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O’ Reilly– Popular County Cavan Name


O’ Reilly - Gaelic: O Raghailligh

O’ Reilly ranks among the twelve most widespread names in Ireland. It comes from the name of a renowned 10th Century clan chief, Raighallach, which is said to be from the combination of "Raigh", meaning arm, and "allach", meaning strong or powerful. This is indeed fitting, because for many centuries the O'Reillys were the most powerful Sept/Family in Breifne. In the 10th century the territory of Breifne was divided into two principalities — Breifne O'Rourke or West Breifne, and Breifne O'Reilly or East Breifne. (The Irish word Breifne means "hilly country".) In 1584, during the reign of Queen Elizabeth, Breifne O'Reilly was turned into a county and was called County Cavan after its principal town. In olden times this was the seat of the O'Reillys whose main residence was on Tullymongan Hill on the outskirts of the town.

Their name for being an extremely tough, determined, and often violent Sept/Family goes back to earliest times. After the English, their biggest enemy appears to have been their neighbours to the west, the O'Rourkes of County Leitrim, an equally fierce and aggressive lot.

The legendary 17th century figure "Miles the Slasher" typifies the fierce O'Reilly tradition. He distinguished himself as a commander in the ill-fated rebellion against the English to regain lost territory in the 1640's. Miles, who was High Sheriff of County Cavan before the insurrection broke out in 1641, later had to flee Ireland. He went to Spain and eventually ended up in France where he died about 1660 and was buried in the Irish monastery at Chalons-sur-Marne.

Another Miles O'Reilly made a name for himself some two centuries later writing about the Civil War in America. Miles O'Reilly was actually the pseudonym of Charles Graham Halpine (1829-1868). He was born near Oldcastle, County Meath in 1829 and went to America where he eventually worked for the New York Times. In 1861 he joined the Union forces, accepting a commission in Col. Michael Corcoran's 69th regiment. He became a colonel and later a brigadier general. His humorous poems and letters to the press won him tremendous popularity, but his fame rests mainly on "Sambo's Right to be Killed", said to be one of the most influential pieces in overcoming the objections of Union troops to letting Negroes join the army. Halpine died on August 3, 1868, at the age of 39.

John Boyle O'Reilly (1844-1890) also made a name for himself as a journalist and writer in America. Because of his activities in the revolutionary movement against England he was arrested in 1866, convicted, and sent to the convict settlement in Bunbury, Australia. In 1869 he managed to escape on an American whaler. He settled in Boston where he worked as a journalist and became editor and part owner of the Pilot, one of the most influential Irish-American newspapers in the United States. He continued to support the Irish revolutionary movement from America and he came to occupy a distinguished place in the literary society of Boston. His poetical works include Songs from the Southern Seas (1873); Songs, Legends and Ballads (1878); The Statues in the Block, and other Poems (1881); and In Bohemia (1886). He also edited The Poetry and Songs of Ireland (New York 1889). As a novelist O'Reilly will be remembered as the author of Moondyne, a story of convict life in Australia which was published in 1880 and ran through twelve editions.

The Irish revolutionary writer Thomas Devin Reilly (1824-1854) escaped from Ireland to New York in 1848 after charges were brought against him for authoring a scathing article which appeared in the United Irishman. For two years he edited the New York Democratic Review and afterwards the Washington Union. He died suddenly in Washington on March 6, 1854, and was buried in Mount Olivet Cemetery.

The lexicographer Edward O'Reilly (d. 1829) published in 1817 one of the first Irish-English dictionaries. He also compiled a chronological account of nearly 400 Irish writers which appeared in 1820. His dictionary came too early to contain the phrase "the life of Reilly". The expression is said to have first appeared in a ballad composed about the time of the Crimean War (1854) by a County Westmeath doctor named William Nedley.
 
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