My visit to Millisle Primary School: the place behind the story of Faraway Home

Thursday 14th March 2013 by Support

Since the publication of Faraway Home, and especially since it was chosen as the 1999/2000 Children's Books Ireland/Bisto Book of the Year, I have spoken in numerous schools and libraries all over Ireland, North and South -- visits which were enjoyable and rewarding.

The visit to Millisle Primary School on Abbey Road, Millisle, County Down, however, had a special meaning for me. During the Second World War, this school (in an earlier building) welcomed a disparate group of bewildered, homesick Jewish child refugees, who found themselves living on a remote farm in County Down, Northern Ireland, after their escape from the Nazis.

These were the refugee children I wrote about in Faraway Home. They arrived at the school in a completely strange country, where they knew no one, had no family and could not even speak the language. By the time I'd finished the book, I felt I almost knew them personally.

On the day of my visit to the school, the huge interest in the book from pupils, parents, visitors and teachers, in particular from Ms Linda Patterson who organised the visit as part of the school Book Week, was encouraging and heart-warming. It was good to see my old friend Bobbie Hackworth, local historian, who as a child used to play football with the refugees. Bobbie is still in touch with many of his childhood friends, now in their seventies and eighties. His deep knowledge and countless memories of that time in Millisle were of great help to me when writing the book.
I was impressed by the pupils' detailed interest in Faraway Home, by the projects and work they had done on the book and its background. The children's own stories were of a high standard and very impressive, but especially remarkable was the elaborate and realistic collage of the book cover produced by children and teachers.

Writing Faraway Home has had a deep emotional effect on me -- tracking down the former refugees in Ireland, Britain and the US; visiting the actual farm (now in private hands); finding out about wartime life in rural County Down; and reading eye-witness accounts of the massive Belfast Blitz. And whatever I write about in the future, Millisle -- the village in its beautiful setting, the people and their history -- will always have a special place in my memory.

Marilyn Taylor