'O' Reilly was in the stable tightening his saddle girths and getting ready to mount and start off to the vice-regal lodge with a dispatch for the lord lieutenant from Sir Hugh Rose, the commander of the forces in Ireland. Byrne had just time to introduce us, and O'Reilly and I to make an appointment for the next evening, when he brought out his horse, sprang into the saddle, and was off. O' Reilly was then a handsome, lithely built young fellow…with the down of a future black moustache on his lip. He had pair of beautiful dark eyes, that changed in expression with his varying emotions. He wore the full-dress dark blue hussar uniform, with its mass of braiding across the breast, and the busby with its tossing plume, was set jauntily on the head and held by a linked brass strap, catching under the lower lip.'
John Devoy and O'Reilly first met in October 1865 while the latter was stationed in Dublin. Devoy, who had experience with the French Foreign Legion, was then engaged as a recruiter for the Irish Republican Brotherhood.
At that time the IRB was working to enlist the many Irish soldiers in the British army into the Brotherhood. By autumn 1865, most of these IRB recruiters had been arrested and John Devoy was promoted to the role of chief recruiter. In his later memoir Devoy explained this new role: ‘I had some acquaintance with the army, through living near the Curragh camp, and, when all the ‘organizers’ for the army had been arrested or forced to remain ‘on their keeping,’ James Stephens, the chief executive of the Irish republic that was to be, appointed me ‘chief organizer’ for the British army.’
Through an acquaintance Devoy met O'Reilly at the Royal Barracks, later Collins Barracks, and informed him of the IRB's plans for revolution. The next day, O'Reilly took the IRB oath and joined Devoy in recruiting soldiers into the Brotherhood. It was a task in which O'Reilly was remarkably successful, convincing some eighty soldiers in the Tenth Hussars to take the Brotherhood's oath.
The meeting with Devoy had a profound effect on O’Reilly’s life, sending the young soldier on a dangerous new path, a path that would lead to imprisonment, hard labour, and transportation to Australia. That was all in the future. O'Reilly survived his many ordeals and would meet Devoy again in the United States. By that stage O'Reilly had left the IRB but he would assist Devoy in the planning of the Catalpa rescue. That story will be the focus of another blog post.