John Patrick O'Reilly

Co. Cavan

jP O'Reilly 

Family Background and Early Life

J.P. O'Reilly, (known as Pat) was born in 1896 to Bernard (publican & grocer) and Mary O’Reilly. In the 1901 census he is the youngest of six children. Although he is not present for the 1911 census, the family had listed nine living children.

 He attended St. Anne's N.S. Bailieborough, a two  roomed school opposite the Roman Catholic Church. He worked in the Northern Bank, Oldcastle, Co. Meath. He was encouraged to join the army, influenced by a priest at mass in Oldcastle who implored men in the parish to take up arms on behalf of Catholic Belgium which had been invaded by the Germans.

The town of Bailieborough present day.

The town of Bailieborough circa 1915

Old enough to enlist, too young to vote.

Following mass in Oldcastle, he was recruited in the nearby town of Ballyjamesduff and enlisted in Navan, Co. Meath. Lord Kitchener, Secretary for War created thirty new divisions, one of which was the 10th Irish Division. Pat became a soldier of the 10th Irish Division. He started in the 6th Royal Irish Rifles. He was  first trained at a regimental barracks in St.Patrick's Ballymena, Co.Antrim or possibly in Belfast.  He then went to the Curragh to train with the rest of the 29th Brigade before moving to Basingstoke  to complete his training.

Pat was then transferred to the Mediterranean for the Suvla Bay landings on the 7th of August, 1915. Gallipoli was evacuated and left to the Turks. They regrouped in Malta and Pat was transferred to a Hospital in Manchester before going to France                                                          

Active service - France 

Pat was transferred to the 2nd Royal Irish Rifles following Gallipoli. The Battle of the Somme lasted from the 1 July - 13 November 1916.  He died on the  29th September 1916 – 45 days before the end. Over 3,500 Irish soldiers died during the Battle of the Somme 658 of these men are from County Cavan,  48 were from Bailieborough, J.P. O’Reilly Rifleman 19927 was one of these. 

Letters Home

The facts surrounding why Pat went to fight in the war are clear, but apart from his apparent bravery no other aspects of Pat's personality could simply be gathered from such facts. It was through the letters he sent home that I got a real insight into what type of person he was. I can only imagine how terrified he must have been, he was a teenage boy, barely older than myself yet in his letters home he continuously assured his family he was okay, making it sound more like he was simply on holiday instead of fighting in a war. He was incredibly considerate, not wanting them to worry about him. He wanted to know how they were and mundane things like how Cavan was doing in football.  His family missed him terribly, they tried their hardest to bring him home, to get him decommissioned but he was a man with great morals and even though he was terribly homesick he continued to fight because he believed in the cause he was fighting for. 

Living relatives. 

Great niece and nephew outside family post office.

Great War Medal awarded to Pat.

Reverse of medal

War Effects Medal Index Page

My story

My name is Grace Clarke, I'm 17 years old and I'm from Bailieborough in Co.Cavan. 

Before this project I had a basic knowledge of World War One. I come from a very nationalist household and I usually hear about this period of time concerning the 1916 rebellion and the fight for Irish independence. I have a genuine interest in history and when I heard about the project from my history teacher it intrigued me. The idea of learning about the human story behind all the facts and figures and actually learning about that persons motives seemed incredibly interesting to me. 

Learning about my soldier, Pat has definitely been a great experience for me. Up until he left for Belgium, our lives on paper are practically identical.  To think that the two of us hail from exactly the same place, about a minutes walk from one another, baptised in the same chapel, attended the same school and how near the same age we are as to when he went off to fight is incredibly surreal. It made me realise how truly different times were, how much more mature than me he would've been, how much more he experienced he would've been when I still struggle to turn on the washing machine. His story truly touched me and the snippets into his personality I got from his letters were of a kind and passionate man.  

From my research on Pat and his involvement in the war I have a new outlook on Irish involvement in the war than I did a year ago and I'm truly glad as to the way this project has opened my eyes. 

Finally, I'd like to thank the O'Reilly family, Myles Dungan (great nephew) and Carmel O'Callaghan for very helpfully providing me with all the information I gathered. 

Somme TRIP

 Our trip to the Somme is one i will never forget. It was a very humbling and surreal experience. We set off on the 29th of June and were lucky enough to get the chance to meet the president in Phoenix Park before we left.

 The amount of grave yards we visited and saw on the trip were astonishing. The graves of the German soldiers were particularly appalling to see, the grave stones were black crosses with four soldiers to one cross. It was saddening, they were still just men like the French and British simply following orders and fighting for their country but they weren't honoured in the same way, no brightly coloured flowers appeared in their grave yard unlike their counterparts.

  Visiting my soldier's grave was a far more emotional experience than I expected. I saw various students become overwhelmed with emotion as they visited their grave which perplexed me until I visited mine. Learning about Pat in the context in which I did made him feel fictional akin to a book character but seeing his grave put it all into perspective. His story was real as was his death. 

Athuille Cemetery. 

Grave of J.P O'Reilly, Riffleman 19927