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The Donnelly Murders

The woods and farmland of southern Ontario Canada, just north of Toronto, were settled by mostly Irish immigrants in the early-to-mid 1800's.  These were Irish Catholics, used to hard times and the abusive authority of England.  One of the families that settled there was named Donnelly.  This family became notorious for being wild and dangerous bullies.  They supposedly terrorized their neighbors, burned down barns, caused drunken brawls, and generally disregarded what little law there was to abide.

After many years of such violent lawlessness there arose among the neighbors a group who wished the Donnellys were not around at all.  This group of vigilanties went to the Donnelly home one night, beat the occupants unconscious, and burned the place down with them still inside.  Then they went to the home of one of the Donnelly's sons, and shot and killed a houseguest mistakenly identified as a Donnelly.

The surviving Donnellys brought charges against some of the identified vigilantes, who were arrested but acquited.

Most agree that the best account of the whole Donnelly legend is The Donnelly Album, published in 1995 by Ray Fazzacas.  Numerous references in this book are made to the McIlhargeys who lived in the area at the time and attended St Patrick's Catholic Church, along with the Donnellys.  The book meticulously details the incredible extent of the lawlessness in those times, the feeble manner of justice employed, and the questionable role of the local Catholic priest.

It's still a troubling story to many, with much debate as to who was at fault, guilt or innocence, etc.  For an excellent presentation of this haunting story, including photos and news clippings, visit this terrific web site Donnelly.