The O’Reilly Family History  

Records show that the O’Reilly family originated in Toomaline which is a townland in the parish of Doon , County Limerick . Our known history begins with John O’Reilly and his wife Ann ( Nancy ) Ryan (sometimes listed as Dwyer). Doon , according to the 1841 census, had grown in ten years from a population of 178 living in 30 houses to 240 people living in 43 houses – many were thatched with mud walls. There were also seven licensed public houses and four petty groceries. After 1851 the Irish population declined due to emigration. There were 4303 emigrants from Limerick in 1851.

Church records in Doon indicated that John O’Reilly and his wife Ann had the following children, whose baptismal records with sponsors are as follows:

Date Name Sponsors

29.01.1835 James Daniel Reilly & Mary Ryan

26.01.1837 Daniel Daniel Reilly & Margaret Ryan

10.12.1838 Norry Daniel Mullins & Mary Conway

07.02.1840 Michael Daniel Ryan & Honora Benton

02.10.1842 John Laurence Reilly & Mary Ryan

12.03.1845 Patrick William Ryan & Bridget Brien

09.08.1847 Mary John Morrissey & Judy Morrissey

“At the dawn of the 19 th century, the parish of Doon was not unlike any other rural area in the country. The people were poor, with little or no opportunity of improving their situation. They were discontented and rebelled against the unjust laws of the land.

No one could deny the distress, misery and want of the people of the parish, stricken with one calamity after another. Yet the landlords, many of them absent, were unaware of their plight. After the conclusion of the Napoleonic wars, the prices of produce fell – produce which the small landholders, up to now, produced for the payments of their tithes and rents.

Tithes were payments made to the church by everyone who had land. One tenth of the profits from the production of milk, eggs, wheat, etc., were payable to the church and collected by the church wardens for the maintenance and repairs of the church. This was a source of great anger, not only in Doon , but throughout the length and breadth of the country.

“In the summer of 1831 a great demonstration took place in the parish of Doon against the tithes. Fr. Patrick Hickey then P.P. encouraged his parishioners not to pay these tithes saying he himself would not do so (not explaining that he had never been asked to). At this Rev. Charles Coote was adamant to collect the money. After obtaining support from the Government he ordered his tithe-proctor, a man named Lysaght to seize the priest’s cow – this he did and impounded her in Bilboa. Notice was then given that the cow would be sold for the payment of these tithes. But the people were determined that the auction would be used to demonstrate against the tithes. When property or cattle was seized in this way the people refused to buy it and there was often conflict and difficulty disposing of the property. Rev. Coote became a very disillusioned and saddened man as relations deteriorated within the community and at least two attempts were made on his life.”

Many of the families evicted in the parish were scattered throughout the roadsides, landless and homeless and for the most part dependent on the charity of those who were almost as poor as themselves. One such family, evicted from Toomaline Lower, lived four years in a makeshift shelter at the side of a ditch. They were one of the lucky ones. When their situation was eventually made known to the landlord, he had them re-admitted.

Fear of eviction was very great among the citizenry, so too was the hatred they felt for anybody working for the landlords and equally so for any family who moved into a farm from which the previous occupiers had been evicted.

Doon was just recovering from the cholera epidemic of 1832, Catholic Emancipation had been won in 1829, Fr. Patrick Hickey had arrived as P.P. in 1824 and the community were setting about building their own Catholic Church when in 1846 the Great Famine struck. Many people held less than five acres and their potato crop which up to now could support their families failed, fear of starvation and eviction were very real and for many out-door relief, moving into the workhouses and emigration were their only option.

When the potato crop completely failed in August 1847, the people found famine staring them in the face. Those who could escape did so in hundreds from the parish in immigrant ships. Many never got off those ships alive.

For those who were left behind, the moment of parting was like a death in the family. Parents clung to their children whom they knew they would never see again and only the utmost force could tear them asunder.” (Dun Bleisce)

It was into this environment that our ancestors were thrown. Griffith ’s Valuation Survey 1851 indicates that John Reilly had 14-3/4 acres of land in Toomaline Lower in 1851. The valuation of his house and land was £10.7shillings. John leased his land from the representatives of D. Barrington. How he and his family survived the famine years we do not know.

We do know that their eldest child James was the first to leave for America . Articles about James O’Reilly, who emigrated between 1849 and 1852, before his brother Michael, indicated it took him eight weeks to come by boat that was shipwrecked and landed in Newfoundland . He came to Troy , New York , where he worked as a farm labourer for three years. Perhaps he, like many other Irish emigrants, sent money home to his family, enabling his brother Michael to follow him to America and perhaps helping to keep those who stayed at home alive.

Another emigrant named Honora Benton came to America from the parish of Doon in Co. Limerick about 1850 with her mother and three sisters (Margaret, Mary and Elizabeth). They came on the sailing ship named “Lady Reil” and the mother died six weeks after landing so she was buried near White Plains , NY beside Griffin Rowles in a public cemetery as there wasn’t a Catholic cemetery nearby.

These two émigrés named James and Honora met and married in New York . James and Honora ventured westward in America to Waupun , Wisconsin .

Name Birth Died

John 25.11.1857 30.12.1917

Anna Marie 22.12.1859 28.01.1937

Thomas 15.10.1862 24.05.1908

Walter 17.11.1863 16.11.1925

Elizabeth (Liza) 1865 05.1944

Daniel 22.02.1867 18.10.1938

“James and Honora prospered, as did others who emigrated from Ireland to begin life in a new land where they encountered obstacles totally unexpected. It was a land of opportunity but the streets were not paved with gold. They were separated from their families, but we know of letters that existed in portions of three centuries. These letters are in the possession of Minneapolis relatives and we feel honoured to have copies to share with immediate family members. They are as clear as it was possible to make them. Note the Irish postmark. We marvel at the clarity of the letters at a time when education was not mandatory, but the poignancy of severed heartstrings is evident in their yearnings and subdued loneliness. The letters are printed herein (included in Letters to America section) and consist of Patrick’s letter to his brother James in Minnesota , plus letters from John and Ann to their cousins in Minnesota too.” (Source: Don and Jen O’Reilly)

John & Ann O’Reilly’s second child, Daniel O’Reilly of Toomaline married Elizabeth O’Connell on the 23 rd of February 1862 in Doon . According to baptismal records Daniel and Elizabeth had the following issue:

Date Name Sponsors

15.01.1863 John Mathew Reilly & Anne Reilly

05.04.1868 (DOB) Jeremiah Not Known – baptismal record not available.

03.04.1870 Bridget William Ryan & Ann Barry

08.09.1872 Bridget Pat Reilly & Bridget Buckley

02.04.1874 Mary John Dillon & Mary Ann Dillon

19.07.1876 Margaret John Ryan & Mary Dillon

23.04.1879 Julia Daniel Dillon & Honora Collins

29.06.1881 Johanna Pat Connell & Ann Ryan

04.06.1884 Daniel James Conway & Bridget Conway


The fact that they named two children Bridget would indicate that the first Bridget died as an infant and the second was named for her. We now know that in fact, that this was the case. The first Bridget died on the 1 st August, 1872 of Scarlatino – 8 days certified. Her mother Eliza was present at her death in Kilduff. . Eliza signed the death certificate with her mark x – indicating that she was unable to read or write.

Just over a month later the second Bridget was baptised, suggesting that Eliza was either heavily pregnant, or had perhaps just given birth to baby Bridget, as she nursed her little girl in her illness. There were no antibiotics and very little medical aid in those days.

Daniel and Elizabeth had another daughter Elizabeth who immigrated to Australia . She married ____Denson and they had two sons, William and Sidney Joseph. At the time of writing no other information is available as to Elizabeth ’s date of birth or why she doesn’t appear on the baptismal records. Daniel’s daughter Ann (possibly Johanna?) also immigrated to Australia and she married _____Davidson. No information on Ann, either.

Jeremiah immigrated to America and he married Nellie Maher. Their son, Edmund Paul wrote:

“My father learned the carpentry trade in Ireland and came to New York in 1893. He was then twenty-four years of age. Unfortunately, there was a recession that year and he found little work for a carpenter in New York . As a result, he moved to Chicago where he had some relatives but found jobs no more plentiful there than in New York . He had two first cousins – brothers – who were farmers in Goodhue County in Minnesota and he decided to pay them a visit.

Fortunately for him they needed a farm hand, so Dad went to work for them. Their names were Walter and Johnnie O’Reilly. During the year that Dad worked for them, he met Mother who was the teacher of the neighbourhood school. It wasn’t long before they were engaged and their marriage occurred on August 20, 1894. They bought the interests of Mother’s sisters and Grandmother Maher in the farm and took over its operation.” John Paul continues, “Mother found the winters in Minnesota very difficult. She was also terribly frightened of lightning storms. In 1906, or perhaps it was 1907, some of our friends had moved to California . They settled in Tulare County on orange groves and then wrote back to Minnesota about the wonders of the Golden State . The climate was most wonderful without any snow and without lightening storms. Furthermore, they gave statistics to show that they all expected to be rich in a few years growing oranges. My patents were impressed and decided that they, too, would go to California .

Meanwhile, back in Ireland , Bridget O’Reilly married Denis Carey, Mary (Molly) O’Reilly married William Hickey, and Margaret married Timothy Hickey. Julia O’Reilly married David Hayes, and Daniel married Jane Pierce. No information on the eldest son, John.

Daniel and Elizabeth lived and raised their family and later died in Doon . It is likely that they never ventured any further than Tipperary or Limerick and perhaps not even that far.


No information to date on John & Ann O’Reilly’s third child and first daughter, Norrie O’Reilly. Norrie is a name often used instead of Noreen, Nora, or Honora.

According to Baptismal records John and Ann’s forth child, Michael O’Reilly, was baptised on the 7 th February, 1840 , although some information states that he was born in March of 1840. He died in August 1909 in Belle Creek , Minnesota . The following information is taken from his obituary notice dated Thursday, August 12, 1909 - “Michael H. O’Reilly was born in County Limerick, Ireland in 1841, when 27 years of age or in 1868, believing that America afforded greater opportunities for a young man starting out to do something for himself in the world, came across to the American shore, soon finding his way to Goodhue county, where for three years he worked, at this time, 1981, being united in marriage to Miss Johanna Ryan, moving to Red Wing where he was employed by the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Ry. Co. until 1876 at which time he purchased the farm a short distance southwest of Goodhue, making this his home until a few years ago when he moved to Goodhue, retaining the ownership of the old home, however, until his death, it now being a part of his estate. On this farm Mr. and Mrs. O’Reilly worked diligently and faithfully, saving as great a portion of their earnings as prudence would permit, soon being recognized among the most prominent and prosperous family that the community afforded. On May 16, 1894, or fifteen years ago, Mrs. O’Reilly at the age of 45 was removed from earth to the Great Beyond, death coming to her when comparatively a young woman leaving a family of six sons and three daughters. Mr. O’Reilly was known as a resolute character, very careful, however, to know that he was on the right side before taking issue upon any question; a man of good judgment, firm and determined. Of the nine children who survive him all were present at the funeral excepting Lawrence, the youngest child of the family. The children are John P., Wm. A., Daniel P., and Joseph M., of Goodhue, James B. of Foley; and Lawrence of Sask. , Canada; Mrs. John F. Costello, of Sauk Centre; Mrs Joseph Kinsella of Elma, Iowa; and Mary of St. Paul. One sister, Mrs. P.O.Kinsella, of Sauk Centre , is living besides one brother, Patrick, who continues to live in Ireland ”. (Source: Joanne Wright)

Unfortunately, either obituary notices were not done here in Ireland or we have been unable to unearth them, but we do not have such a rich source of information on those who remained in Ireland .


John and Ann O’Reilly’s fifth child John O’Reilly was baptized on 2 nd October 1842 according to Church records. No further information available on John at this time. The sixth child Patrick O’Reilly was born in 1845 and died in Doon in 1929. He and his wife Bridget Buckley had three children, Ann, John and Edward. A copy of a letter written by Patrick to his brother James on September 3 rd 1888 is included in the Letters to America section of the site. Patrick’s children Ann and John also corresponded with their cousins Thomas, Dan and Eliza in America . Jen O’Reilly (Minnesota) writes “In 1995, Don and I learned that Anne, who wrote to her cousin Eliza in Minnesota in 1888, did not marry until late in life to Patrick Hourigan (also spelled Horrigan) and was a childless widow at the time of her death on June 23, 1947, at the age of 68 years. She died at the County Home, records of which we discovered at St. Ita’s Hospital in Newcastle West on one of our adventures from Limerick to Tralee . Records also indicated her husband died March 15, 1947 at the age of 67 years. Patrick O’Reilly, who wrote the interesting letter in 1888, died in Toomaline, Doon, Co. Limerick, on November 15, 1929, at the age of 84 years. (On one of our visits to Ireland we saw the site where his home once stood. Some roses were still blooming). We were fortunate in the 1990s to visit the daughter of John O’Reilly. She is the granddaughter of Patrick O’Reilly. John O’Reilly, as a child, wrote to his cousins Thomas and Dan in Minnesota in 1888. The daughter Beatrice O’Reilly, born 1913, a nurse who never married. She said her father (John O’Reilly) had built the home in Woodpark of the Terenure section of Dublin , in which she lived at the time of our visit. Beatrice also informed us her father built the first movie house in Dublin ”. The youngest child of John and Ann O’Reilly, Mary O’Reilly, according to Church records was baptized on the 9 th August 1847 and died in 1931 in Sauk Rapids, Minnesota . She married Patrick O. Kinsella on Nov 4 th 1872 in Goodhue , Minnesota . Mary’s mother died when she was an infant. Her father thought it best that she come to America . At age 15, her brothers Michael and James sent for her. Mary and Patrick had 1 son and 5 daughters – John, Mary, Nell, Kathryn, Julia, Alice and Agnes. (Source: Joanne Wright, Kathleen Higgins O’Reilly, Mildred Hoemberg Wilhelmson-Julia (Hoemberg) daughter (Mrs. Normal H. Wilhelmson) Staples, Minnesota ..


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