On Saturday afternoon, as part of our visit to Tyrone and Sperrins, we left Campsie and drove down to Omagh to visit the Ulster American Folk Park.
I can’t remember the last time I had been there (maybe during my school days in the 1990s?) so I was excited to see it now I’m that (little!) bit older and no doubt, understanding the historical aspect of it a lot more.
We arrived about 1.30pm and had a quick bite to eat in the newly refurbished café before making our way around the extensive museum.
If you’re unfamiliar with the site, it’s the story of Irish immigration to America and the tales of the men, women and children who left our shores for what they hoped would be a better life. We saw the type of houses and lands they left behind and the new homeland that awaited them.
The first half of the museum is the “Old World”- the thatched cottages, blacksmith’s forges, weavers cottages, schoolhouses and the religious meeting houses of Ulster.
One of the most interesting parts of the “Old World” is the Mellon Homestead: standing on its original site, it was the small farmhouse in which Thomas Mellon was born in 1813. He emigrated with his parents to Pennsylvania at the age of 5 and would go on to set up Mellon Bank which is an important financial institution in the USA.
Then comes the “Ulster Street”- the type of street that thousands of emigrants would have passed before boarding ships to America. It is a collection of original 19th Century shop fronts.
At the end of the street is the ship waiting to take you “to your new homeland on the American Frontier”. It is a replica of an early 1800s emigrant sailing ship and once you exit, you’re now in the “American Street” and the “New World”- the type of scene in ports such as New York or Boston.
The second half of the museum then focuses on the sort of houses the emigrants would have lived in once they arrved in America- log farmhouses and log cabins, or after a few generations, plantation houses.
It was fascinating to see the difference between their new lives and the ones they left behind and we really enjoyed experiencing the story, particularly brought to life by the costumed characters we encountered along the way.
As it was Easter Saturday, there were many additional Easter celebrations taking place around the museum, such as a “Spring Fair Day”- depicting April 1915 and the sights, sounds and smells of a busy market day.
There was also an ‘Arms through the Ages’ display (a selection of black powder firearms used during the 1700s and 1800s) and the Bog Standard String Band playing old-time American Folk music.
We spent over three hours at the Park and it was great to see so many families there! A fun day out if you’re looking to experience history brought to life.
“Old World”- Ireland
“New World”- America