My mother, Anne Margaret O’Neill (pictured left) was born on October 4, 1930 in Detroit, Michigan, USA. Her father, John Graham O’Neill, had moved the family, consisting of himself, his wife Gertrude and their year-old son Edwin, from Toronto, Ontario, Canada to Detroit in 1929 to take a job as a grocer. As the daughter of an O’Neill and a Foley, my mother was proud of her Irish roots. I don’t think she ever knew though that she also had Scottish ancestors.
It was well known that my mother possessed a stereotypical “Irish temper” but a trait, also seen in her Scottish second great grandmother, may have brought out her fiery and determined best. That second great grandmother was Flora McRae.
There is much research yet to be pursued regarding Flora but what is known is that she born around 1776 in Scotland and that she married her husband Finlay McRae around 1800 in Inverness. Finlay and Flora left Scotland about 1815 or 1816 and settled in the Glengarry area of what was then Upper Canada. Finlay and Flora had nine children; the first five were born in Scotland with the four youngest being born into the family in the years following their arrival in Upper Canada. Catherine, the youngest in the family, was born in 1822 and is my mother’s great grandmother. Unfortunately for the family, sometime between 1822 and 1828, Finlay died.
It seems that a Donald Cameron eventually promised to sell Flora some good land in the Township of Thorah but on seeing the land after her move from Glengarry, a determined Flora demanded that Mr. Cameron provide her with land more to her liking. A one hundred acre lot was agreed upon which Flora and her children “built a good house and cleared about 8 acres on the west half of Lot No. 4, 1st Concession of Eldon.” The matter of Flora’s land petition and sought after relief for the granting to her of a deed for the land was considered between July 22, 1830 and April 28, 1831. A determined Flora, able to only speak Gaelic, was successful.
Sadly, as reported in the Orillia Times on May 5, 1876, “Mrs. Flora McRae, of the great age of 100 years, who lived in a house by herself, a few rods from that of her son, Colin McRae, Kirkfield, was last Thursday found dead sitting by the fireside, with her clothes almost completely burnt off her body. She was not severely burnt, but when found life was extinct.”