Posted by ESC on April 03, 2005
In Reply to: The Life of Riley posted by James Briggs on April 01, 2005
: : Who was Riley, and what sort of life did he lead?
: To lead the life of Riley/Reilly is to live in the lap of pleasure and luxury. There's no generally accepted origin that I can find, other than that it somehow relates to Irishmen. However, there is one distinct possibility that goes back to the time of the Victorian music hall. One of the popular songs of the time was about an Irishman named O'Reilly who dreamed of making a fortune and then leading a life of luxury. The song was called 'Are you the O'Reilly' in which the audience joined in the chorus, ending up with the last line which was 'Cor blimey, O'Reilly, you are looking well'. My earliest certain reference to the actual phrase is in a 1919 song 'My name is Kelly', clearly based on well established usage.
And there was the U.S. television program. See the archives. http://www.phrases.org.uk/bulletin_board/17/messages/404.html