Poet, writer and nationalist John Boyle O’Reilly was born in Dowth Castle, Co Meath, near Drogheda. For his part in the IRB and Fenian conspiracy, O’Reilly was sentenced to twenty years’ penal servitude. He served nearly two years in English prisons before being put aboard the convict ship Hougoumont, and transported to Australia in 1868, but escaped to America after two years where he ultimately became an American citizen. He was a prominent spokesperson for the Irish community and culture, through his editorship of the Boston newspaper The Pilot, his prolific writing, and his lecture tours.
In 1875, John Devoy sought O’Reilly’s advice on how the Clan na Gael might rescue the six military Fenians serving time in Western Australia. The first plan was to storm Fremantle Prison and rescue the Fenians by force of arms; O’Reilly rejected that. He suggested that a rescue party pick up the escapees according to a prearranged plan. He also recommended their buying a whaling ship for the purpose, as it could have an appearance of legitimate business in Fremantle. O’Reilly’s plan was adopted, and ultimately led to the Catalpa rescue.
President John F. Kennedy allegedly was an admirer of O’Reilly’s work and quoted him when speaking to Dáil Éireann in 1963 stating:
“The world is large,” wrote John Boyle O’Reilly.
“The world is large when its weary
leagues two loving hearts divide,
“But the world is small when your enemy
is loose on the other side.”