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Judge James Redmond O'Reilly

Appeared in the Seaway News on April 19th 2012.

Asthma claims Judge James Redmond O'Reilly

In order for me to tell you about this man, I need to tell you "our" story. Four years ago, I requested a placement through the co-op program that would allow me to work in the history field. Luckily, I was able to work for Heritage Cornwall. After my placement, I was asked to be Heritage Cornwall's summer student.
I was charged with “Library Duty.”  This consisted of working in the Cornwall Room at the library to assist the public with research. Some days were slow and this gave me the opportunity to research history that intrigued me. During one of those slow days, I met a man who would forever change my life, a man with whom I had a connection in more ways than one; Judge James O'Reilly.

As long as I can remember, I have always been in love with the house at 238 First Street East.  I had adored the beautiful Italiante styled house from a very young age. One afternoon in the Cornwall Room, I decided it was time for me to know everything and anything about that house. After investigating the numerous owners of the property, I found a few pictures. At the bottom of one of the pictures, I read “Residence of Judge O'Reilly.” I noticed O’Reilly’s name was not listed amongst the owners. I had to find out more.

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 Queen's 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, no doctor could be reached.  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.” 

What does an asthma attack feel like?

What connected me to Judge O’Reilly was his medical condition. Judge O’Reilly died from my biggest fear. Since the age of 12, I have suffered from asthma. On November 30, 2011 I was hospitalized and while connected to several machines and taking seven different inhalers, I decided to document my thoughts. Asthma attacks, feel like your body’s trying to over achieve itself.  It’s similar to being thrown into the ocean with waves collapsing upon you, while desperately trying to gasp for air. The difference lies with the inability to get the air once surfaced. I fight to get air into my lungs. I struggle to triumph over something much stronger than myself. The challenge lies with taking steady breaths while trying to remain calm.  This isn’t always easy, particularly when your thought process leads you to thinking “I can’t breathe, I’m going to die!” 
I wondered if on April 23, 1929 Judge O’Reilly knew, that while ferociously coughing and striving for air, that he would never inhale another full, normal breath.

When I discovered O’Reilly’s history, I was bothered by the fact that he was literally forgotten.  Furthermore, I was shocked that his 29 year career faded into historical abyss and that he died in our historic courthouse and nothing was left to commemorate his memory.  These facts fueled my mission to ensure that he would not be forgotten a second time. 

After four years of research, my goal will come to fruition.  This spring, a ceremony will be held on the anniversary of his death at the foot of Pitt Street and Judge O’Reilly’s portrait will be placed on permanent display in the very courthouse, where his final breath was taken 83 years ago.