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Judge James Redmond O'Reilly

How It All Began

In 2008 while volunteering for Heritage Cornwall, I would offer to execute what I called “Library Duty.” I stationed myself in the Cornwall Room anxiously waiting for the public. I assisted them with genealogy questions or any research enquiries they had pertaining to Cornwall. Some days were slower than others giving me a chance to research and learn about whatever my heart desired.

I have always been in love with 238 First Street East. This house simply captivates me. One afternoon I decided to satisfy my curiosity. I researched my favourite house. By the time I was done I could state everyone who lived there. Everything I discovered about the house, I basically memorized.

A couple weeks later, I found myself in the same situation – no public enquiries to satisfy. I tore the place apart looking for information to contend my curiosity. I found the house within a collection of pictures. The bottom of the picture was labelled “Judge O’Reilly’s house.”  I shook my head in disbelief. I thought I was already aware of everyone who had lived there. I had read through all the names. There was no Judge O’Reilly. This is where it all began.

"Our" Story

It took me one year to find information on him.  Leading up to my first find, I would complain to my mother – “This man doesn’t exist.” In annoyance she’d confirm it. “Well, he doesn’t exist then,” almost as if to tell me to move on with my life.  I became fixated with finding him. If he had resided there, why wasn’t he mentioned in the listings I read, and who was he, what was his story?

I decided to browse “Stormont, Dundas & Glengarry a History” by John Graham Harkness. Upon reading the chapter on “Courts and Lawyers” I knew I was going to find him. Sure enough, sitting before me on page 411 was a mini biography on Judge James Redmond O’Reilly. For the next 3 years, my household became very much accustomed to hearing about my newly discovered Judge friend.

A few months later, I decided to go to the Courthouse to see his portrait. I figured, if he died in the courthouse he must be there. I was excited to honour this man due to the simple fact that he died from my biggest fear, a severe asthma attack.

I opened the door to the courthouse and made my way up the beautiful wooden staircase. Judge Pringle’s painting hung proudly close to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II’s portrait. Around the corner in the back room were portraits of hundreds of men. It was in this room I expected to find Judge O’Reilly. After 2 hours of searching I didn't find him. I was surprised and distraught. O’Reilly served 29 years and there was absolutely no trace of him in the courthouse.  I promised myself I would do everything I could to get his portrait placed in the courthouse.

I invited my mother to accompany me to the courthouse. I figured maybe I had overlooked something. After about an hour my mother confirmed that Judge O’Reilly had no plaque and no picture in the Courthouse.

When I discovered that Judge O’Reilly was not commemorated or remembered at the courthouse I had no idea how I was going to proceed in getting him recognized, but felt it had to be done. I needed someone to listen and to endorse my idea. I had been following Sergeant Thom Racine’s work regarding fallen Cornwall police officer John Robert Davey. Captivated by the story, I decided to email him. After a quick email and a chance to prove myself – I interviewed people at both of the Davey ceremonies for Thom’s book.

After the Davey ceremonies, I decided to discuss the possibility of having O’Reilly recognized. Thankfully, I had someone willing to support my idea. Thom whole heartedly agreed with my proposal. He introduced me to contacts that would assist me in getting the project off the ground. By March 2012, I received confirmation that a ceremony would be held to recognize Judge O’Reilly. One week prior to the ceremony, Judge O’Reilly’s portrait was delivered to my residence. The next stop would be the courthouse.

On April 23rd 2012, I learned that anything is possible. Surrounded by family, friends, and several citizens of Cornwall, Judge O’Reilly got the recognition he deserved.

About Judge O'Reilly

Judge James Francis Redmond O’Reilly was born in Kingston, Ontario on Valentine’s Day in 1862 to James and Mary Ann (Redmond) O’Reilly. He was educated at the Regiopolis-Notre Dame College in Kingston, the Kingston Collegiate Institute, and St. Mary’s College in Montreal, Quebec. At fifteen years of age, James O’Reilly enrolled into Queen’s University to study Law. He graduated from the University with a B.A. and was awarded a gold medal in Political Economics in 1882. In May of 1885, Judge O’Reilly was admitted as a solicitor and called to the bar at Osgoode Hall in Toronto, Ontario.

Judge O’Reilly successfully practiced Law in Prescott for several years. He was appointed to Queen’s Council in 1899 and after the resignation of Judge Jacob Farrand Pringle in Cornwall, James Redmond O’Reilly was appointed as the Senior Judge for Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry on March 10, 1900.

On Tuesday, April 23, 1929 after 29 years of service to our community, Judge O’Reilly suffered a severe asthma attack, a condition that would have made his life difficult and painful. Judge O’Reilly passed away in the Cornwall Courthouse that morning, a place where close friends say he would have chosen to take his final desperate breath.

Despite not being in the best of health, O’Reilly was still a great adjudicator. The day he died started like any other, he did not appear medically distressed. Before court commenced, O’Reilly was struck with a sudden weakness and instructed Bailiff John Denneny to adjourn the court. O’Reilly was assisted to the judge’s chamber. Moments later, he began coughing violently, caused by his affliction with asthma.

Court officials immediately telephoned for medical assistance, but no doctor could be reached in time. O’Reilly’s condition worsened, resulting in his death.

The April 25 1929 edition of The Standard stated, “The news of Judge O’Reilly’s death cast a gloom of deep sorrow as it became known through the town. Being a man of kindly character, he was known to all classes of people, and his ever pleasant greeting will be sadly missed.”