“The Black Donnellys”: Mayhem and Murder on the Roman Line

The "Black Donnellys" lived near Lucan, north of London, Ont., in the nineteenth century. This Irish family had a reputation for violence and lawlessness, and did much to alienate their neighbours in a running feud that was imported from Ireland. In February 1880, a vigilante committee descended on the Donnelly farmstead and took justice into their own hands, leading to a brutal and controversial outcome.

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* Lecture Notes *

PowerPoint Slides 



J. Reaney, “Donnelly, James” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography

Further Reading:

“Heaven & Hell on Earth: The Massacre of the ‘Black’ Donnellys

(this is a superb website designed by two historians at Mount Royal College in Calgary, with valuable links to primary perspectives and interpretation)

“The Official Donnelly Homepage” contains some useful information (including a brief history, as well as some useful perspectives from the time of the murders)
Students are advised to be cautious with self-proclaimed “official” websites like this one. After all, who made this “the official Donnelly” website?

The classic version of the story is Thomas P. Kelley, The Black Donnellys (Toronto: Harlequin Books, 1954), which has undergone numerous printings since its original publication.

More scholarly studies include:

James Reaney, ed. The Donnelly Documents: An Ontario Vendetta. Toronto: Champlain Society, 2004.  This is probably the most trustworthy, valuable, and comprehensive source to date.

Orlo Miller. The Donnellys Must Die. Toronto: Macmillan, 1962 (my favourite)

William Davison Butt. "The Donnellys: History, Legend, Literature". Ph.D. dissertation, University of Western Ontario, 1977. Canadian Thesis on Microfiche #31563.

Norman N Feltes. This Side of Heaven: Determining the Donnelly Murders, 1880. Toronto: University Of Toronto Press, 1999.

Michael Helm. "Civil Disorders in Biddulph Township 1850-1880: A Case Study of the Donnelly Murders." M.A. Thesis, Sir George Williams [now Concordia] University, 1970.

Ray Fazakas. The Donnelly Album: The Complete and Authentic Account Illustrated with Photographs of Canada's Famous Feuding Family. Toronto: Macmillan, 1977


Other recent books include:

Peter Edwards, Night Justice. Toronto: Key Porter, 2005 (which was recalled when Edwards was accused of violating copyright regulations)

Peter McKeown. A Donnelly Treatise: After the Massacre. Guelph: self-published, 2004.

Books of fiction include:

Thomas P. Kelley. Vengeance of the Black Donnellys. Toronto: Harlequin Books, 1962.

Orlo Miller. Death To The Donnellys: A Novel. Toronto: Signet, 1975.


There is also a wonderful play by James Reaney entitled The Donnellys: A Trilogy. Erin, ON: Press Porcepic, 1976.

And, of course, there is Stompin’ Tom Connors’ song “Black Donnelly's Massacre” which I will play for you in class.

A more thorough list of sources can be found at:
http://www.donnellys.com/Books.html  and at  http://www.canadianmysteries.ca/sites/donnellys/library/beyondthissite/indexen.html


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