The Execution, Life and Times of Patrick O'Donnell

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Pub Date 24 Jan 2023 | Archive Date 31 Jan 2024


History tells us that Patrick O’Donnell was hanged in Newgate Prison in December 1883 for the murder of James Carey, the infamous Phoenix Park Killer and notorious Irish informer. History however tells us almost nothing of his remarkable life.

Letters sent from Victor Hugo and US President Chester A. Arthur, asking Queen Victoria to show clemency, hint at an extraordinary life for an Irish peasant.

The portrait of Patrick O’Donnell stared down for years from the wall in the author’s family home during his youth. Decades later and curious about a possible family connection to the enigmatic figure, he started digging, and what he found is astonishing! In his extraordinary new book, The Execution, Life and Times of Patrick O’Donnell, Gavin O’Donnell reveals in intimate and fascinating detail, through a series of letters, the incredible life of one man — and the times in which he lived... Letters now published in his new book.

Explore the condemned man’s life and times through this unique work of creative fiction, entwined with historical fact; from the Great Hunger to the typhoid sheds of Quebec; from his service in the Confederate army and capture at Chattanooga in 1863; to the O’Donnell massacre at Wiggan’s Patch, Pennsylvania; and ultimately to that fateful day off the coast of Port Elizabeth where he put three bullets into Carey.

The Execution, Life and Times of Patrick O’Donnell was recently honoured as a 2023 'Top Notable' independently published novel (Indie) in the Shelf Unbound Best Indie Book Competition.

History tells us that Patrick O’Donnell was hanged in Newgate Prison in December 1883 for the murder of James Carey, the infamous Phoenix Park Killer and notorious Irish informer. History however...

A Note From the Publisher

Historical Fiction - Irish and American History blending real life world events and known biographical events of Patrick O'Donnell with a masterful and compelling narrative. Written in epistolary format with accompanying contextual notes, this book covers a fascinating period of history.

Historical Fiction - Irish and American History blending real life world events and known biographical events of Patrick O'Donnell with a masterful and compelling narrative. Written in...

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ISBN 9781399951326
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Average rating from 13 members

Featured Reviews

A very personal and interesting story.
With a twist at the end which I did not expect!
I'm interested in Irish history, and also know Gweedore well.
Everything rang totally true.

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What an interesting and illuminating look at Irish history and the immigration to America.
An unusual life in a very different time period that covers a lot of turbulent times in America.
The mining industry and the civil war are covered in a way that makes it very real to the reader.
Not a book I normally would of chosen but I am glad that I have read it and been educated in a very pleasant first story manner that made the person and the times come alive to me.

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What a superb fascinating and amazing book, along the way I have learned so much about Irish, British and American history. The fact that the Irish hated the British during the starvation of their people was expressed o well that during this period the British people were also not treated fairly. Life back then was for the rich to keep the poor even poorer and for the rich to have every luxury that they wanted and not give a care to those lower down the poverty chain. So yes the British were stealing all the food from the Irish but it was only going to the rich in Britain and the rest of the ovulation were suffering just like the Irish. I loved the analysis and clarity that Patrick gave to this situation. The sad thing is that there is still a lot of resentment both sides of the equation often not based on fact but biased stories told down through families.
It was an eye opener to see what Lincoln really believed as I had never seen, or heard, of his feelings about slavery and the black people that it affected. He held a very bigoted view and not what is projected nowadays when you read about him.
The book was so well presented with the authors comments to explain what was going to follow in Patricks letters and then reading what was written itself. This was a book that I read late into the night as it was totally absorbing.

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This was a gritty read. Patrick O'Connell escaped Ireland during the potato famine. The book, a series of letters written whilst waiting to be hung for a drunken mistake, chronicles his life and the many crimes he committed through desperation and the need to survive. Full of social history, describing the horrors of life in the mid-late 1800s in Ireland and America, this book kept me enthralled despite not being my normal choice of book. With a belter of a twist at the end, this is well worth a read! Thanks to Gavin O'Donnell for sharing his family history.

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Interesting to read into the history of Irish life at the time of the famine and the two boys' attempts to survive with a trip to the USA to stay with relatives.

The book points out the devious things that people did to survive this most dreadful time.

The descriptions that the author has given were well-researched and very well portrayed throughout the book.

What a surprising end. A book that had me in tears a few times due to the facts that were being told.

Thank you for letting me preread this book.

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This was a fascinating and gritty read. Cover lots of facts from Irish history and how they integrated and contributed to the history of USA.

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We all read novels to enjoy fine writing, a good story and well defined characters something this O'Donnell novel does in spades! What gives it the edge is that many of the facts are true and so we are also perhaps adding another dimension to our understanding of history.
Patrick O'Donnell murdered James Carey - the man responsible for the notorious Phoenix Park killings - and, as a consequence, was sent to the gallows in Newgate prison on 17th December 1883. In this novel, using the medium of letters he writes to Victor Hugo over 12 days whilst awaiting execution, O'Donnell gives us his life story. And what a story he tells!
He begins with telling us about how he and his brother have to leave Ireland for America due to the potato famine. This, apart from the long walk to Port Sligo, was meant to be straightforward as his uncle in Philadelphia had organised for them to collect tickets there. But nothing goes to plan. Eventually they get on a ship making the transatlantic crossing, but tragedy strikes, and it is just Patrick who makes it to an immigrant camp in Canada. He is only 12 years old. From there, in the company of Honora { a nurse who saved his life in the camp ] he ultimately makes his way to New York where, yet again, good fortune turns to dust. Next, he travels South only to get involved in the Civil War, after the horrors of which he ends up back again in New York. Not finding the success he seeks there he decides to travel, via London to seek his fortune in South Africa. It is on this trip that he meets and kills James Carey. Remembering this novel is based on fact makes his story truly extraordinary and, reverting to my first sentence, the content and quality of writing in his letters will tie you to the page.
Settle back, enjoy the read and learn a little history along the way.

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This Is not a book I would normally chosen to read but I am so glad that I have read it and been educated in a very intelligent first story manner that made the person and the times come alive to me. Anyone who reads this book will learn a lot from it as it’s very interesting and very informative and intriguing to read. Such an insightful story told well. This was such a fascinating and very gritty read indeed. It Covers a lot of facts from Irish history and how they integrated and contributed to the history of USA. It’s also a very personal and raw and Honest and interesting story. It certainly has a lot of twists at the end which I did not expect and didn’t see coming at all. I am now interested in Irish history a lot more than I was before I started reading this book. Xx

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My favourite way to learn new things. I had no idea who Patrick O'Donnell was and to my shame I know very little about the Irish cause, so this was a very enjoyable way to introduce myself to both! Regardless if O'Donnell was the most unlucky man in history or indeed a secret agent, his life has been extraordinary. It never fails to amaze me how people managed to survive and make something of themselves in very challenging life conditions. To have survived famine and then travel to Canada and US at such a young age is in many ways beyond our modern imagination. The rest of his life definitely lived up to his early life, even if in a different way, but he sure had a lot of adventures in his life time!! Now of course I have no idea what to think and I guess it's just one of those cases where we will never know for sure what happened. I did think to myself that the president of the US wouldn't have intervene for just a regular citizen, regardless how unjust his case seemed, so from that point of view I'd say the balance tips toward secret agent, but then history tells us that he was executed, but was he? Tantalising...

The only reason I've rated this 4 stars instead of 5 is because it left me with too many questions. How/Where did the author find this letters? Where they a family heirloom? Are they truly authentic? And so on...I would really loved to know more, and I believe the "behind the scene" insight would have added that extra oomph to the story!

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Full of interesting facts, one of the most entertaining factual books I have read in a long Time!++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

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Patrick O'Donnell is sat on death row awaiting his execution for the murder of James Carey. It is 1883 and Newgate prison is a bleak place. The story is a mixture of his letters and the authors interpretation. The letters show just how bleak life was like during these times.
From the Great Hunger in Ireland. The perilous journey over the sea's. Life in Quebec. The way that Patrick made a living and lived his life. At times a brutal reminder of how bad life could be.
Many thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for the opportunity to see an ARC

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This is a truly fascinating insight into not only Irish but British and American history, I wasn’t aware of this story and it really resonates given the legacy of difficulties that remain in relationships between the countries. It makes it easier to understand the deep allegiances felt in America, particularly New York, for Irish roots. The British as effectively an occupying colonial power don’t come out of it well and rightly so.

I found the narrative deeply moving more than once. The research appears to be meticulous and O’Donnell is so unassuming in many of his letters. He expressed the desperation of his situation exceptionally well and I felt enormous sympathy for him.

This title should appeal to many; it’s social history at its best but it’s also a genuinely compelling human interest story, really well written.

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This was a perfect chance to branch of out of my normal genres. It is well written and gives an insite to a piece of history that I knew nothing about and made me want to learn more. Thank you for allowing me a chance to broaden my knowledge

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