It’s doubtful that Patrick Donnelly—one of Thorold’s most successful businessmen of the 19th century—could have predicted a pub would be named after him, on the very spot where his grand hotel once stood.
It’s even less likely that the only member of the famous “Black Donnellys” who lived in Thorold—and thus, escaped the brutal murders of five family members in their hometown of Lucan—could have imagined that his descendants would share a meal in that same pub, more than a century after his death.
While, to others, it appeared like an ordinary group enjoying lunch in Donnelly’s Pub last Saturday, it marked a significant occasion for the descendants of Patrick and Will Donnelly—two of the infamous brothers.
For the first time, James Cameron, great-grandson of William Donnelly, and his wife Mary joined his cousins—the Niagara Newman brothers—on their home turf, at the popular Front Street pub.
“I’m the oldest living Donnelly left,” 77-year-old Cameron told the Thorold News.
Asked to give his impressions of his brief visit to Thorold, “Thanks for keeping the pub,” Cameron stated simply, with a smile.
The Brantford couple only recently discovered there were more family members living in Ontario, after reading an article in the Thorold News, published on the anniversary of the horrific family massacre on Feb. 4, 2019.
And after contacting his newfound cousins, Cameron invited the Newmans, along with the Thorold News, to witness their famous family’s history at the Lucan Museum last summer.
When Matt, Pete and Andy made the trek to Lucan, they planned to reunite with the Camerons at Donnelly’s Pub in Thorold in the fall.
Joining the Camerons last Saturday in good-natured joshing about incidence of family insanity and cousinly camaraderie were four of the nine Newman offspring: Matt, Peter, Andy, and Paul.
The Newmans have two sisters (Marcy and Nancy), one who lives in Toronto and another in Vancouver. Their brother Tom lives in Edmonton; Tim lives in St. Catharines; and Pat is a national rowing team coach in Victoria, B.C. All are great-grandchildren of Patrick Donnelly.
Peter joked that “Every Feb. 4, I want to come to Donnellys and raise hell.”
The family shares the sad history that their ancestors were slain on Feb. 4, 1880, an incredible true crime story which became Canadian legend—largely due to the fact that, despite the eyewitness testimony of 12-year-old Johnny O’Connor, a hired hand who was hiding under the bed, and survived the atrocities—not one among the mob of 43 “vigilantes” who attacked the Donnelly homestead was ever brought to justice for the murders of parents James and Johannah, Tom, and Bridget. After being beaten and bludgeoned, all four family members died that night. Before the murderers left, they set the house on fire.
“Not only did they beat them to death; some of them weren’t dead yet when they set the house on fire,” said Cameron, who’s spent years studying his family’s history, and donating artifacts to the Lucan Museum.
The mob then walked to Will’s house in the nearby village of Whalen Corners, and shot John, who was greeted by gun shots to the chest and groin when he opened the front door.
Will—like his Thorold brother, Patrick, survived simply because he lived outside of Lucan—and both bore the grief and injustice of having their parents, two brothers, and cousin Bridget murdered.
“It’s an important part of history,” Cameron told the Thorold News. “For a while, all they wanted to do was forget about it,” he said, referring to descendants of the vigilantes, some of whom still live in Lucan.
Since Father John Connolly, head of the troubled town’s Roman Catholic Church, played an unwitting part in the murders by creating a “Peace Society,” (which, ironically, interpreted his mission as “getting rid of” the Donnellys), St. Patrick’s Church officials have also been reluctant to discuss it, though thousands have visited the Donnellys’ and vigilantes’ gravestones in the church’s cemetery since 1880.
“It was the Anglicans and the Presbyterians that donated to the Museum,” said Cameron.
At the time of the murders, the town was so wild, it’s been recorded, that even law enforcers feared to tread there.
Like most of Lucan’s inhabitants, the Donnellys were a rowdy bunch, Cameron admitted.
“They gave lumps and deserved to get some, but not that.”
According to Cameron, Johnny O’Connor “went out west and spoke about the Donnellys” and the murders he witnessed from beneath the bed. “He became a bit of a celebrity.”
After researching other Donnelly descendants, Cameron said that James Jr. and John had no children, and Will had one son to carry on the family name.
“Robert had no children but raised Michael’s son after Mike was murdered” in a bar fight. Tom was never married, and the only girl in the family, Jennie, married Jim Currie, “so the Donnelly name was lost there.”