John Boyle O'Reilly Statue

John Boyle O'Reilly statue, Boston

Public Art : John Boyle O'Reilly statue

Sculptor : © Daniel Chester French (April 20th, 1850 – October 7th, 1931)

Architect : © C. Howard Walker

Description : The double sided monument features a bronze bust of the famed poet and patriot O'Reilly perched on a pedestal in front of a marble stele. The stele features carvings of Celtic decorations. If you wonder around to the other side of the monument you will find three life size bronze allegorical figures. The seated woman represents Erin the symbol of Ireland and to her right the male figure represents patriotism and the male to her left  represents poetry.  Patriotism is seen handing her an oak branch and poetry a branch of laurel. There on her lap Erin is twisting the branches into a crown for all the Irish heroes.

Date Unveiled : 1896

Funded By: The memorial was a gift to the City by the Trustees of the John Boyle O'Reilly Memorial Committee

Location: The John Boyle O'Reilly memorial is located in Boston, Massachusetts

Brief Background History : John Boyle O'Reilly (28 June 1844–10 August 1890) was an Irish born poet, novelist and humanitarian. His time in Western Australia was not spent in the ideal of circumstances. He was sent to the penal colony for twenty years for his involvement in the Fenian Rising. Despite the harsh outcome, O'Reilly must have had the luck of the Irish on his side because he was originally sentenced to death.

O'Reilly was born in Drogheada in Ireland during the Great Irish Famine, a time of great turbulence, suffering and conflict. The United Kingdom had claimed Ireland as their own and many Irish people resented this. John Boyle O'Reilly happened to be one of them.

In 1865, at the age of 21, O'Reilly joined the Irish Republican Brotherhood a group also known as the Fenians. It was a secret society of fierce patriots whose sole aim was to organize an armed uprising against British rule. O'Reilly's role within the Brotherhood was to recruit more Fenians, which he was very successful at doing. Unfortunately the sudden surge of popularity for the group eventually exposed them and it wasn't long before the British authorities organized several raids. O'Reilly was among those arrested and for his involvement in what was to become known as the "Fenian Conspiracy" was sent to Western Australia as punishment. O'Reilly had passage on the last of the convict ships ever sent to Western Australia, the Hougoumont.

The ship departed from Portsmouth on 12 October 1867 with 280 convicts and 108 passengers on board, 62 of which were Fenian "political" prisoners from the uprising. To say the Western Australian colony were freaked out by their arrival was an understatement, especially as it contravened the agreement between the United Kingdom and WA. Many of these men were highly educated and some even produced a shipboard newspaper called The Wild Goose to alleviate their boredom on the ship during their long journey. Not the kind of hardened criminals they were expecting.

On January the 9th, 1868, the Hougoumont finally made it into Fremantle port and the convicts were taken straight to the Convict Establishment (now ex-Fremantle Prison). O'Reilly soon found himself placed with a group of convicts who were assigned to building the Bunbury -Vasse road. O'Reilly was a sociable fellow and it didn't take long before he had built up a solid friendship with his warder Henry Woodman and later his daughter! From all accounts his romance with the daughter Jessie, didn't end well and the year ended with a suicide attempt. O'Reilly, who had cut his vein on the left arm, was discovered by another convicted just in the nick of time.

Now this is where the story gets interesting. During the same time O'Reilly also became friendly with a local Catholic priest by the name of Father Patrick McCabe. McCabe, aware of O'Reilly's suffering, offered to help him escape the colony. The plan was set for 18th February 1869. O'Reilly would absconder from his work party and meet up with a group of Irish settlers from Dardanup who would then take him via row boat to the Leschenault Inlet near Australind. There O'Reilly would wait in the sand dunes for the American Whaling ship Vigilant (which McCabe has pre-arranged) to pick him up. Everything went according to plan until O'Reilly and his comrades rowed out to sea to greet the Vigilant. The captain had second thoughts about the caper and sailed off without them.

A few weeks later his friends managed to persuade another captain from the American whaler the Gazelle to help in his escape. Along with O'Reilly another convict James Bowman, boarded the Gazelle. He had heard of O'Reilly's plan for freedom and had blackmailed the conspirators to escape with him. The original arrangement was for the captain to take O'Reilly to Java but bad weather prevented this and they ended up in Mauritius, a British colony at the time. Unfortunately, word had reached Mauritius that the Gazette was carrying an escaped convict from WA. The crew conveniently handed over Bowman, leaving O'Reilly on board. The next obstacle was Saint Helena, which was yet another British colony. The crew organized to transfer O'Reilly to another ship, the Sapphire, prior to arrival. The Sapphire arrived in Liverpool on the 13th October 1869 and O'Reilly exited the ship and boarded yet another one. This time it was the Bombay and its destination was Philadelphia. On his arrival he was greeted with great cheers from his compatriots.

It didn't take long for O'Reilly to settle back into writing and he was soon working for the newspaper the Pilot in Boston . He wrote many articles focusing on the Fenian struggle and it soon became one of the must read paper of the day. O'Reilly would eventually become editor and then part owner of the newspaper. It was during this time that O'Reilly changed his views on military Fenianism and became a strong advocate for achieving Irish independence by raising the status and self-esteem of the Irish people. His views would be later expressed through his poetry.

So now if you thought O'Reilly's connection with Western Australia was long gone, you would be mistaken. In 1875 O'Reilly's advice and scheming were instrumental in the rescuing of 6 Fenians still serving time in Western Australia. He suggested that a whaling ship be purchased under the rouse of being in Fremantle for legitimate business to aid in the daring rescue. Despite bad weather and a confrontation with  the steamship the SS Georgette, the Catalpa and six very relieved  Fenians , Thomas Darragh, Martin Hogan, Michael Harrington, Thomas Hassett, Robert Cranston and James Wilson arrived in New York harbor on August 19th, 1876.

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