Updated: Dec 26, 2018
So far, the weather in Ireland has not be great. Most days have been overcast or rainy, but we hit the jackpot today. It was a beautiful, sunny fall day for our trip out to Omagh in County Tyrone. Part of the National Museums of Northern Ireland, the Ulster American Folk Park is an immersive experience bringing the story of our ancestors to life. It is similar to places such as Plimouth Plantation or Williamsburg in the US. Thatched cottages, the landlord’s house, the weaver’s house, the meeting house and mass house, the school room and the town combine with the emigration stories of the people who lived there. The Mellon House, home of the family who started the the Mellon Bank in Pennsylvania, sits on it’s original site. It is surrounded by other buildings that have been moved from their original location in both Ireland and the United States.
The first part of the park encompasses the Ireland experience of the 18th and 19th century. Local people re-enact life and tell stories about the people who occupied the various dwellings. The emigration stories of the Mellons, the Campbells, and the Hughes are told, along with explanations of the lives of the unnamed spinners, weavers, blacksmiths and teachers. Once you come to the town with its various stores, you enter the dockside area onto a replica of an early 19th century sailing ship. Cargo ships were outfitted with bunks for the human cargo on the return trip to America. They sometimes held 200-300 passengers with 3 adults to a bunk and traveled for 6-12 weeks.
You leave the dockside area entering a harbor town in America and continue your journey through the homes and farms of the New World. Although some of the houses are reproductions, there are also houses that were moved from their original locations in West Virginia and Pennsylvania. After researching the lives of our Irish ancestors, it’s great to experience how they lived on both sides of the Atlantic.
Also located on the grounds of the Park is the Mellon Centre for Migration Studies (part of the Northern Ireland Library system) where we spent the afternoon. After a short presentation on the migration of the Irish, we had the opportunity to research in the Library. Everyone was immersed in their research when at 4 pm we had to pack up for the bus ride back to Belfast. Lots of positive feedback on the day.