HomeOntarioThe Black Donnellys of Biddulph Township

The Black Donnellys of Biddulph Township

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.

James and Johannah Donnelly

James and Johannah Donnelly

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

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One Response to “The Black Donnellys of Biddulph Township”

By John - 28 December 2017 Reply

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.