11 March 2004 Edition
Thomas Devin Reilly remembered
The 150th anniversary of the sudden death of a Young Irelander was marked at his Washington DC graveside on Friday last 5 March. Thomas Devin Reilly, writer and revolutionary and key member of the Young Irelanders, was born in Monaghan Town in 1824 and died in Washington at the age of 30. Fellow Monaghan town man and Sinn Féin TD Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin gave the main address.
Organised by the Ancient Order of Hibernians in the US capital, the event was attended by representatives of various Irish-American organisations. The Irish Ambassador to the United States, Seán Ó hUiginn, was represented and the event was recorded for RTÉ.
Ó Caoláin recalled that he himself was born into an address at Devin Reilly Terrace, part of the then newly constructed local authority development known as Connolly Park. The Terrace was dedicated to the memory of Devin Reilly in the year preceding the centenary anniversary of his death.
Devin Reilly grew up in relatively privileged circumstances; his father was a solicitor and the young Reilly went to Trinity College Dublin to complete his education. He was an ardent believer in the republican ideal, holding strongly to the message and the means of Theobald Wolfe Tone and Robert Emmet. He wrote for a number of radical publications, including The Nation newspaper, founded by fellow Monaghantownsman Charles Gavan Duffy.
A participant in the Ballingarry skirmish of 1848, Reilly, now a fugitive from crown forces, made his way back to Monaghan, where he remained 'on the run' for a period before successfully making his way to the United States. Continuing his supportive activities in the cause of Irish freedom, Reilly developed an interest in American politics. At the time of his death, he was an acknowledged influence in the administration of United States President Franklin Pierce.
He married in the United States, where he met Jennie Miller of Enniskillen. They had one child, Mollie, who died in infancy. Both Mollie and Jennie are buried with Devin Reilly at Mount Oliver Catholic Cemetery in the Brentwood area of northeast Washington.
The 150th anniversary event was chaired by AOH local president John McInerney. The Order's local history researcher John Haltigan outlined the discovery of the gravesite and memorial some 18 months before and the planning that had gone into the event in the period since. Haltigan, whose family roots are in Kilkenny, was followed by the guest speaker, Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin.
In his oration, Ó Caoláin said the grave was not only the resting place of a Young Irelander and his family but "symbolises the enduring bond of friendship and solidarity between the people of Ireland and our exiles of every generation". After outlining the historical background to Devin Reilly's life, Ó Caoláin said:
"He saw that the twin evils literally crushing the Irish people to death were landlordism and British rule. For the remainder of his short life, he was on the side of the farm labourer, the small tenant farmer, and the industrial labourer against those who exploited them. He wrote: 'The social system in which a man willing to work is compelled to starve is a blasphemy, an anarchy and no system.'"
The Sinn Féin Dáil leader paid tribute to "all those here in the United States who have championed the cause of Irish independence and who have promoted the Peace Process. Without the diligence of Irish Americans and friends of Ireland from all ethnic backgrounds over a decade ago, peace in Ireland could not have become so prominent on the political agenda of Capitol Hill and the White House. Without them the positive engagement of successive US Administrations would not have been possible.
"Thomas Devin Reilly lies here in Washington far from his native Monaghan. But in this country and at home in Ireland the banner of freedom that he passed on is flying as proudly as ever. Beneath it we will carry on our long walk to liberty and we look forward to the day when our people at home and abroad will celebrate the achievement of his dream and our dream — a free and united Ireland."