CM . . .
. Volume XI Number 16 . . . . April 15, 2005
The Black Donnellys is the tale of a wild, boisterous family that made their own law and order. It begins in Tipperary, Ireland in the 1840s where James Donnelly, the patriarch of the family, was born. Like many Irish families at the time, James and his family had a hard time surviving in Ireland because of the potato famine which killed millions and caused several million others to sail to North America. Unable to feed his family, James decided to move to Canada and settled near what is now London, Ontario. The book traces the Donnellys' history from their arrival in Canada until the death of James' daughter, and last surviving offspring, in 1917.
Donnelly was not a typical immigrant farmer. He would rather fight
than talk. Having no money, he and his family settled on land they
did not own and fought anyone who tried to remove them. Because of
his foul temper, James and his sons were soon know as the Black Donnellys.
It was a nickname they richly deserved for the Donnellys intimidated
and beat up their neighbours, burned their barns, destroyed their
crops and poisoned their cattle. James even murdered a man, a crime
for which he was only sentenced to seven years in prison.
Nate Hendley is a freelance journalist who has written numerous articles for Canadian newspapers. He also wrote a biography of bank robber, Edwin Alonzo Boyd. In The Black Donnellys, his style is colourful and sometimes melodramatic as in the following example. "James Donnelly screamed and flew backwards, his chest a mass of gaping holes. He collapsed in the doorway, gurgling blood and gasping in pain." It is unlikely that Donnelly's chest was full of holes, but readers will certainly understand that a violent act was committed, and they will probably enjoy the journalistic hype.
The use of feud in the title may be confusing. It usually refers to a long and bitter quarrel between families, clans or individuals. In this case, the Donnellys' feud was with the whole community in which they lived.
The Black Donnellys has a brief bibliography but no other teaching aids. It is illustrated throughout the book with a few black and white photographs of members of the Donnelly family. They are useful because they help the reader form a better picture of this strange family. Its lack of aids reduces the book's value as a teaching tool, but young readers will enjoy reading it for pleasure.
Thomas F. Chambers is a retired college teacher living in North Bay, ON.
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other reproduction is prohibited without permission.
Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.