© Alex Watson 2017 All rights reserved.
20 Thursday, 6th October, 2005
‘Lost child’of Seskinore’s McClintock family returns to village after 65 years in fascinating mission
By Jonathan Rainey
THE people of Seskinore recently welcomed back a long lost member of one of the village’s most respected families - over 65 years after she vanished from village life.
Mrs Xenia Lewis (70), from Townsville, Australia, made an emotional return to Seskinore to try to answer some of the many questions that surround her childhood.
Within the last year, Xenia has discovered that she is the granddaughter of Colonel John Knox McClintock, who contributed much to the life of Seskinore during his lifetime, including building the local primary school, before his death in 1936.
She has also discovered that she spent much of her early childhood in the village, even though today she has no memory of that time.
Both of Xenia’s parents, Tony and Leila Joynson-Wreford, died when she was still a young girl, leaving her in the care of an English guardian, who moved her to London, and then Sussex. As she got older, her guardian never revealed anything about her family or her life, in Seskinore
And, in another twist to an already fascinating story Xenia has also met the half- brother she never knew existed while she has been uncovering the truth about her past.
During a party organised in her honour at McClintock Primary School, Xenia told the assembled villagers: “It’s been a very emotional journey, but everyone has made me feel welcome, and I feel like I’ve come home.”
She has been able to piece together much of her early life through the tireless work of Alex Watson, a family researcher from Glasgow, who Xenia described as ‘just wonderful’
Mr Watson got in touch with her last year after finding her name on an internet site while he was investigating the family tree of Patrick Joynson-Wreford, an actor and playwright who lives in Scotland.
Xenia explained: “My maiden name is quite a complicated one, so I put it on the internet to try and find my school friends, and then Alex put in Patrick’s name, and that’s what started everything.”
Through his research, Mr Watson found out that Xenia’s father, Tony, had actually been married three times - Patrick was his son from his second marriage, while Xenia was his daughter from his third marriage, to Leila McClintock, a daughter of Col McClintock,
Having discovered the connection to the McClintocks of Seskinore, Mr Watson then contacted Omagh Tourist Information Centre for more information. The staff put him in touch with local historian, Dr Haldane Mitchell, who had himself been researching the famous Seskinore family for a book due to he published later this month
Mr Watson said: “Dr Mitchell was absolutely amazed, because he knew that Xenia existed purely because a relation from one of Xenia’s grandfather’s family used to live in Omagh, and she had photographs of Xenia as a baby with her nanny in front of Seskinore House, home of the McClintock family.
As Mr Watson gathered the information together from all the different sources, many of the secrets of Xenia’s childhood were gradually unravelled.
Born in Surrey in 1935, Xenia was around 18 months old when her parents decided to move to Seskinore.
However, tragedy struck the young family just three weeks after arriving in Tyrone, when Leila died in the County Hospital in Omagh after contracting meningitis.
Xenia said: “I think my father was really devastated when my mother died. According to an obituary published in the Tyrone Constitution, and from what numerous people have told me in Seskinore, my father used to go down to the Garden of Remembrance in the McClintock estate, where my mother is buried, at 6pm every single night with my mother’s dog, no matter what”
However soon after Tony’s own health started to deteriorate, as it was discovered that he was suffering from TB. Over the next couple of years, father and daughter moved between Seskinore, England and Switzerland, depending on his health.
Tony eventually died in Switzerland in March 1940, leaving Xenia orphaned at the age of four. She was then taken into the care of an English couple, Sheila and John Boteler who Tony named as her guardians just before he died. She was never to return to Seskinore until her recent visit.
Knowing that some of the questions about her childhood may never be answered, Xenia said: “I would just like to have filled in that gap as to why I was spirited away from Seskinore and taken to live in England, because in the war I would’ve been safer in Seskinore with my nanny than living in London and Sussex.
“There were different people who were supposed to adopt me, and then, it suddenly all changed within a week, and nobody knows why my father changed his mind.”
She added: “The only thing we know for certain is that my guardian’s husband, John, was in hospital with my father with TB, and that seems to be the only connection we can find between the two of them.”
Unfortunately, many of the people who would have been able to provide Xenia with her much needed information have since died, such as her guardian or her nanny, Helen Hunter, who remained with her until she was 10 years old.
She said: “My guardian died 12 years ago, and she would’ve have had some answers for me, but we never really discussed it, I just can’t find the answers as to why I was spirited out of Ireland and nobody was told where I was. Some people in Seskinore didn’t even know I existed.”
Xenia has since found out that the McClintock estate was sold a year after her father died, and that Seskinore House was then used by American soldiers during World War II.
According to an article published in the Belfast Telegraph in 1952, the ancestral home of the McClintock family which had by that time laid empty for almost a decade, was ‘The house that nobody wanted’, and was demolished later that year.
Xenia would have been around 17 years old when the old building was pulled down, and said: “Maybe if I’d known a bit about it, I could’ve done something to save it,”
Despite the various setbacks she has suffered during the past year, Xenia was overwhelmed by the welcome she received from the villagers when she returned to Tyrone for a short four visit this September, after more than 65 years away
She said: “I was apprehensive, because I thought the villagers were going to wonder why I’d suddenly come back. But I was overwhelmed by the warmth of everybody at Seskinore and the love they had for my family.
“The old people in the village still have a pride in the McClintocks. One of the ladies came up to me and said it was a dream come true that I’d come back. They just couldn’t believe it when I arrived, it was amazing.”
Xenia was accompanied on her trip back home by her daughter and son in law, Sharon and Ron Van der Doorn, and their children, Chris and Nicola.
Also travelling with the group were Mr Watson, the man who had made it all possible, and Xenia’s half brother, Patrick. Both men bad spent part of January this year in Australia getting to know Xenia and her family.
While in Seskinore, the group was able to get a better picture of what the McClintocks were like, thanks to the memories of the older members of the village, as well as cuttings from old local newspapers, and various letters and photographs.
In particular, a collection of about 40 letters written over a two year period by Xenia’s father to Andy McHugh, who ran the McClintock estate in Tony’s absence, have given Xenia an insight into his character that she never had before. The letters were kept by Andy’s daughter, Cecilia, who still lives in the village.
Xenia said’. “I’ve got copies of all these letters, and they’ve given me a picture of what sort of person my father was.
“Also, from the obituary of my mother I’m beginning to know what sort of person my mother was, which I didn’t know before.”
During the short stay in Tyrone, Xenia visited what remains of Seskinore House, the Garden of Remembrance, where her mother is buried, and the Chapel of Ease, the church built on the McClintock estate.
Her return to the place where she grew up provoked some strong emotions for Xenia.
She said: “It felt terrible. I just burst into tears. I just couldn’t believe it, to suddenly see something that was where I should be living, or where I should have lived. I hated the fact that the house was pulled down - that was very sad.”
Xenia also found her mother’s grave in a state of ‘terrible neglect’, but she hopes to make it into a private garden again.
She said: “From having seen the picture of my mother’s grave when she died, which was the most magnificent thing, with flowers and everything I then walked into a shambles.”
Perhaps the highlight of the trip to Seskinore was the party held in McClintock Primary School to welcome back Xenia and her family to the area, which was attended by many villagers, and some of the schoolchildren and their parents.
Roy McCracken, representing the local community group, introduced the evening, saying: “The McClintock family has been synonymous with a lot of things in Seskinore, and especially things like schools and churches, and we as a community appreciate what they have done in the past and we’re mindful of the things we do in the future - that we try to incorporate our heritage”
Dr Mitchell, who has been central to helping Xenia uncover her past, then gave those gathered in the school an insight into the McClintocks, and the importance they had to village life in Seskinore.
After the McClintock School choir had performed a selection of songs, Mr Jim Riddell presented Xenia with a small memento of her visit to Seskinore - a picture of Seskinore House, which had been framed in timber. With the formal business concluded. Xenia and her family spent several hours talking to the assembled villagers, some of whom still had vague memories of the young Xenia living in the village, having learned so much about the McClintocks over the last year, Xenia can see similarities with her own family - daughter, Sharon, and sons, David and Michael.
She said “There’s a lot I can see in my children. For example, Sharon’s love of horses and riding, and Michael’s love of space. He’s just bought himself 20 acres in Australia. He doesn’t like being confined to working inside!
“Michael would’ve loved to have lived here, and so would my husband. He was a tea-planter in India, and then he was a sugar mill manager in Australia, and the only reason he did those jobs was so he could be outside walking the tea and walking the sugar. He would’ve loved Seskinore.”
Admitting that four days was far too short a time to absorb everything about her family, Xenia is planning on returning to Seskinore next year, this time with her youngest son, Michael.
She said: “I’ve been living in Australia for 25 years now. My husband died 21 years ago, and I just stayed there because I didn’t have any reason to leave - my children were there.
“But I’m torn between two countries now I love it in Seskinore, it’s just so beautiful, and the people were so lovely to me.”
Although Xenia has been able to piece together a large part
over the last year, there is still much for her to uncover.
Courtesy of the Tyrone Constitution.