A History of The John Boyle O'Reilly Club as told by Michael Donnellan
Mr. Michael Donnellan, from Killshany, County Clare, came to the United States in 1902. He joined the John Boyle O'Reilly Club in 1904 which had been organized in 1880. Membership requirements were very strict. Character references and the background of prospective members were privately investigated both in the United States and in Ireland. Anyone having trouble with the law would be denied acceptance into the organization. Bi-monthly meetings took place and members were admitted with a password, which was changed periodically.
The first meetings which Mr. Donnellan attended were held over Jim Linehan's Saloon on Worthington Street in Springfield, MA. The meeting room had the appearance of a literary club and not an Irish organization which at that time was sending aid to Ireland. Conventions would be held every few years for all Irish organizations meeting in such areas as Atlantic City, NJ and Revere, MA.
When Ireland's troubles started prior to the 1916 Uprising, many Irish clubs organized regiments with uniforms and guns in the event that Ireland would be in need of them. The regiment which represented the John Boyle O'Reilly Club was known as the "Red Branch Knights" commanded by a Major Griffin. The clubs would hold competitions in drilling, with the Lowell, MA "Wolftones" having the best outfit.A parade and a Mass at St. Michael's Cathedral in Springfield, MA was witnessed by the President of Ireland, Eamon DeValera who was a guest of the club.
The first parties given by the club, which preceeded the present day clam bake, were held in a park across from the brewery on State Street were Putnam Trade High School is now located. The brewery was on the present site of Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company. Replenishing the beer supply held no problem as the committee would have only to cross the street to strengthen their supply.
The Club secured its licence in 1934 while it was located in the Poli Building on Worthington Street. In 1943 it moved to Hampden Street. In July of 1955, the Club moved to 1653 Main Street and in March of 1970 to its present location at 33 Progress Avenue.