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A recreation of the long journey from Ireland to America


Traditional Ulster Town
Life-size Ship
American Street
Between the years of 1700 and 1900, over 2 million people left the Irish region of Ulster, set sail across the Atlantic Ocean, and began new lives in America. There were many reasons for their decision. Life in Ireland was tough, and no-one had much money. In particular, the 19th century famine convinced thousands upon thousands to leave their homeland. It was a long and difficult journey, but they went with dreams of jobs and opportunities.
The Ulster American Folk Park celebrates this link between the two countries. It does away with the idea of stuffy, boring museums by relocating the entire thing outside. There's a really innovative approach to storytelling; in fact, it's less like a story and more like a dream. You'll find out about the historic Irish emigration by actually living through it.
The first section is the old world: a representation of a typical Ulster town. In other museums you might look at pictures of old buildings; here you'll be wandering in and out of the real thing. Some of them are originals, taken from other parts of the country and painstakingly rebuilt here. The houses range from single-room cabins and small thatched cottages, to larger farmhouses. All were abandoned when their occupants left the country.

Photo Northern Ireland Tourist Board
As well as these residences, there are all the other buildings that made a town function. There are churches, shops and a post office. All are populated by the costumed guides, who act as the residents of this make-believe Irish settlement. They spend their time practicing old arts and crafts, or whipping up traditional food in the kitchen. Usually they're only too happy to teach you these techniques, which range from embroidery to bread baking.
When you've explored enough, it's time to take a deep breath, and begin your long journey across the ocean. Walk down to the quay, past the busy shop fronts, and board the waiting Ship. This life-size replica is a painfully accurate representation of the cramped conditions the passengers had to endure. Hundreds of people lived together for the length of the trip, which could take anywhere between 6 and 12 weeks. You can see the uncomfortable beds, hear the creaking timbers and - unfortunately - smell how pungent the place really was.

Photo Northern Ireland Tourist Board
Thankfully, the journey does eventually come to an end. Like the emigrants, you'll step off the ship and onto American soil. Your first taste of the new world is the immigration shed. After that come the city dwellings, the general stores and the banks. They're lined along a street based on 19th century Boston. Further along, the cityscape gives way to more open expanses of farmland. Log cabins sit beside crops of maize and pumpkin.

Photo Northern Ireland Tourist Board
Altogether, the museum has around 30 different structures, spread out over a huge 40-acre space. The scale and scope of the park means that they can regularly hold huge events, from religious holidays to arts festivals. Of course, these cover cultures from both sides of the Atlantic. Halloween is particularly popular, as is the Appalachian and Bluegrass Festival. The latter event is in its 17th year, and is one of the biggest bluegrass events outside the United States.
If the Folk Park makes you curious about your own family history, you can conduct a bit of research at the on-site Centre for Migration Studies. Perhaps you'll discover something new about where you came from.
The newly settled Irish and their descendants had a great effect on culture and society in America. The greatest proof is that, so far, over 20 US presidents have had Irish ancestry.
Visitor Information
Ulster American Folk Park is open Tuesday to Sunday (closed Mondays), 10am to 5pm. Entry costs around £8 for adults, £5 children. 2 Mellon Road, Castletown, Omagh, Co Tyrone BT78 5QU. Tel: 028 8224 3292

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