THE BLACK DONNELLYS: CANADA'S TRAGIC ROUSTABOUTS
"Bad luck to you, McGarry,
An' your pure Roscommon brogue!
You led me into trouble
You blarneying ould rogue!"
John F. Finery, Dooley's Lamentation
There is nothing more beautiful than a Canadian sunset. Lakes the color of amber, catching the glow of the limitless horizon, itself the color of a new-forged chalice only moments from the kiln. Mallards skimming the marsh waters, rippling the surface into gentle designs. Soft lullabies of loons. Silhouettes of a diversity of trees chestnut, firs, many more against the sky, still, without a twitch, in the pause of wind between light and dark. And the perfume of a million blossoms blended, distributing a mix between the fragrance of evening dew and the sweetness of applejack.
But, those who lived in Biddulph Township, Ontario, on February 3, 1880, sensed little beauty in the transition of day into night. Serenity obscured by Man's doubt. While the ice encasing the rivers, bogs and streams must have reflected a brilliant provincial dusk, no one noticed. Darkness came early, if not in fact, then in theory. It came skittishly. Irish citizens of Lucan village near the old Roman Line Road later said they had felt the phantom sulking in the shadows. Some heard the Ban-Sidhe, the Banshee, the spirit woman who wails at impending death. And when an Irishman says he hears the Banshee, sure and there's no doubt the Banshee is there.
Following is a story combining fact and legend, about the slaying of the Donnelly family of Southern Ontario the Black Donnellys, they were called by a vigilante mob comprised of members whose names remain unknown or, at best, unproven to this day, 181 years later. Hard evidence, tales handed down some probable and possible and even folklore; it has the potpourri of an Irish yarn spun off from a midnight jaunting car but it's a cold, terrifyingly real tale. Of deceit, hatred and death.
Where blank spots and unanswered theories exist in the history and there are plenty of both I have taken the liberty to fill the blank spots with surmising and relate only the most practical of theories. This was done in order to keep what is an interesting tale out from under the weight of historical browbeating and a complex of issues that add little to the end result. And, on a whimsical note, having a large amount of Irish flowing in my veins, I surrendered to the temptation of opening each chapter with a fitting Irish parable or a stanza from one of Ireland's many bards.