Auditions for "The Donnellys: Before the Murders"
By Christopher Doty
Directed by Jeff Culbert

Sunday, January 22nd, 1 pm to 5pm
Sunday, January 29th, 1 pm to 5 pm
Wolf Performance Hall
Central Library, 251 Dundas Street
London, Ontario

Please prepare a monologue and a reading from part of the script (see below)
No appointment is necessary

We are looking for experienced actors - ages 18 to 60 - 2 women and 6 men - who will be paid an honourarium for their work.

A public reading will be held on the evening of Friday, March 10th. Rehearsals for this event will be held on Wednesday, March 8th and Thursday, March 9 between 6 and 9 p.m.

The production is tentatively scheduled to be performed in Lucan between June 15 and July 2, 2006 with rehearsals being held twice weekly starting April 6th.

For more information, please contact producer Christopher Doty.

Click here for audition information for The Donnelly Trial.



James Donnelly, 45-60 years of age
-a sturdy, vigorous man, well fitted to grapple with the rude conditions of the time

Johannah Donnelly, 45-60 years of age
-a woman of strong and masculine nature while inheriting many of the generous traits of the Irish character, being stern and aggressive in promoting the interest of her rising family

John Donnelly, 20-30 years of age
-the practical joker in the family
-well liked and referred to by his friends and family as "Johnny"

Tom Donnelly, 20-25 years of age
-the brawler in the family

Bridget Donnelly, 20-25 years of age
-young cousin recently arrived from Tipperary, Ireland

Various Lucanites
-To be played by three male actors, 20 to 50 years of age

-characters include Father John Connolly, Ned Ryan and Reporter


Bridget: Uncle James? Aunt Johannah says its time for supper. What are you looking at?

James: I was looking at our land. Thinking what bush needs to be cleared next year. What crops need to be planted. But mostly, I’m looking at our land. I once killed for this land, Bridget - and I would again.

Bridget: Uncle James, you’re teasing me…

James: You’re new to this country, Bridget. You don’t know yet what it’s like having something to call your own - something that lasts forever. As long as the Donnellys can call this farm theirs, we have a reason to be. Not like the old country where you work someone else’s earth just to keep from dying. If you have your own - you’re alive.

Bridget: I don’t understand…

James: The law here doesn’t understand what we want - what we need - why we came to this country in the first place. We’re sick of starving and were sick of moving like we were doing back in Ireland - of being crushed by the Church of England.

Bridget: You’ve done well for yourself, Uncle James -

James: You should have seen this place when we moved here. it was like living at the edge of the world. But I knew anything had to be better than the poverty and rack-rents of Tipperary. It took me months just to scrape together the money for the steerage passage - myself, your aunt, James Junior and poor crippled Will. (Johannah enters) From Ireland across the Atlantic.

Johannah: To the quarantine station on Grosse Isle where we were checked over for typhus.

James: To pest-hole shanties across the Maritimes.

Johannah: To Toronto by lake boat.

James: To London, Ontario the most westerly town in all of Canada.

Johannah: And then by ox-cart over the Proof Line, a corduroy road - I thought my body would shake apart…

James: But we made it. We all made it. We made it past every thing that blocked our path - poverty, disease, thieves…I could have stayed in the city and made a living there - but I wanted…

Bridget: Land, the land you could only rent back in Ireland.

James: We thought it would be different here in Canada - but it wasn’t. And I wasn’t going to let them run my family off the property the way the lot of them pushed out the blacks so many years earlier.

Bridget: You mean by the Protestants?

James: No, by the laws - the same type of laws that denied a man the profits of his work back in Tipperary.

Johannah: We had no money and James had no prospects.

James: I did the only thing I could - I found a plot of land and I settled my family on it. It belonged to someone else - some landowner that had forgotten about it and that made me smile - after a lifetime of paying someone for a place to live - I was getting it for free.

Johannah: And you gave that land value. No one could say the Donnellys were lazy.

James: I cleared that land. I threw up a log shanty and planted crops in soil that had never held anything but wilderness.

Johannah: I worked along side of you - and bore you four more sons in our new home: Patrick, Michael, Robert and Thomas.

James: We had worked that land for over a year and then the law said I had to split it. How do you split a year of hard work and struggle? Farrell wanted all of it - my land and work. I would kill rather than give that all away. That’s what makes me so dangerous - so they say.

You know, Bridget, a lot of people would like to use the fact I got off with seven years as an excuse to kill me. Farrell’s children won’t have their satisfaction until I’m in the grave. Does that frighten you?

Bridget: A bit. I hear talk when I go into Lucan. People saying you had better clear out or it will be the worse for all of us. I’m not afraid when I’m here with you - are you afraid, Uncle James?

James: They’ll never force us off this land, Bridget. The only way Johannah and I are leaving is if they carrying us all off in a pine box.

Bridget: Uncle James, you wouldn’t go to prison again? You wouldn’t leave Aunt Johannah alone again?

James: I left her behind once - and with seven young boys and a baby daughter when I went to prison.

Johannah: The next year the crop failed and I couldn’t pay the taxes on the farm.

James: But she borrowed the money - at 24 per cent interest - and kept the farm in the Donnelly name.

Johannah: Times were so rough there were times I didn’t have enough clothes to send out boys to school in.

James: Will - who was the brightest of the lot - had to stay home and vented his energies on a borrowed fiddle because he was too ashamed to go to school in rags. That’s what bothered me the most that someone as bright as Will couldn’t go to the very school I let them build on the edge of my land.

Johannah: You helped give almost everyone else a learning, Jim. The Ryders, the McLaughlins, the Cains, the Caseys…young boys who would one day turn against us.

Bridget: What about the rest of my cousins? What happened to them while you were away?

James: No one was a keen as Will. Young James and Robert couldn’t have cared less about book-learning. The rest of my children fell somewhere in between.

Johannah: Their pride was so hurt, Jim. That they couldn’t go to the school that bore their names - the Donnelly School. Damn, that wasn’t right.

James: I wanted to give my boys something I never had - land and a future in a new country. I supposed that’s what made me so mad that I killed Farrell.

Johannah: I taught them to resent those insults and never to let them pass.


Connolly: Is Mr. Donnelly home?

Johannah: No. Who are you and what do you want?

Connolly: I am the new pastor of St. Patrick’s and I am ashamed of the way I am greeted here! First, I’m half-devoured by your dogs and then I’m not accorded the proper respect. Can you be so ignorant not to recognize me as a priest?

Johannah: Forgive me, father. I didn’t see your collar through your coat.

Connolly: I am Father John Connolly, Father Girard’s replacement. You would have known that if you had been in mass on Sunday. Mrs. Donnelly - is that who you are? (she nods) I haven’t been long here in this forsaken wilderness but nearly every one of my parishoners has told me about about your boys’ bad doings, and that they’re hard cases. That’s why I’m paying you a visit.

Johannah: Father, there are no worse than boys in the neighbourhood. But the biggest crowd is against us and sure it’s myself and me boys who are persecuted.

Connolly: That is no excuse for avoiding mass. It is a failing of all Irishmen that they have no faith. No man is anything without a character, but with it he is everything, and if he doesn’t respect that character we have no peace whatever.
(Tom enters)

Johannah: Father, this is my youngest son, Tom.

Tom: (to Johannah) Oh, Father Girard’s replacement - yet another trying to save our souls…

Johannah: Hush up.

Tom: I wish him luck.

Connolly: Tom Donnelly - I’ve heard about you. A Mr. George Swartz has told me you were in a bar the other day and that you pulled out a revolver out of your pocket and then fired it over your shoulder, regardless of the consequences. Is that true?

Tom: (laughing) Well, I might have Father. But I was too drunk to have hit anything…

Connolly: (unamused) You nearly missed Mr. Swartz’s head - and then you fired your revolver again - into the ceiling…

Tom: Looks like some of our friends in town got to you first.

Connolly: I’ll have none of your insolence! In coming to Biddulph I left a quiet place - a Christian place - and a place where the laws of God and man were observed and respected. I have come to a district where neither the laws of God or man have been observed - and this family are the worse perpetrators.

Johannah: Father Connolly, I don’t know who has been talking to you - but you can’t believe all those stories about my family.

Connolly: When people have a hard name, as a priest, having the charge of souls, I must set my face against their deeds. I expect you and your family to be in church next Sunday - my sermon will be all about this family and your behaviour over the past few years.

Tom: Now look here -

Connolly: (backing off a bit) You may terrorize your neighbours and intimidate what few friends you have but remember this: I am not afraid of any of you. I am ready to do my spiritual duty come what may.


Tom: (to John) You know, I’ve had about all I can take of this. Carroll is just a brainless dog - Ned Ryan should know better than lay that old charge against me.

John: So what are you going to do? Carroll won’t be happy until he sees you in the lock-up in Lucan.

Tom: I’m thinking Ryan can be talked out of pressing the charge. (John exits, Ned Ryan enters) Hello Ryan…

Ryan: (startled) Oh, hello Tom. I haven’t seen much of you lately.

Tom: Oh, that’s likely because I’ve been busy running away from Carroll on that trumped-up charge of robbery you’ve got against me.

Ryan: Now look, Tom. I didn’t have any choice in that matter. Carroll’s a sworn constable of the law and he told me if I didn’t press charges I’d be just as guilty of these depradations as…

Tom: As the Donnellys, right. You know, Ryan, not only are you a liar but you’re a gutless liar. And pretty soon you’re gonna be a pretty poor one.

Ryan: What are you talking about?

Tom: You’re waiting for someone, aren’t you? (silence) A fellow named Martin Curtin…the fellow that’s gonna thresh your crops for you.

Ryan: I don’t understand what you’re getting at.

Tom: It’s just this, Ryan. Curtin isn’t coming to thresh. No one’s coming to thresh. Your crops can rot in the fields this fall as long as the Donnellys live in Biddulph Township. Next time you feel like talking to Carroll, remember that.

Ryan: You can’t do that, Tom. I’ll talk to Father Connolly and the committee about this, they’ll make you…

Tom: (grabbing Ryan) They’ll make the Donnellys do nothing. We’re about afraid of you vigilence committee as we’re afraid of you Ryan. You can tell that to them or anyone else who is fool enough to thresh for you this year. (letting him go) Better luck next season’s crop, Ryan. (Ryan exits, John enters carrying a box full of horse shoes and spikes)


James: They thought it would be easier to scare Will. What a lot of fools.

Johannah: (hitching up her petticoats, and rushing off the porch) I wasn’t going to let Will be taken by surprise so I went off to warn him.

John: Across twenty five acres of our farm, across the seventh and eight concessions…

Tom: …though Michael Powe’s bush, across the fields of Thomas Lamphier…

James: …down the sideroad to to the Swamp Line…

Johannah: …and then north to Whalen’s Corners where Will and his wife Norah were sitting peaceful on their front porch. I had gotten their first. I told Will what happenned and, unlike Tom and John he didn’t get angry. He just went inside, loaded his gun and waiting inside the front door for Carroll and his lot. When they arrived, Will called out "Here comes the Black Militia!" Everyone thought that was funny - except the vigilantes. They stopped about two hundred feet away when they saw Will holding a pistol and standing guard on his front porch.

Finally, two of them came out of the crowd toward Will.

Bridget: Did they threaten him?

Johannah: No, they sat on a log an waited for someone else to act. A fine bunch of vigilanttes. Will finally called out "What are you going to do now, Sitting Bull?" and they shrank from his words. Will didn’t need a gun to take care of them and the clubs. He put down his pistol and picked up…

James: …his fiddle.

Johannah: His fiddle and serenaded them with a military march.

Tom: I never did get why he did that.

Bridget: It was a song about Napolean Bonaparte, Tom. He was making fun of them for acting like a regular army.

Johannah: It didn’t matter what the tune was. It showed that he wasn’t afraid of any of them - and they knew it.

John: It was uncanny. Some said Will must have been in league with the devil to thwart the lot of them with fiddle music. After listening to the music for ten minutes they had had enough. They packed back into their wagon and went back to Biddulph.

Johannah: Where they found Thompson’s cow over at Jim Quigley’s the next day. So much for the vigilance committee and James Carroll!


Reporter: (reading from note pad) "I did not feel like leaving the house, but started. I then drove on, and this was the last interview I had with those members of my family in this life." That’s what he told me this afternoon.

Lucanite: One thing I have to say for Will Donnelly, he can spin a good story. Is your editor going to print that sentimental blather?

Reporter: Every word. The public can’t get enough of The Donnelly Tragedy these days.

Lucanite: The Donnelly Tragedy? Is that what you townies call this? The only thing tragic about it is that it didn’t happen sooner.

Reporter: What do you mean by that? Do you have some theory of how the Donnelly’s were taken off?

Lucanite: Theories are cheap. You reporters could probably invent sixty of them in as many minutes.

Reporter: But as a neighbour of the Donnellys you should be in a better position to give a likely reason for the murders.

Lucanite: Theories are one thing. Facts are another. Theories don’t convict anybody. What the use of me giving you one if there’s nothing to back it up?

Reporter: There are about three thousand people who live in this township - and I haven’t been able to get a straight answer from one of them about where they were on the evening of February 3rd. Now, where were you?

Lucanite: I’ll tell you this - but don’t use my name. Okay? I have no doubt that the murderers are well known to this community.

Reporter: Can you prove that?

Lucanite: No, but there’s no doubt in my mind that the Vigilance Committee is in the secret and that they’ll keep it under raps.

Reporter: Suppose they can. Lucan’s a small community. People will talk…

Reporter: The people in the neighbourhood are under a debt of gratitude to the committee for ridding this place of the Donnellys.

Reporter: But how can anyone justify such a course?

Lucanite: It was necessary. Our barns were burnt, our horses’ tongues cut out, our cattle disembowelled - and no one was safe who ever said a word against the Donnellys.

Reporter: Don’t you suppose people who would plan and execute such a horrible crime would be as bad as the Donnellys.

Lucanite: No siree! If the truth were known, you’d find that the murderers are the most respectable people in the township - good farmers and honest men. They had to do it. There was no other way.

Reporter: Was there no law?

Lucanite: Law! Well, I’ll be damned. Where did anybody ever get the best of the Donnellys in law! Why, we never saw them up and get their deserts.

Reporter: How do the people here in the township regard it?

Lucanite: Well, they felt that it had to be. There was no other course. The Donnellys had to be killed. They were a bad family. The only difference between them and a dog was in the shape.

Reporter: But the women!

Lucanite: There need be no sympathy for Mrs. Donnelly. She had a wicked mind. Why, she prayed on her knees that the souls of her sons might forever and ever frizzle in hell if they ever forgave an enemy or railed to take revenge.

Reporter: Then you think the murderers won’t be found guilty?

Lucanite: The murderers - if you want to call them that - are respectable men who wouldn’t harm a fly, but they had to kill the Donnellys just as they would a mad dog. People can’t live in a state of terror forever.

Reporter: But still all that does not alter the legal liability of the murderers.

Lucanite: Well, perhaps not. But they ain’t caught yet.

"Before the Murders" is Copyright 2006 by Doty Docs. All rights reserved. No part of this work may be performed, reproduced or transmitted in any form, by any means (electronic, photocopying, recording or otherwise) without prior written permission of the author.

Address inquiries to Christopher Doty, 43 Trevithen Street, London, Ontario, N6C 4S6.