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Our Story - Sara & Judge James Redmond O'Reilly

Appeared in Le Journal June 18th 2014.

I will always hold Judge James Redmond O’Reilly and the day he passed away very close to my heart. Judge O’Reilly gave me an experience I will never forget, regardless of our living in different centuries. Eighty-three years after the day he died, on a day that tragedy once struck, a celebration took place. Little did I know, by honouring his life, this judge would change mine.


On April 23 2012, on the eighty third anniversary of his death, Judge James O’Reilly became my historical partner in crime. Together, we added a new page to Cornwall’s history.


On the day of his ceremony, after researching his story for four years, I was provided with proof that anything is possible. No matter how unrealistic a dream may seem, if you are willing to work for it, it can be accomplished.


At seventeen years old, a huge part of me never believed that Judge O’Reilly’s commemoration ceremony would actually happen. Whenever I spoke about him, no one paid any attention to what I had to say. At that age, why would they? Despite being overlooked, the determination to honour a historical figure presided. After four long years of research, Judge O’Reilly received the recognition he deserved, and at twenty-one years old, I was finally heard.


“Our” story started with a house. Growing up in Cornwall I spent a lot of time on foot patrol. I saw everything, and serendipity lead me to notice the glorious brick structure on the corner of First and Adolphus. At seventeen years old, 238 First Street East became an obsession.


At the time, I was volunteering for Heritage Cornwall, and on Wednesdays that didn’t carry a lot of traffic, I was allowed to research in order to keep busy. This was my opportunity to find out everything and anything I could about my favourite house. In folders and books, I managed to figure out everyone who owned the property. One week later, I found a folder of pictures. At the bottom of one picture listed a name I had never read before: “Judge O’Reilly’s residence.” Puzzled and annoyed, I wanted to know why he was listed as living there. Why hadn’t I found his name prior to this photograph? And more importantly, who was he? One house, one picture, and one name led me on a four year research adventure that would literally change my life.


Almost a full year later, I decided to browse “Stormont, Dundas & Glengarry, a History” by John Graham Harkness. Upon reading the chapter on “Courts and Lawyers” I knew this was it. Sure enough, sitting before me on page 411 was a mini biography on Judge James Redmond O’Reilly. It was one sentence on this page that created a bond between me and the Judge. In this mini biography, it stated that Judge O’Reilly died of my biggest fear. His life was taken by surprise from a severe asthmatic spasm. That was it. For the next 3 years, my household became very much accustomed to hearing about my newly discovered Judge friend.

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.”


Judge O’Reilly and I are separated by an entire century. Despite this, he taught me the greatest lesson of all: to believe in yourself, because anything is possible. April 23 2012 is a day I will never forget. I may have honoured his accomplishments as a judge, but he changed my life. Before his story, nobody had listened to mine.


Rest in peace Judge James Redmond O’Reilly, February 14 1862 – April 23 1929.