06/03/2015
Share this story Share on Facebook icon Share on Twitter icon Share on Pinterest icon Share on Google Plus icon Share on Linked In icon Share via Email icon

Far Away Hills - author interview with Jean Debney

ad03d2f8-13a5-469d-9e1b-7b58c8b2f243
We talk to author Jean Debney about how her ancestors journeyed from a poverty-stricken life in Glasgow to make a new life in rural Canada.

Jean is the author of 'Far Away Hills', a book which tells the story of her family's struggle to establish themselves as Scottish emigrants to Canada at the turn of the twentieth century. We talked to Jean about the story behind the book.

HOW DID YOU COME TO LEARN OF THESE FAMILY STORIES?

My mother never kept a diary as such. She came from the Irish/Scottish tradition of keeping the stories alive, by handing them down mother to daughter, generation to generation.  She relayed stories to me that had been passed down as many as five generations. As such, her own story she treated in exactly the same way, and I was told this story again and again throughout my childhood into my teens.

The narrative tradition of telling stories is dying out with the advent of social media and technology.  Everyone expects instant information at the click of a button and this has led to the inability to sit and listen patiently, and those who could tell the stories are passing never having handed down their tales.

WHAT WOULD YOUR MOTHER'S CHILDHOOD HAVE BEEN LIKE?

I know a great deal about my mother’s childhood in Scotland, again as a result of her diligence to re-tell her tale. This will form the second book of the trilogy after 'Far Away Hills'. I have many stories of Dunoon and her high Catholic grandparents, of attending St Muns and the local church.  She would tell me of Miss O’Grady her school mistress, who was so well paid she was able to take three cruises a year, and of agonizing over the subject of her next confession, not sure what heinous crime would merit making a confession. 

My mother adored her uncle James and aunt Mary, who would tell her how beautiful her own mother had been. She found her grandfather Peter McBride very austere and intimidating and her grandmother Bridge, although small, very strong and dictatorial.  After that time, her education continued at a convent in Glasgow until finding herself orphaned for the second time at the age of 14 in 1933.

WHY DID THE FAMILY DECIDE TO EMIGRATE?

In the book, my grandfather had very little choice but to take passage. Work was scarce and he wanted better for his family, who had only known struggle since he had married Sarah (Sal). He had no experience farming and no knowledge of Canada, to have taken his wife and two small children into that fierce wilderness would have been unthinkable.  I do not think he ever believed that they would be apart for so many years, but fate and World War One intervened, no commercial shipping could cross the Atlantic. Until the war ended the forced parting was inevitable.

For me when these stories were re-told to me as a young adult I began to doubt some of the fantastical claims made; tales the Sioux Indians and the moccasins, her existence in a small wooden shack in the middle of nowhere.  Even the local historian in Canada that I worked with via email, doubted much until we found everything that my mother had claimed was indeed true.  That is the most astounding thing, especially when you realise that my grandmother had left ‘under a cloud’ and had very little contact with her family.

When my mother returned to Scotland she was kept apart from her father’s family, she had no access to any of this information other than that she had remembered. She was four on the boat that brought her from Canada; for one so young to remember so much, must have been because her young life had been filled with so much deep tragedy.

Far Away Hills by Jean Debney is published by Authoright.

Back to "Family History" Category

06/03/2015 Share this story   Share on Facebook icon Share on Twitter icon Share on Pinterest icon Share on Google Plus icon Share on Linked In icon Share via Email icon

Recent Updates

Inventor and engineer James Watt was born - On this day in history

James Watt, inventor of the condensor, which helped make the Industrial Revolution possible, was born on 19 ...


Sir John Pringle died - On this day in Scottish history

Sir John Pringle, President of the Royal Society and physician to King George III, died on 18 January 1782. ...


The Duddingston Curling Society was founded - On this day in history

On 17 January 1795, the Duddingston Curling Society became the first formally organised curling club in the ...


Restored Mary Queen of Scots statue to take pride of place in Linlithgow in time for Month of MQS

A much-loved statue of Mary Queen of Scots has been restored and will be on display at Linlithgow Museum, as ...


Other Articles

Caithness novelist Neil Gunn died - On this day in history

Scottish novelist Neil M Gunn, author of The Silver Darlings, died on 15 January 1973. ...


Greyfriars Bobby died - On this day in history

Greyfriars Bobby, the faithful terrier said to have kept vigil at his master's grave for fourteen years, died ...


New two-year academic research project will explore how the legend of Mary Queen of Scots has impacted society and culture

More than forty international academics and curators are to join a project led by the University of Glasgow, ...


Seven history books we can’t wait to read in 2019

The coming year looks set to be a great one for history publishing. Here, we present seven books we’re ...