O'Callaghan, John (1865–1913), journalist and political activist, was born at Kilavullen, Co. Cork (near Fermoy), on 13 October 1865. He was educated at Kilavullen national school, and then in his early teens moved to Cork city to work for the daily Cork Herald. After learning shorthand he became a reporter on the rival Cork Examiner and Cork correspondent for the Freeman's Journal. He combined journalism with activism on behalf of the Land League and its successor organisations; one of his obituaries attributes his politicisation to childhood memories of emigrants en route for embarkation at Queenstown (Cobh).
In 1887 O'Callaghan himself emigrated to America; his obituarists claimed that his decision was influenced by harassment at the hands of the RIC. After a year as private secretary to the managing editor of the Boston Globe, he joined that paper's reporting staff, where he remained for the rest of his life; his coverage of Irish affairs and attempts to counter pro-British propaganda in America were important for the home rule cause. At different times O'Callaghan combined his work for the Globe with the role of American correspondent for the Freeman's Journal and the Cork Examiner. During the 1890s he was the American correspondent of the Parnellite Irish Daily Independent; in this capacity he made numerous critical comments about the anti-Parnellites’ alliance with the liberals. These criticisms were quoted back at him by John Devoy (qv) when they argued over the significance of the third Home Rule Bill in 1912–13.
O'Callaghan took a leading role in organising an American tour by John Redmond (qv) in 1898, the purpose of which was to present the Parnellite case to Irish-Americans, who tended to be anti-Parnellite. In 1902 he organised another American tour for Redmond, leading to the first convention of the United Irish League of America (UILA) in Boston; O'Callaghan was responsible for the choice of John F. Finerty (qv) as first national president and made a speech calling on Irish-Americans to match the contributions of their brethren at home ‘dollar for dollar’. At the same convention O'Callaghan was chosen as secretary of the UILA; he held this unpaid position until his death, repeatedly refusing to accept a salary. In this capacity he travelled extensively, giving speeches to meetings across North America; in retrospect friends believed that his work for the UILA shortened his life.
O'Callaghan proved a highly effective fund-raiser for the Irish Party – the journalist Con O'Leary (qv) hailed him as ‘the wizard of the war-chest’. He regularly represented America at the national conventions of the United Irish League (UIL) in Ireland, and in 1909 went on a speaking tour of the country with the veteran Fenian Edward O'Meagher Condon (qv); he used these occasions to gather material for American articles on the progress of ‘the new Ireland’ and its advance towards home rule. O'Callaghan was made a freeman of Drogheda and Kilkenny, and many UIL activists saw him as the personification of Irish-American nationalism. At the time of his death he had made arrangements to visit Dublin in 1914 for the projected opening of the Irish parliament.
O'Callaghan was fiercely hostile to the dissident group led by William O'Brien (qv), and exercised some influence over the Redmondite party organisation in his native north-east Cork (an O'Brienite stronghold). In one letter to Redmond he suggested that O'Brien's calls for an audit of the party's ‘American money’ should be met by a demand that O'Brien account for ‘the Jewish money’ (O'Brien's wife, who came from a wealthy Jewish family, was a convert to catholicism); he also suggested the dissemination of a rumour that O'Brien was related to the informer Pierce Nagle.
After a sudden illness John O'Callaghan died of diabetes on 27 July 1913 at the Carney Hospital, south Boston; he was mourned by T. P. O'Connor (qv) and other associates as ‘a founder and martyr of Irish liberty’. O'Callaghan was married with three daughters and a son; at the time of his death his eldest child was fifteen and the youngest seven, and a fund was raised for their education by Irish Party supporters. The loss of O'Callaghan's charisma, organisational skills, and personal support for Redmond played a significant role in the failure of Redmond loyalists in America to create an effective counter-organisation when the UILA leadership defected in response to Redmond's support for the British war effort. Correspondence between O'Callaghan and nationalist leaders is in the John Redmond papers in NLI and the John Dillon (qv) papers at TCD.