The chivalric, soldier soul of the beloved pastor of St. Mary's. and the great, kindly heart that is happy only in rendering the fullest measure of devotion to all in sorrow or in need, could not fail to be touched by the pitiable condition of the land of his ancesters, the unhappy Ireland of bygone years, and next to the love of his own America, which has always distinguished him, came a deep affection and a unwavering loyalty to what seemed in the days of his vigorous young manhood to be indeed a " Lost Cause ".
The plight of Ireland, the land of saints, scholars and heroes and the home of his forebears, tugged at his heartstrings, and the sad story of her wrongs was the theme of many of his most brilliant bursts of eloquence, while every ambassador of the Irish people that set foot upon American soil received a hearty welcome from Father O'Reilly.
As early as '86, Michael Davitt was introduced to the liberty loving people of Lawrence, who paraded to the City Hall in his honor, where he was greeted by the members of the city government, and it was Father O'Reilly whose eloquence was called upon to laud this heroic son of Erin.
In no city of its size was Michael Davitt more enthusiastically greeted than in Lawrence under Father O'Reilly's leadership. On the memorable occasion Father O'Reilly alluded to the condition of Ireland, "Then weeping and groaning under tyrannical rule, but never yielding; but eventually," he said, "God would raise His righteous Hand and place her among, but is as different as several centuries ago, and stands in the face of her terrible enemy as did this nation when struggling for her independence. The air of Ireland is impregnated with liberty,and liberty she is bound to have, as her valiant children are taking an active part in the struggle for liberty. The Irish people are trained and drilled and by the efforts of this gentleman who has honored us by his presence this evening this has been accomplished. He is the person who the English Government could not subdue, who patriotic spirit after four years' incarceration in a four by seven British dungeon could not be crushed."
At the critical period when the unjust Coercion Bill which would place the lives and the homes of the Irish people in jeopardy was pending in the British Parliament, an Anti-Coercion meeting was held in this city, as such meetings were being held all over the United States and wherever beat an Irish heart. Father O'Reilly's words on this occasion, so characteristic of his noble sentiments, lingered long in the memories of his hearers.
"I think I have said enough to give you to understand that I have a heart for freedom," he said in conclusion, "and as one who has arisen from the ranks, as one whose father laid down his life in defense of his country, I protest against this act." Nor were his glowing words more gallant or fearless than his chvalrous spirit as he stood there on the platform of the old City Hall in all the splendid virility of blameless manhood, his keen eyes flashing fire while the nnging accents of his marvelous and powerful voice cleaved the hushed air.
Three years later, in 1889, thr Father O'Reilly, Lawrence was favored with a visit from the beloved Irish poet, John Boyle O'Reilly, an intimate friend of the pastor of St. Mary's. As a result of this visit, between April and August of the same year, the sum of approximately one thousand dollars was collected and forwarded by Father O'Reilly to harles Stewart Parnell to aid suffering Ireland in her struggle for life and liberty. But the following year brou the sad news of the soldier-poet's death, and again the citizens of Lawrence had occasion to hear father O'Reilly's voice raised, this time in eulogistic praise of his friend:
"Lo! some we loved, the lovliest and best
That time and fate of all their vintage prest,
He drunk their cup a round or two before,
And one by one crept sintly to rest!"
His words to the thousands of all races and creeds assembled in the City Hall on that sad occasion are well worth recording:
"The occasion of our assembling here this evening is to mourn the loss of our departed friend, for friend he was to every cause that needed his assistance. The city of Boston was all excitement, the center of attraction of the whole country, and comrades from all directions flocked there. men who had fought the battle of liberty in the late war were now surrounding the Cradle of Liberty on the occasion of their annual encampment. At this moment the sad news flashed abroad from pulpit and press John Boyle O'Reilly was dead. The people shuddered at the news. A gloom was cast over the feast - one of the brightest champions of liberty had passed away. He was no governor, no crowned head, no leader of power. Why then this universal outburst of grief? The beloved of all the lovers of liberty had been suddenly called from his labors, and the whole world mourned his loss."
The famous Irish leaders, Dillon and Davitt, were received by Father O'Reilly in 1902. The object of their visit was to arouse interest in a United Irish league - to the National Executive Committee of which Father O'Reilly was afterwards elected a member, shortly before Patrick O'Brien and John F. Redmond were welcomed in Lawrence. With the latter, whose ideas and sentiments were in accord with any and all who had "heart for freedom." Father O'Reilly always enjoyed a close friendship, and anyone who ever witnessed or participated in the annual observance of " Irish Night " can with a swelling heart recall the distinguished figure of their beloved pastor, standing, with genial smile, twinkling eyes and snowy hhair, in the presence of his favorites, the children of St. Mary's, at the close of the performance, proudly displaying on his coat-lapel a cluster of the little green shamrocks of Ireland, as near to his heart as her age-old cause. For it was with these eloquent little messages plucked from the very heart of Erin that John Redmond, until he died, greeted Father O'Reilly on St. Patrick's Day.
It was to foster in the hearts of the children of America a love and sympathy for the land which gave so many of their fathers' birth, and a land whose noble contributions to civiliation has so long ignored, that Father O'Reilly instituted the custom to which the writer has just referred, namely an " Irish Night " performance on or near the feast of St. Patrick, the champion of Irela. Annually, therefore, at this time, four hundred of the children of St. Mary's Parochial School have staged an excellent performance, entertaining their relatives and friends with song and story, incidentally keeping alive in their youthful hearts the lovely legends and bewitching melodies of Erin's lakes and fells. And it always has been a dramatic moment, indeed, when Father O'Reilly has stepped forth into view of the audience - a supreme moment and a moment charged with emotion; when he has congratulated the children and their parents upon the great work which he, in his humility, has attributed to them, but which everyone present has realized to be the beautiful fruit of his own labors.