It was in Bedore’s interview that I first heard of Dinny O’Brien of the Burnt Lands of Huntley. My interest was piqued by this character but it was not until I decided to do the oral history collection of the humor of the Valley that I went in serious search of him throughout the Almonte area. Someone in Almonte — I can’t remember who — told me that I should go to Concession 14 of Huntley off Highway 44 and there I might find him That in itself was somewhat of a wry joke for when I talked to the Lynches Flynns Graces and O’Briens along the concession all descendants of Potato Famine Irish.
I discovered that although I was indeed in Dinny’s territory that leg-end-in-his-lifetime had been dead for 40 years. I tracked down the farms on which he had lived only to discover that all that then remained of the O’Brien buildings was a roothouse on the side of a hill. I went down a goodly number of dead ends fn the Almonte area visiting Vaughans Morrows and Flynns. Some of them were “beyond the pale” already and one of them at least said to me “I cannot speak of the dead” and closed the door. I was really despairing of ever truly fleshing out this incredible character when an Almonte lawyer a friend of mine sent me to the then 87-year-old Ray Jamieson a fourth-generation Ulster Irishman who had practised law in Almonte for over 50 years.
Jamieson immediately hung flesh on Dinny’s legendary bones “I wouldn’t say that Dinny drank a lot” said Jamieson “but he was addicted to alcohol. “Dinny was litigious He was a good talker -who could explain anything. He spoke pretty good grammar with a real lilt. Dinny was remarkable and unforgettable. If he had been educated he would have done something. He was full of brains.”
Greedy to have more about this amazing Valley entertainer I sent a letter to the editor of the Almonte Gazette and heard back from W J James of Carleton Place who when I visited him added more Dinny O’Brien stories to the collection. It was anally a Vaughan who sent me to Basil O’Keefe on Concession 11 at Almonte who for several generations had had his ancestral farm adjacent to land that belonged to Dinny.
Mr O’Keefe then aged 79 with genuine affection and caring further reclaimed for posterity the character of Dinny his friend and neighbor for so many years. Dinny always had a home for somebody but his only fault was that he used to like to drink a bit. He wasn’t an Irishman if he didn’t drink a little. But here at my place I could hear him coming away to hell out the road there singing in the dark. He’d go to town and he’d come home singing at the top of his voice in the black night. I can hear him coming singing yet along that road there in the pitch black.
The trail then led to Judge Newton of Almonte whom I taped in the Newton Room of Patterson’s restaurant in Perth. He not only told old and new Dinny O’Brien stories but he also told great stories of the other wonderfully funny characters of Carleton Place Perth and Almonte: George Comba the Carleton Place funeral practical joker. Straight-Back Maloney Paddy Moynhan “The Mayor of Dacre” Pat Murphy of Stanleyville. Tommy Hunt of Blakeney. Mrs O’Flaherty of Carleton Place who charged her lodger Lannigan with “indecent assault.” Con Mahoney who ran the hotel out on the Burnt Lands.
“When they were building the new Roman Catholic church in the Burnt Lands of Huntley at Corkery the priest came to collect from Dinny. He was collecting from each parishioner according to his means. “Now Mr O’Brien”, said the holy father ‘you have a fine farm here You should be able to give 50 dollars’ “ ‘Aha God!’ Dinny said (he always said ‘Aha God!’) Not from me! Sure I’d far rather Join the Protestants first and go to hell. They’re pretty near as good — and a damn sight cheaper?
He not only told old and new Dinny O’Brien stories but he also told great stories of some of the other wonderfully funny characters of Carleton Place Perth and Almonte: George Comba the Carleton Place practical Joker. Straight-Back Maloney Paddy Moynhan “The Mayor of Dacre” Pat Murphy of Stanleyville, Tommy Hunt of Blakeney, Mrs O’Flaherty of Carleton Place who charged her lodger Lannigan with “indecent assault”. Con Mahoney who ran the hotel out on the Burnt Lands. Judge Newton added treasures to the Dinny O’Brien collection:
Of course when I visited WT (Billy) James in Carleton Place to get his Dinny O’Brien stories I realized while I was there that Billy James was himself one of the great characters of the Valley ready to contribute not only to the humor collection but also to the lumbering saga and to the annals of farming lore through his experiences working in the bush for Gillies and from his many years at Appleton as one of the outstanding farmers in Canada. A breeder of prize Herefords and a pioneer in the fight for the elimination of the barberry bush it was so difficult to choose a story from the diversity of the James repertoire. llluminating the social history of every place he ever lived and every field he ever worked in.
Dinny O’Brien’s only fault was that he used to like to drink a bit. He wasn’t an Irishman, if he didn’t drink a little. But, here at my place I could hear him coming away to hell out the road there singing in the dark. He’d go to town and he’d come home singing at the top of his voice in the black night. I can hear him coming singing yet along that road there in the pitch black”
The Kingston Whig-Standard
Kingston, Ontario, Canada05 Jan 1991, Sat • Page 47
Dennis O’Brien and Mary White
The eldest son of Timothy O’Brien and Mary Fitzgerald was Dennis (Dinny) O’Brien my Great-Grandfather. He married Mary Teressa White (my Great-Grandmother) at St. Michael’s Church, Huntley in 1888. Dennis O’Brien and Mary (White) are listed in the 1901 census of Huntley Township with children Honora b.1889, Hellan 1892, John (my Grandfather) 1894, Dennis M. (Milton) 1899, Norman T. 1901 and John Gibney, his widowed brother-in-law. They are living on the farm that Mary inherited (or would soon inherit) from her father James White. James had left the farm to his son John provided that he returned to claim it within 15 years (he never returned).Dennis was dibilitated in 1930 from an illness and after that collected a pension. He died about 1947 and Mary died about 1950.
When I asked my Dad about his Grandfather, he laughed but couldn’t explain why. I gather that my Great-Grandfather was a great wit and story-teller.Dinny O’Brien became somewhat of a mythic figure; he is one of the Ottawa Valley characters in Joan Finnigan’s book “Laughing All The Way Home” (apparentley many of the stories attributed to Dinny happened after he died!) He is also mentioned with fondness in Garfield T. Ogilvie’s whimsical book about West Huntley “Once Upon a Country Lane”. read- O’Brien Family Page click
CLIPPED FROMThe Ottawa CitizenOttawa, Ontario, Canada07 Sep 1929, Sat • Page 2
CLIPPED FROMThe Weekly British WhigKingston, Ontario, Canada25 Oct 1920, Mon • Page 3
CLIPPED FROMThe Daily StandardKingston, Ontario, Canada02 Nov 1920, Tue • Page 14
CLIPPED FROMThe Ottawa JournalOttawa, Ontario, Canada28 Jan 1887, Fri • Page 3
Today we celebrate Valentine’s Day– back to normal tomorrow. Tom Edwards Photo–
Here is quite a pair together. Steve Maynard and Joey Nichols. The date on the paper is March 15, 1978.
CLIPPED FROMThe Ottawa CitizenOttawa, Ontario, Canada11 Jul 1991, Thu • Page 19
The Burnt Lands Part 3 – The Great Fire of 1870
Lanark County Hand Typed Notes –Burnt Lands
What Do You Know About the Burnt Lands
The Drought of 1871 and the Mills on the Mississippi River
How Many Stitts of Stittsville Remain?
The Bush Fires of 1870 Perth Courier — Names Names and more Names of the Past