The temper of the Irish has been spoken of since time began, but I am not sure that anyone in Lucan, Ontario, could have predicted The Black Donnellys. The family of James and Johannah Donnelly emigrated from Tipperary, Ireland, to Canada, and settled on land being given away at the time by the Governor of Upper Canada. They staked a claim and built their homestead on Lot 18 of the sixth concession of Biddulph Township in the spring of 1847.
By the spring of 1880, The Black Donnelly homestead was a pile of burnt rubble. James, Johannah and some of their children also lay in the rubble, having been murdered by their neighbors (although no one has ever be found guilty of this crime).
What happened in those intervening 33 years is the stuff that makes this unsolved crime – a Mystery of Canada.
Almost immediately upon their arrival to the new world, The Black Donnellys began to feud with their neighbors. Whether it was over land, business ventures, horses, cattle, money or pride… there was always a reason to fight.
The Donnelly family consisted of James and Johannah, sons, James Jr., William, John, Patrick, Michael, Robert and Tom, and daughter Jenny. (Playing a bit part in the final scene was their cousin, Bridget.)
In case you are skeptical of the depth of the feuding between the Black Donnellys and their neighbors, here is one illustration taken from the book entitled, “Black Donnellys“:
One evening Johanah was returning home on foot. She shortened her trip by cutting through a neighbor’s pasture. As they are want to do, a bull chased Johannah. She escaped by jumping a fence. Needless to say, Momma Donnelley’s dander was up. There is no proof, nor any eyewitness to the deed, but the next morning that very bull was found dead ,with its tongue cut out, in the very field that it had chased Johannah.
Of course you cannot have a feud with only one feuding party. The party of the second part included almost all the townspeople of Lucan and residents of Biddulph Township.
So now that you understand the nature of The Black Donnellys and their relationship to the community, then it would not surprise you to learn late on the evening of February 4, a mob stormed the house, killed all the occupants and set the home ablaze.
The best kept secret conspiracy in the world (next to the grassy knoll issue with JFK) is who killed James and Johannah, sons John and Tom and cousin Bridget? Why were the killings done in such a brutal manner? Who set the house on fire? And how did Jenny survive?
This was a conspiracy of silence not only between the participants but, being a small town, the residents of Lucan must of had some knowledge of the murders. The police, lawyers and the judges were powerless to convict a single murderer.
To this very day the majority of the residents of Lucan do not talk about what became known as the Black Donnellys. They have removed or replaced virtually all landmarks associated with the clan and we understand that books on the subject were not carried in the local library.
If you visit Lucan these days you can find a gravestone of the family, although the original one was replaced in 1964 to eliminate the word murdered..
Another Mystery of Canada.
Note: If you want to learn more about the Black Donnellys and possibly visit the homestead of the clan; go to:http://www.quadro.net/~donnelly
My great grandfather was beaten to death by a member of the Donnelly family. There was an incident my Mom told me about where he was badly beaten ( outside of a “school or bar”) and passed the following day. I do not know if any members of my family were part of the mob that killed the Donnellys. Probably my great grandpa was probably already dead. I am trying to pick up more information about the community at the time. My Mom was reluctant to talk about it. I would love to share all the facts to my children and grandchildren. I also would like to know what became of the surviving members of the Donnelly family. Trust me, no retribution!
Don’t believe this
Good day Stan
I am very interested in the info you provided about the “Black Donnellys” The Heenan name was well known in the Lucan Area! I would like to correspond with you if you are interested.
Dawn Renee Yzaguirre
The people of that township are trying to erase it because they know that the Donnelly family were savagely murdered and there’s no justification for such actions.
For those inside the family have a different story…. How James Sr. wasn’t getting enough business from the Catholic Irish, including the Bully-boy Catholic Police, that he had no problem doing business with the local Protestants ( Including the local Orange men).
This is how we heard that the feud started, and Johanna raised her Children after to not put up with what was done to their father. Johanna was very much like my late wife, a little woman with a Serious Big Dog attitude
The Donnelly family were never referred to as ‘The Black Donnellys’. That name was never used until Thomas P. Kelley, a very successful pulp fiction writer wrote his sensationalized account of the Donnelly tragedy in 1954 and titled it ‘The Black Donnellys’. Since Mr. Kelley coined the name in 1954 and because of it’s notoriety the name has been borrowed throughout the years. By the way, that may be a Johannah and James Donnelly in your article, but it’s not the Johannah and James Donnelly from the Donnelly massacre. The first and most famous book about the Donnelly tragedy is ‘The Black Donnellys’ by Thomas P. Kelley. Don’t be fooled by ‘The Black Donnellys’ by Nate Hendley, it offers nothing new and has used fact and fiction from all of the books out there about the Donnelly massacre.
When I was a young boy in the 1940s My aunt Mary Heenan who grew up near Lucan used to tell me about the ” Black Donnellys” That is just what she called them and it was well before Mr. Kelleys book.
I highly doubt that your aunt Mary referred to them as the Black Donnellys. I have never found a newspaper report or a magazine article that referred to the Donnelly family as The Black Donnellys Prior to Thomas P. Kelley’s book.
I own Thomas P. Kelley’s dictionary which indicates the examination of the word “Blackguard” where the word “Black” in the title comes from. “Blackguard,” (A blackguard is a bad guy. Blackguards are up to no good).