In Act I of James Reaney’s play Sticks and Stones, local boys taunt young Will Donnelly for his crippled foot. In this scene, Mrs Donnelly asks Will for his birthday wish.
MRS DONNELLY: What day is it today of all days, William Donnelly?
WILL: It’s my birthday.
MRS DONNELLY: Tell me one wish.
WILL: Well, mother, ’tis something other than a prayerbook. I’d like a horse – a black stallion. And a sword. Then I’d ride up and down the line and I’d cut the heads off all those who call me – us – names.
MRS DONNELLY: Go over to the old tree the storm fell down, Will.
Will, what would you call this big black horse?
WILL: Lord Byron. But he wouldn’t be lame, you see.
MRS DONNELLY: Now see what you find there hidden among the roots. (He searches, crawling into the barrel; searching around it.)
OTHERS: (softly and rolling over)
Then they took me out of that and
Threw me into a well.
They left me there for a space of time,
And me belly began to swell. 
WILL: It’s a parcel. (Actually it is just two sticks.)
MRS DONNELLY: But it’s not likely your father and I would give you a brown paper parcel for your twelfth birthday. What’s it a parcel of, Will?
WILL: A fiddle. Is it just for today, mother? Just mine for my birthday? But tomorrow will my brothers get at it?
MRS DONNELLY: No, Will, it is for you – and only you. To be your music for your entire lifetime. Remember what I’ve told you today.
(Will mimes the fiddle with two sticks; at edge of stage, a real fiddler follows.)
WILL: (as he tunes)
What did happen to father when he wouldn’t kneel and he wouldn’t swear?
MRS DONNELLY: Nothing’s happened.
WILL: Nothing’s happened yet?
MRS DONNELLY: Nor ever will….
The vendetta against the Donnellys and their eventual murder
Mrs Donnelly’s hope that their troubles from the old country are behind them proves unfounded, and the vendetta against them continues unabated until their murder some twenty years later (4 February 1880). During that time, Will Donnelly grows up to play his fiddle at weddings and dances and have a black stallion called Lord Byron (see James Reaney’s The Donnellys Part II – The St. Nicholas Hotel).
On 2 September 1879, five months before the murder of five members of his family, Will Donnelly frightens away a mob come to terrorize him by playing a tune on his fiddle. In writing the play, James Reaney was particularly impressed by this:
“When on 2 September 1879, the mob who had just terrorized his parents at their farm arrived at his house in Whalen’s Corners, William frightened them away with a fiddle tune! None of the commentators ever make enough of this. Nor of the mother risking her life to warn her son that a mob was about to confront him. From now on, I have nothing but admiration and sympathy for the Donnelly family, and a feeling that their bravery also betrayed them. But, of course, what they couldn’t possibly have known was that the whole affair of the cow and resultant trial was a dry run for another visit to the Donnelly house at night.…”(See James Reaney’s The Donnellys: An Ontario Vendetta, Introduction, page xcix, The Champlain Society, 2004.)
 These lines sung by the Others are from the Barley Corn Ballad, an old Irish folk tune that James Reaney uses to underscore the Donnellys’ fate. As James Noonan writes in the Afterword to the published version of the play, “The ballad is so fitting to illustrate the fate of the Donnellys that if you substitute ‘Donnelly’ for ‘barley grain’ you have the story of the Donnellys told in ballad form.” (Afterword, page 350)
James Reaney’s three plays about the Donnellys — Sticks and Stones, The St. Nicholas Hotel, and Handcuffs — are available in one volume from Dundurn Press.