Through The Eyes of a Child
the eve of the massacre, Johnny O'Connor arrived at the Donnelly
It was not unusual for him to come and stay with the family, as he
helped them with farm chores. The Donnellys were expected in Granton
next morning, February 4th, for an arson case that involved the
of Grouchy Ryder's barn, and Johnny was needed to take care of the pigs
while they were away.
he arrived, he waited while John and Tom Donnelly put the horse away,
then they all went inside the house to eat apples and sit around until
dinner, after which John left to see his brother, William, who lived at
Whalen's Corners. Johnny followed Tom outside to feed the pigs and put
a blanket on the horse for the night. After all the chores were done,
returned to the house to eat some more apples before turning in for the
a small house, the family had to double up in their sleeping quarters.
That night, Johnny shared a bed, located in the front bedroom of the
with the senior member of the family, James Donnelly. Johannah
his wife, took to her bed in the next room over, and was happy to share
with her niece, Bridget, visiting from Ireland. Tom Donnelly, her
son aged 25, had a bed in a little room off the kitchen.
Johnny drifted off to sleep, he remembered hearing Jim Feeheley's
a friend of the family, who had dropped by for a quick visit. "I went
sleep after I heard Feeheley talking," he recalled later at the murder
trial. "I slept next to the wall; the head of the bed was towards the
of the house, and there were no curtains around it."
between twelve midnight and two a.m., the boy was awakened by James
as he scrambled out of bed. He immediately noticed James Carroll, the
leader of the Biddulph Peace Society, standing in the living room, and
heard the old man ask him to hold the candle here while I dress". As
moved to the doorway, Donnelly inquired about the purpose of the visit,
and the constable told him that he "had another charge against him".
continued to dress himself, and when he was finished, he gazed around
room for his grey coat. It was under Johnny's head, perhaps as a
and the lad spoke up quickly. "Here it is," he said, handing the jacket
over, and James slid into it before heading out into the kitchen. By
Carroll had returned to the living room, and was seen walking around in
a black, felt hat and a black coat with grey, flannel trousers. Johnny
testified later that as soon as he saw the man, he recognized him,
he knew James Carroll "very well".
Mrs. Donnelly had gotten up, and after calling for her niece to come
assist her with stoking the fire, joined Tom in a conversation that
could not decipher from his position in the front bedroom. It was then
that James entered the kitchen, and seeing his son in shackles,
the action. "You are handcuffed?" he asked, staring at the manacled
he thinks he's smart," Tom returned, nodding towards James Carroll who
had entered the kitchen, too. He was standing not far away; his dark,
eyes shining like a demon in the soft candlelight. "Read the
Tom demanded. The words were barely out of his lips when all hell broke
little kitchen exploded into chaos, and death surrounded the Donnellys
on every side. Carroll had let out some kind of signal, and the door
open with a gang of men who entered with murder on their blood-thirsty
minds. Armed with clubs, sticks, and other farm implements, they
the startled family, and began beating them to death. They cared not
the sex or the age of their victims, but only that their name was 'DONNELLY',
and on that night, February 4th, 1880, the Donnellys had to die.
think there were about twenty of them (that) ran into the house,"
said during his testimony. "I don't know how many came in afterwards --
I was still lying in bed when they came in, and then I jumped out and
under the bed -- I could see out into the front room; the bed was near
the end of the room, opposite the door." From that vantage point,
said that everyone was in the kitchen except for Bridget whom he saw
across the floor towards the stairs that led to an upper level. "She
at the stairs' door when I saw her -- I could only see the front of the
stairs from where I lay; when in bed I could see a couple of the steps,
but no more."
no one in the front room other than Bridget fleeing for her life,
ran after her and followed her up the steps to the next floor, but when
they reached the top, she inadvertently slammed the door in his face.
of being discovered by the assassins who were still in the kitchen
off James, Johannah and Tom, the lad raced back to the bedroom, and hid
beneath the bed behind a clothes basket. "It was one of those big
a little lower than the bed cords; there was about half a foot between
the bed and the basket."
after Johnny crawled under the bed again, he saw Tom run across the
room floor. Being a feisty, powerful man, he had broken free from his
and was making a run for it out the front door. Johnny wasn't sure how
many men followed Tom outside into the cold night, but he could hear
beating him with "sticks". Minutes later, they carried him back inside,
and threw him down on the floor close to the front door.
in Women's Clothing
could see Tom's feet at the door, and heard him groaning," the boy
"I could hear something rattle when they threw him down; one fellow
'hit that fellow on the head and break his skull open'; then someone
him three or four blows on the head with a spade." Johnny added that he
saw the murder weapon as it was being carried past the door.
the frightened lad peered out at the grisly scene lit only by a single
candle, he spotted several men standing over Tom's expiring body. They
appeared to be doing something to him that the young witness thought
have been the removal of his handcuffs. One man had a "blackened" face,
another was "dressed in women's clothing", and two of them,
recognized. "I saw John Purtell and Thomas Ryder there," he said.
was standing right beside Tom's body then -- and I knew Tom Ryder from
his whiskers and face."
the men had finished with Tom, someone asked the whereabouts of the
and another replied that she was upstairs. Johnny said that a lot of
men then ran up the stairs to get Bridget, but that he heard no sound
there as they took her life. Within minutes, their footsteps were heard
on the stairs again, and someone announced that the girl, who was only
21, "was beyond earthly tale-baring". The killers then proceeded
to the front bedroom, and after pouring coal oil over the bed under
Johnny lay hidden, they set it ablaze, and quickly abandoned the house
to its untimely fate.
shaking uncontrollably with terror, waited for what must have seemed
forever until he was sure that everyone had left the scene. He feared
his own life should the murderers discover him there; a witness to
heinous, most despicable crime. Then, crawling out from his hiding
at last, he tried to put out the flames that had engulfed the bed, but
his efforts were in vain. "Then I looked and saw Tom lying in the room,
and the old woman near the kitchen door; I tramped on her as I went
I saw Tom lying in the front room, but saw none of the others; the two
I saw were breathing, but I was too much frightened to see what state
by the gruesome sight, the boy then ran across the road to the Whalen's
house to get help. When Mrs. Whalen opened the door, she found a
barefooted child on her doorstep, trembling from fear and the cold.
as she ushered the boy inside to warm him by the fire, little did they
know that somewhere out there on the dark Roman Line, the murderers
on their way to another rendezvous with death. They had not had their
of Donnelly blood, and would take one more life before the night was