Reily (Reilly, O'Reilly), Hugh (d. c.1695), Jacobite lord chancellor of Ireland and historian, was born in Co. Cavan, though his parents and date of birth are unknown. He was appointed (22 May 1686) a master in chancery by James II (qv), which suggests that he may have trained as a civil rather than a common lawyer; there is no record of his having attended an inn of court in London. The lord lieutenant, Lord Clarendon (qv), who wished to keep the protestant incumbent, Sir John Coghill (d. 1699), objected to Reily's appointment on the grounds that he lacked the status and means necessary to hold the office; despite these objections Reily's appointment was confirmed on 13 July. On 5 March 1689 he was appointed clerk to the Irish privy council. He may have been the Hugh Reily of Lara who was returned in 1689 as MP for Cavan borough in James II's Irish parliament.
After the battle of the Boyne, Reily joined James II in France, where he received the title of lord chancellor of Ireland. Sometime around 1693 he wrote Ireland's case briefly stated; or a summary account of the most remarkable transactions of the kingdom since the reformation . . . By a true lover of his king and country. The title page of the first edition has ‘printed in 1695’, though the place of publication, which may have been Paris or Louvain, does not appear. The work was popular throughout the eighteenth century and again in the nineteenth, being republished over one hundred times under varying titles, including The impartial history of Ireland (London, 1754). The speech of Oliver Plunkett (qv) before his execution is printed at the end of later editions, as are other texts illustrative of later seventeenth-century history. An Irish-language translation by Uilliam Ó Murchadha was made in 1772 and edited for publication (1941) by Nessa Ní Shéaghdha (qv).
Written from a strongly catholic standpoint, Reily's work traces the history of Ireland from the reformation or, as Reily puts it, ‘ever since licentiousness appeared there under the cloak of gospel liberty’ (preface); the reformers ‘took more pains to make the land turn protestant than the people’. He accuses Sir John Temple (qv) in his history of the Irish rebellion of seeking to ‘blacken the [Irish] people, and so exasperate the republicans of England against them’. While he emphasises the loyalty of Irish catholics to the Stuart monarchy and shows sympathy for Charles I, his criticism of Charles II's failure to do justice at the restoration to his dispossessed catholic subjects is unrestrained: ‘no king, since the creation of the universe, as [sic] proved so bountiful to the worst of rebels at the cost of his faithful subjects, as Charles the Second has done to the Cromwellians of Ireland’ (Ireland's case (1720 ed.), 127–8). Walter Harris (qv), in his edition of De scriptoribus Hiberniae by Sir James Ware (qv), claims that when Reily presented a copy to James II prior to its publication, the king stated that ‘there was too much truth in it’ but did not forbid its being published. Afterwards, however, he removed Reily from his nominal office of Irish lord chancellor. Reily was reputedy so distraught that he died not long after. James II was said to have restored Reily's pension shortly before his death.