John Joe McGinley writes on the 134th anniversary of the execution of Patrick O’Donnell, the Invincible and Irish patriot, a native of Gweedore, in Donegal.
Patrick O’Donnell was born in the Donegal townland of Min An Chladaigh. Little is known of his early life, but he was still a child when ‘an Gorta Mór’, the great famine began in 1845.
Like so many of his fellow Irish men and women he was forced to flee Ireland, as hunger and disease stalked the land. He had family in America, leaving to pursue a new life in the anthracite coal regions of Pennsylvania.
His American cousins worked as miners and joined the Molly Maguires, fighting for improved working conditions in the harsh environment of the Pennsylvanian mines. The Molly Maguires were an Irish secret society, named after anti-landlord activities in their native land.
Patrick’s family were key members of the Maguires and involved in some of the highest profile acts of sabotage in the struggle. The mine owners had a determination to break the Maguires and brutal tactics, including murder, had not been uncommon. It was decided that the ring leaders, including the O’Donnells, would be killed. An attack was launched and many of the O’Donnells died, in what was to become known as the Wiggans Patch Massacre.
Some members of the family escaped, including Patrick, and they resolved to retaliate against those involved in the maiming and murder of their friends and relations.
In this highly charged situation it was clear that Patrick O’Donnell was now in grave danger.
Kevin Kenny in his book Making Sense of the Molly Maguire’s suggests it was at this stage, in 1882, that O’Donnell resolved to leave America and return to Ireland.
Ireland was also experiencing equally violent events in 1882. On a warm evening on the 6th of May, 1882, Thomas Henry Burke, the most senior civil servant in Ireland decided to enjoy a walk through the Phoenix Park. He was unaware that assassins had decided he had to die, in the fightback against British rule in Ireland.