, “John Boyle O’Reilly: Forgotten Fenian - Did the World Break his Heart?” [MA thesis] (Bath Spa 2004), 88pp.

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James M. O’Toole, review of Fanatic Heart: A Life of John Boyle O’Reilly, 1844-1890, by A. G. Evans, in The New England Quarterly, 73, 2 (June 2000), pp.332-35 [available at JSTOR - online] — ‘Call central casting: here’s the plot for a movie with genuine block-buster potential ... torrid romance with the warder’s daughter ... escapes into the wilderness ... hitch[es] a ride aboard a passing ship bound for America ... pillar of the community ... dying tragically young ... historical fact is sometimes stranger than fiction [... &c.]’


Rose Kavanagh, “A Caoine” (for John Boyle O’Reilly).

 It was hard to hearken the tale they told,
That Boyle O’Reilly was dead and cold,
In his golden prime, in his country’s need
Of each noble word and each worthy deed.

We loved him truly and well and long,
Who only knew him by word and song;
But around the feet of one motherland
Brethren see quickly and soon understand.

The gallant life was a wave of light,
Setting fair his race in the wide world’s sight.
Sore striken now in her loss and pain,
When will Ireland look on his like again?

Rose Kavanagh and Her Verse, ed. Rev. Matthew Russell, S. J. (Dublin: M. H. Gill 1909), pp.44.

W. P. Ryan, The Irish Literary Revival (1894), John Boyle O’Reilly, a true poet; the sensitive lyricist, the idealist, the rebel, the eager-hearted lover of humanity, the Christian, Bohemian, socialist, the poet always [10-11].

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Kevin T. Shanley, ‘John Boyle O’Reilly and Civil Rights’, in Éire-Ireland, 4, 3 (Autumn 1969), pp.55-81, is an article rich in biographical information which discusses O’Reilly’s career in America, paying particular attention to his response to the Orangeman’s Day riot in New York, 1870 and his actions on behalf of Jewish, Native American and African-American groups. Shanley writes that O’Reilly ‘had personal regard for suffering and prejudice in any form. He was instinctively sympathetic to all those who sought his help, especially those who were defenseless.’ (p.68.)

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Dominic Daly, The Young Douglas Hyde (1974), writes that John Boyle O’Reilly was arrested 1860, transported to Australia, and escaped to the USA where he founded [sic] Boston Pilot and paid Hyde for contributions incl. “Colum Cille’s Journey“, trans. from Old Irish (p.94.)

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The “Catalpa” was bought by Clan na Gael for $5,250 and placed under the command of Captain George [Smith] Anthony; the rescue of the 6 Fenian prisoners from Western Australia [not Van Diemen’s Land] by means of it occurred on 19 April 1875. On reaching Boston [1870], O’Reilly started work on the Pilot for the founding-owner Patrick Donahoe, who had set it up under as Pilot Publishing Co. and had other interests in banking and a shipping. O’Reilly became editor and, in the wake of a fire, and bankruptcy for the original proprietor at the beginning of 1876, he purchased the paper together with a Archbishop John J. Williams - acquiring the newspaper plant, property and goodwill for the sum of $28,000  plus repayment of a $6,500 mortgage with interest to a George F. Baldwin. Archbishop Williams held the majority share of 75%, and O’Reilly owned the remainder. The sale agreement contained an undertaking on the part of the new proprietors to repay the poor who had deposited, and subsequently lost, savings in Donahoe’s bank, and ‘not to take from the profits of their said business for their own use any money whatsoever other than the seven percent per annum and the salary of the said O’Reilly’. The archbishop launched a “Donahoe Fund” appeal in the Pilot and, thereafter, reports on the fund and lists of donors were printed in the paper each week. The voluntary obligation was duly carried out and the $73,000 lost by investors was repaid over a period of ten years. (The above information has supplied by Ross Herbert, of Carine, W. Australia - citing been extracted from Fanatic Heart, by A. G. Evans, 1997.)

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John Kirkaldy, review of From the Earth, A Cry: The Story of John Boyle O’Reilly, by Ian Kenneally, narrates his story, and relates that he worked closely with Michael Davitt, Charles Stewart Parnell, and John Devoy, and counted Walt Whitman, Frederick Douglass, Oscar Wilde and Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa among his friends. He was a tireless campaigner for civil rights, especially for black people and workers though his record on women was less satisfactory: ‘Women’s suffrage is an unjust, unreasonable, unspiritual abnormality. It is a hard, undigested, tasteless devitalised position. It is a half-fledged unmusical Promethean abomination.’ Also notes that he was happily married and a devoted father. A photograph taken in Mountjoy forms the cover of the book. (Books Ireland, Nov 2011,. p.219.)

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Susanna Ashton, Preamble to Moondyne (CELT digital edition): ‘[...] Despite writing fiery editorials in The Pilot advocating that African Americans resort to violence if necessary to defend their civil rights – a truly radical position in the late nineteenth century – O’Reilly’s easy condescension towards the aboriginal characters in the text, as well as his whole-hearted embrace of the exploitative nature of colonial expansion, render Moondyne a telling case study for the challenges faced by the ethical and literary imagination. Prefiguring much of Rudyard Kipling and H. Rider Haggard, O’Reilly’s notion of cultural righteousness is troubling, at best. / Yet O’Reilly’s dedication of Moondyne ‘to all who are in prison’ suggests that he was concerned with oppression in the most generous and sweeping sense.’ Ashton notes that the title-character Moondyne takes his name from one “Moondyne Joe”, an actual convict notorious for his daring around the region of Moondyne, slightly north-east of Perth - and hence something of a local hero. (See online; accessed 15.01.2012.)

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A White Rose
THE red rose whispers of passion,
And the white rose breathes of love;
O, the red rose is a falcon,
And the white rose is a dove.
But I send you a cream-white rosebud
With a flush on its petal tips;
For the love that is purest and sweetest
Has a kiss of desire on the lips.
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THE world was made when a man was born,
He must taste for himself the forbidden springs;
He can never take warning from old-fashion’d things;
He must fight as a boy, he must drink as a youth,
Of the friend of his soul; he must laugh to scorn
The hints of deceit in a woman’s eyes -
They are clear as the wells of Paradise.

And so he goes on till the world grows old,
Till his tongue has grown cautious, his heart has grown cold,
Till the smile leaves his mouth, till the ring leaves his laugh,
And he shirks the bright headache you ask him to quaff.
He grows formal with men, and with women polite,
And distrustful of both when they’re out of his sight.
Then he eats for his palate and drinks for his head,
And loves for his pleasure, - and ’tis time he was dead.
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“The Dead Who Died For Ireland”  

The dead who died for Ireland!
Oh, these are living words
To nerve the hearts of patriots -
to steel avenging swords -
They thrill the soul when spoken,
and lowly bend the head
With reverence for the memories
of all our martyred dead.

The dead who died for Ireland -
the noble ones - the best,
Who gave their lives for Motherland,
Who poured upon her breast,
In Freedom’s cause, the blood she gave -
Who with their dying breath,
Sent prayers to God to heal her woes -
then sealed their love in death.

The dead who died for Ireland,
How hallowed are their graves!
With all the memories fresh and green,
Oh! how could we be slaves?
How could we patient clang the chain?
How could we fawn and bow?
How could we crouch like mongrels
’neath the keeper’s frowning brow?

Be proud, ye men of Ireland!
Be proud of those who died;
Never men o’er all the earth
Had greater cause for pride -
Hope and strive, and league for freedom,
And again the souls will rise
Of the dead who died for Ireland
To cheer you to the prize.

See Breannain Clonfert, “John Devoy” Facebook group - online.

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Happiness: ‘My experience of life makes me sure of one truth, which I do not try to explain: that the sweetest happiness we ever know, the very wine of human life, comes not from love, but from sacrifice - from the effort to make others happy. This is as true to me that my flesh will burn if I touch hot metal.’

(Quoted from a letter to one given as “J.” - probably Jeremiah Curtin - whom the correspondent has meet at the Club, and who has shown him a passage in a letter received shortly before the O’Reilly’s sudden death and then further letters on request. See ‘John Boyle O’Reilly by a Friend’, in “Contributors Club” The Atlantic Monthly, 66, 396, October 1890, pp. 572ff - available at Cornell UL online], or as attached.)

America peacemaker [on Irish riots]: ‘Why must we carry wherever we go those accursed and contemptible island feuds? Shall we never be shamed into the knowledge of the brazen imprudence of allowing our national hatreds to disturb the peace and safety of respectable citizens of this country?’ (Editorial, Pilot, 23 July 1870; quoted in Susanna Ashton, Preamble to CELT digital edition of Moondyne [online].)

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Justin McCarthy, gen. ed., Irish Literature (Washington: University of America 1904); b. Dowth Castle, Co. Meath, 28 June; son of antiquarian; mother of great beauty; while in England contributed to Dark Blue, an Oxford periodical; made the Boston Pilot notable exponent of Irish-American opinions and high-class literary journal; d. 10 Aug. from overdose of chloral to induce sleep; public statue, and a bust in Catholic university; unfinished works were The Country with A Roof, and The Evolution of Straight Weapons; works incl. Songs from the Southern Seas and other Poems; Songs, Legends, and Ballads; The Statues in the Block and other poems; In Bohemia, poems; also Moondyne, novel; Ethics of Boxing, and ed. The Poetry and Song of Ireland (first edition). JMC selects ‘The Common Citizen Soldier’ [under copyright], being Decoration Day Address, Everett, Mass., from John Boyle O’Reilly, His Life, Poems, and Speeches [‘Veterans of the Grand Army, you are the orators ... no matter who may be the speakers ... you still unroll the memory of the great diorama ... the war marks the maturity of the Republic henceforth only the weak and vapid American sought models in other countries. These words of Emerson began to be appreciated, ‘They who made England, Italy, or Greece venerable in the imagination did so by sticking fast where they were, like an axis of the earth. The soul is no traveller; the wise man stays at home ..’ Foremost among the teachers of true Americanism were the veterans of the war, both North and South [quotes ‘the great American poet’ Whitman] ... dear battle flags of America ... the veteran is nearer and dearer than the flag [discusses the mercenary view of the contract of enlistment]; all men who fought in the war for the Union ought to be pensioned for life ... [Miltiades]. Also selects ‘Ensign Epps the Colour Bearer [‘Flanders matter on which side, Philip or Earl/Their cause was the shell - his deed was the pearl ... tied the colours his heart above/And plunged in his armour in the tide/And there, in his dress of honour, died’; also, ‘At Fredericksburg, Dec. 13 1862’ [‘God send peace and keep red strife away;/But should it come, God send us men of steel ... Who loveth the Flag is a man and a brother/No matter what birth or what race or what creed’; ‘Unspoken words’; ‘Mayflower’l ‘A Savage’ [a verse tale of who voluntarily returns to face the guns of his executioners]; from ‘Wendell Phillips’ [‘His life was a ceaseless protest ... who dared to be traitor to Union when Union was traitor to right’]; gives extract(s) from John Boyle O’Reilly, his Life, Poems, and Speeches. Dublin Book of Irish Verse; bio-dates, 1844-1890; ‘A White Rose’ [‘... the love that is purest and sweetest/Has a kiss of desire on its lips.’]

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Anthologies, T. W. Rolleston, Douglas Hyde, Lady Wilde, W. B. Yeats, Katharine Tynan, and others, from 1889; Arthur Quiller Couch, ed., Oxford Book of English Verse, 1250-1918 (new ed. 1929), 837; also Katie Donovan, A. N. Jeffares, and Brendan Kennelly, eds., Ireland’s Women (Dublin: Gill & Macmillan 1994).

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Brian McKenna, Irish Literature (Gale Research 1978), Life of John Boyle O’Reilly, by James Jeffrey Roche, together with his complete Poems and Speeches (NY 1891); Watchwords from John Boyle O’Reilly [with crit. biog. pref. by Katherine E. Conway (Boston 1904); Selected Poems ... (1904); Selections from the Writings of J. B. O’Reilly and Rev. Abram J. Ryan (Chicago 1904); Selected Poems, ed. Mary J. A. O’Reilly (NY 1913); poetry, Songs from the Southern Seas and other poems (Boston 1873); Songs, Legends and Ballads (Boston Pilot 1878); The Statue and the Block, and other poems (1881); In Bohemia (1886); fiction, Moondyne, a story from the Under-world (Boston Pilot 1879); The King’s Men (Scribner 1884); others, The Poetry and Song of Ireland, with biog. sketches (NY 1887); Ethics of Boxing and Manly Sport (Boston 1888).

Hyland Books (Cat. 214) lists Songs, Legends and Ballads (1st edn. Boston 1878).

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Cowardy Custer: O’Reilly condemned the Custer massacre of American Indians as ‘methodistic cant [and] high-handed coercion, its object plunder, its results disgrace and the death of the Indians.’

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Moondyne (1879): The central figure is the convict called Moondyne, a name given him by his Aborigine friends in the Australian outback who was transported from England for poaching deer to feed his starving family. There he makes his escape with the help of Aborigines who call him Moondyne and share with him the secret of an immense gold-mine with him - after which he returns to England under the assumed name of Wyville. Respected as a wealthy humanitarian with special expertise land distribution, legal codes and penal reform, he befriends a young man, William Sheridan and takes up the cause of a young woman, Alice Walmsley, who is falsely accused of murdering her own child. When she is unjustly transported to Australia Wyville and Sheridan, with a dozen others, travel on the convict ship bound for Fremantle. Acting as a Government agent charged with reformig land policy and the penal system in Australia, Wyville saves Alice from despair and imprisonment, reunites a pair of lovers, deals out justice to true malefactors and contributes his suggests to the land issues of the colony all dying an attempt to save a villain from death in a raging brush fire. (See Susan Ashton, “Preamble” to CELT edition of Moondyne - online.)

The Boston Pilot -

The Pilot, America’s oldest Catholic newspaper, was established in September 1829 by Bishop Benedict J. Fenwick, who saw the need for the “publication of a newspaper in which the doctrines of the Holy Catholic Church ... may be truly explained and moderately but firmly defended,” he wrote in the first edition of the newspaper. Its purpose, as was also stated in that first edition, was to defend the “crying calumnies and gross misrepresentations which in this section of the country have been so long, so unsparingly, so cruelly heaped upon the Church.”

Beginning as The Jesuit or Catholic Sentinel, the newspaper’s name was changed several times in it’s first seven years.   The Jesuit, The United States Catholic Intelligencer, The Literary and Catholic Sentinel and several combinations of those names.


In 1834, unhappy with the paper’s progress, Bishop Fenwick sold the publication to two lay men — Henry Devereux, the publisher, and Patrick Donahoe, an employee who quickly became the newspaper’s sole proprietor and editor. By 1836, Donahoe changed the title of the paper to The Boston Pilot, both as a tribute to the Dublin Pilot newspaper, and, as Donahoe himself wrote in a prospectus, “to suggest that we would do our best to “pilot’ our readers through rough waters, the rocks of doubt or the quicksands of error.”

Although the newspaper began with modest circulation, readership of The Boston Pilot steadily increased, in 1854 boasting over 1.5 million subscribers worldwide.In 1858, the newspaper’s Old English nameplate “The Pilot” appeared for the first time, under the editorship of Father Joseph M. Finotti, along with the motto, “Be just and fear not, let all the ends thou aim’st at be thy God’s, thy Country’s and Truth’s.”

However, the history of the newspaper was not without its setbacks. The Pilot offices burned to the ground in the Great Fire of 1872 and then twice more at new locations — all within one month. In the wake of these fires, editor John Boyle O’Reilly penned an editorial saying, “When a fire comes to Boston nowadays, it comes looking for its friend The Pilot.  It is evident that the fire has a rare appreciation of a good newspaper.”

Insurance companies’ failure to cover the losses from the fires, coupled with the failure of the bank and publishing house, prompted Donahoe to sell The Pilot. In 1876 Archbishop John J. Williams, Boston’s first archbishop, purchased a three-fourths interest in The Pilot. The remaining share was bought by O’Reilly. Fourteen years later, Donahoe once again purchased the newspaper and resumed its management until his death in 1891. In 1908, Cardinal William H. O’Connell bought The Pilot from the Donahoe family and made it the official newspaper of the Archdiocese of Boston.

—Available at The Boston Pilot - online; accessed 29.07.2015.


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Kith & Kin: Francis Russell, Calvin Coolidge and the 1919 Boston Police Strike (Beacon Press 1975) - cites one Murphy, a highly-respected son-lin-law of John Boyle O’Reilly

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