Ulster American Folkpark

With the hard/ soft border controversy being such a big issue at the forefront of Irish politics, I think blogging about a daytrip in this historical park is timely.

I live in the Irish Midlands – south of the border, as they say. I have grown up watching the troubles on the news as one of the Irish who didn’t experience it first hand. I am a history teacher and have some knowledge on the history of our border. I have been ‘over it’ countless times (the border that is) and despite the crossing in the eighties and the now, being a world of a difference, my experiences of the counties have always been the same. I have loved visiting those six counties. I am very, very aware however of the struggles Irish people had in Ulster however and can understand when they feel like we southerners can never fully understand.

My friends and I decided to travel up north for a few days without  a second thought. Our main drive was to visit the tourist attraction that is in the post title- The Ulster American Folk park.

I find that I am often painfully aware of the tragedies of Irish history when site seeing and the ironies that it brings. The Famine Memorial statue in Dublin is the most poignant tribute and it never fails to move me. the-famine-memorial-statues-in-dublin-docklands-ireland-drykhpAs a country girl, I only ever see it when in the Big Smoke. I am usually only in the capital for entertainment. Therefore I always think of the horrors of the Famine as I have just been wined and dined or about to see David Grey in The Convention Centre or watch Wicked at the Bord Gais. It is like Christmas time. My first memories of Christmas parties in pubs includes large groups of inebriated and happy folk, arms around each other, chanting the sad lyrics of Feed the World (Let them know it’s Christmas Time) as they sweat out the evening’s indulgences in beer, wine and the four course meal that proceeded it. In museums and parks such as this, I always look for the coffee shop and a potentially wonderful array of cake as only an Irish bakery can provide. This time however, I think of me eating chocolate cake and drinking Americanos as more than a bit rich as we are about to learn the stories of people whose have had extremely little to live on. We particularly feel for those on the ships and the dry biscuity goods they lived on- potentially weevil studded. I start feeling like Marie Antoinette- richly oblivious of my life’s good luck.

Therefore I will not blog about this park as just a review, I will refer to how child friendly it is or isn’t out of respect to my parenting blogger friends but will also focus on what I saw in the park and how I feel that stands now.

It is such a terrific idea. The Ulster people are honoring and remembering the folk from their province who emigrated over the years to America in a most innovative fashion, an outdoor museum. It brings us through the journey in a kinaesthetic way following the Mellon family who would become wealthy bankers in the US later on their lives. Firstly there is a centre of pictorial and textual information which brings you through 300 years of emigrants’ stories, looking at the Titanic time also. You then enter the park into an Ireland of old. Firstly rural life of the poor and contrastingly more affluent Irish is portrayed.

Thick with turf smoke, I couldn’t properly photograph the interior of a poverty stricken tenant cottage as my senses could barely stand the smoke impregnated air. It was also hard to see. I feel great sympathy for the lady in the corner who sits there as part of her job! One family of a large number would dwell in a one room home using curtains to divide sleeping space. We marvelled at how people made do in terribly tough circumstances. You pass the cottages on the outskirts and understand how poverty made people survive in cramped, smoky environs. I think of us in our large comfortable houses and cannot help but compare the times. Are we not fortunate? We see the home of a wealthier family, the Mellon family. Again, what is noticeable is the fog of the peat burning.

There is much more space. Whitewashed walls and bread making, potatoes to peel and boil are on show. We see the art of candle and bread making in process. From here, we walk through a local ‘town’, fully recreated and stunning in detail. There are people in full costume at each area, answering questions and teaching us about what we see.

We then walked in through the large doors to a mock shipyard itself and board the typical vessel that emigrants travelled upon.

We hear the stories of illness and tragedies, the hopes, solitudes and fears of the times. I think of when I moved to England for two years. I could travel home easily. I had comfort on those flights, yet the homesickness still ate me alive. I think of these people having to contain both physical and mental emotions and stay strong in the knowledge they may never return. When you leave the ship, you step out on ‘American soil’ : a port laid out as if it were years ago.

We see the pickled foods lined up in the general store and the array of canned goods that a newbie must marvel at. Lima beans? A far cry from home.

The journey continues with you walking the city streets in Pennsylvania and finally out to the homeland that was created by the emigrants lucky to do so. Many examples of homesteads are there to inspect and you really feel as if you are standing on the American soil of the past. The differences in sights and sounds were subtle yet very effective. We noticed more wood use over stone.

There were brighter rooms- lighter colours inside. There was more use of patchwork over wool in counterpanes. Of course, there was no peat. Instead, the scent of log fires replaced it.

We no longer see baskets of turf, but wood piles. My favourite -a large pumpkin patch- accompanied one dwelling. The methods of gatemaking and cabin building with interlocking logs were ingenius.

There are basements to cellars with outdoor entrances and water is carefully channelled to make a cooling room for milk etc. Exploring here is great fun and so different to what we usually see in Ireland. You can’t help but learn about it as you are immersed in it.

So as a historical empathiser, I didn’t have to work too hard. The tour was doing it for me as we were interactively part of this journey.

Would I bring kids? Absolutely. Smaller ones will enjoy the walks, the domestic pets and the occasional hiding robin.

There are toilet facilities all the way around. Older ones may have a chance to open their minds to the historical past and the challenges that existed in Ulster previous to The Troubles and the current political debates. They will see, as I did, the strength in humanity and will see celebrated the tapestry of emigrant life as people because everything from millionaires to swindlers in this new world.20170808_115253

It puts me in mind of the poetry of Eavan Boland and her constant theme of figures ‘outside history’. They may not be named in history books, but they are very much part of our make up. This poem, Outside History has a darkness that I don’t fully feel in this museum of hope, however the first two stanzas stay with me as I travel about the Ulster American Folk Park.

Eavan Boland.89f1813181abed6e52dfb3948f11d151.jpg

Here are two advertisements that I found intriguing  in the park. I will leave you with those.

Picture Credits:



My own attempts at photography😊



Our Sligo Highlights

Scenic Sligo having been the chosen as the venue for our practice run stay in a hotel with the babies in preparation the big trip to Euro Disney, it was here that I finally felt that the elusive and widely alluded to parenting promise might be true: It might get easier.

This trip was fortunately a mile away (I should say kilometre but I never really got used to that system!) from previous years’ desperate attempts to be jolly on holiday.

My last post hinted in the honest and open in Sligo: Toddlers on Tour.  Highlights of this trip were promised- the shiny, retold tales with a nostalgic glint and just an extra rosy glow and less of the throw up and meltdowns. Who needs to know about those, eh?!

It was only last week folks so I can’t be overdoing it. The effervescent bubbles of happiness in life must actually have happened.

Like I said to the newbie Mams and Dads : Parents, something did get easier.

  1. The Clayton Sligo. 20170717_181658.jpgHotel. (Can I just clarify that I have not been told/ paid to / asked to mention the hotel of our choice. We paid fully for our trip,were given no incentives and the hotel were not aware that a notorious blogger was in their midst posing as a mildly manic Mammy of two praying for peaceful coffee whilst dubiously dressed for comfort and not fashion). I just think that staying in the right hotel makes a lot of difference and this choice was a highlight. The hotel has an imposing facade and beautiful stretches of green with an on site church and the best thing if all – a clearly delineated goal to make families feel welcome. From the moment we walked in and clocked the ice cream counter (it is part and parcel, not just for show), were given a superior family room (even though I had booked a regular) and had a few minutes chilling on outdoor sears with our cones, I was happy with this hotel. The icecream may have returned to see us again later in a moment worthy of horror films, but it is still a highlight. The icecream eating as a family that is, not the being sick. 

  2. Sligo People’s Market (Sunday Market in a Hangar. Hangover Cure in a Hangar maybe? Hangar for Hanging?)
    Sligo People’s Market

    Sligo airport being a private one, small and isolated, and a bit of a surprise when you see it, is the location for a fantastic Sunday market that pulls out all the stops.


    Not content with a few stands of buns and cakes alongside a table of clay clad vegetables, Sligo offers its people a trendier, hipster market. Delighted with our find on a gloriously warm Sunday, we parked up and had a peek.


    Colourful and musical, the choices of pieces to peruse and splurge upon were both crafty and local and the food element was even better. Who doesn’t love pizza followed by portions of butter chicken or paella? OK so our visitv was cut short by Gigi becoming quite sick (poor mite) but this was a real highlight besides. Families, food and generally good feelings.


  3. Strand Hill.  If you want a good old retro Irish holiday you have to hit the beach and do all those things midlanders do when they spot the sea. Stare at it. Paddle and squeal at the Atlantic chill. Build castles. Build a moat. Write in the sand. Look for the icecream van. Strand Hill in Sligo is a lovely beach although we had to scoop away quite a few jellyfish. Watching your little ones actually see the sea is the highlight though and the reason we go. 

  4. Glencar Waterfall. Having been here on many occasions, I always get excited when I realise that we are near Glencar and could spin by. The drive there is scenic, green and you are cushioned by water on one side and the mass of green hill on the other. 20170717_165919Amenities there are top class from the coffee shop (Glencar Tea Shed) to the safe children’s playground. We enjoyed lovely big bowls of butternut squash and chorizo soup with brown bread (the girls were cranky but no one seemed put out). You can picnic under shaded trees either. The walk to the waterfall is pleasant and enjoyable with the refreshing spray of the water jets gently tickling your cheeks as you get closer. If you find yourself in Sligo or Leitrim, Glencar is a must see. 

  5. Gillighan’s World. This was a quirky little spot, bathed in whimsy and Irishry, that my husband spotted for our stop on the way home. As Ireland finds itself more and more infested (festooned? blessed maybe?)with fairies, here is another hideout from which to go spot them. This place has a definite aura of the mystical, situated on the side of Knocknashee Hill (Hill of the Fairies). I was immediately put in mind of the Irish ‘Sure and begorrah’ classic that is Darby O Gill and the Little People featuring Sean Connery in his most unintentionally comic role. There is a reason he was a Bond hero and not a Rodgers and Hammerstein lead, let us just say. I write about this in Movie Gems for St Patrick’s Day treats. This attraction is filled with lovely little walkways and picturesque pools of water with tiny falls and many, many little fairies along the way with the occasional meerkat. 

    The thought put into their lifestyle is cute as we see their garage, pub and hairdressers. My eldest liked the place but was not convinced by these fairies saying ‘they are only girls’.


    20170718_130401The walk culminates in a push to the top of the hill, a beautiful view and wish making in a fairy ring. The whole idea is sweet and there is a lot of love put into this project. If you go, take lots of time to get value for money. 20170718_122931There is a nice coffee shop area, rustic and part of the chilled out vibe the place emanates but you can bring picnics, as many did.

There we have it. Waterfalls, fairies and jellyfish studded shores, Sligo (and Leitrim) treated us well. We will come back.

Something did get easier. Just so you know, parents of babes!

Meerkats and Fairies. A Perfect Match.

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The Pramshed

Sligo: Toddlers on Tour

Round Four: Attempting an Enjoyable Holiday as Parents with Small Children. (Be warned: There Will Be Vomit.)

We have taken a summer holiday of some type every year since Gigi was born. So four holidays in total. Sounds good, right! As many parents know, holidaying with smallies is a world of a difference from holidaying as a loving couple solo. So parents, we have to get our heads around that first. Let it go, as the Snow Queen once warbled and then we might stand a chance.

It isn’t that easy.

In Gigi’s first year we bravely ferried to the UK and rented one of those fairytale Castlecombe cottages.

Beautiful Castlecombe.

We literally brought everything we own. OK, I personally  insisted we bring pot loads of equipment. I was Mummy Pig. I actually brought the kettle. x240-fO4-1-1The holiday was both lovely and exhausting. Imperfect in an idyllic setting. You seen, I was always just a little bit uncomfortable. I was totally unable to relax.

A year later, with a one year old and a baby on the way, we tried staying in Ireland. Sligo. Rented a full apartment and brought the grandparents too. It rained a lot unfortunately. The holiday was OK. Not really relaxing though. Moments of idyllic scenes- but very momentary.

Last year I was very late to book.  A baby and a two year old- I was in the fear. I wrote about this last year in Holidays with More than One Kid-a Whole New World. Another family rental.  Another holiday bringing grandparents. We chose Ring in Waterford. All looked lovely. The owner of our rental was a very strange lady and I clashed with her instantly. Unfortunately the rental cottage was their converted garage- on the family site. I hated that! The views were amazing. The place is pretty. I couldn’t wait to get away from it. There were a few more lovely times on this occasion (A Magic Moment )but it was mainly tough and uncomfortable. Brutal honesty. Again, I think we were just never fully at ease.

So as the holiday season rolled around again, Mr Paper took matters into his own hands. Euro Disney will happen in August. A life time dream- Disney and France. My girls adore princesses (especially Layleell)  and ‘Minnie Mooshee’. Here’s is to hoping we meet Ariel and The First Lady Mouse.

In a desire to travel with grandparents (we like to bring them away once per year) and have a trial run, I booked two nights in Sligo again. Don’t panic- two nights in a four star hotel. No crappy rental. A family room (which must have been upgraded as we are in a suite). We are the Clayton (former Clarion and former hospital) which looks a bit like a castle/ institution but is impressive beautiful with lovely grounds.20170717_181658.jpgMy girls think they are staying in a castle.  Gigi wanted me to call in Princess Belle to admonish her baby sister over dropping blueberries on the floor.

We are still here. Day two. We are surviving. I don’t hate it. It hasn’t been treacherous. In fact, I would have enjoyed another night.20170717_181057

It hasn’t been perfect. What is perfect though? Parents can’t compare holidays pre children with holidays as parents. There are meltdowns. Soup is pronounced yucky one minute and delicious the next. They will poke each other in the back seat of the car with every prodding device known to man. We lost one of Gigi’s shoes. In my newly zen state of not overpacking, they were the only pair. The weather hit such temperatures (good thing, good thing, I know! )that a packet of crayons that I had left on the front seat of the car melted into a swirling pool of khaki patterned wax, hitting my jacket on its way. 20170719_184116-1This is Ireland! ! We are not meant to hit Crayola Melting Temperatures. I have lived it though and once seen will never be forgotten. Gigi has been ill. Exorcist style, you can guess yourself, at a beautiful Sunday market (future blog) as she sat in her buggy. Everywhere. My lovely newly valeted car now bears an interesting aroma. Not a pleasant one. A questionable one. Ah well. That was the girls’ first and last ice-cream on this particular holiday.f593fdfd89323afecc872680a17fd251

So we have had challenges. We have met them head on like Roman Gladiators. 59cf6a29582eed7d6f31607c831b391512ce88619362089b840f41b1d8be5c42Occasionally we have ignored them until they went away like Romans who never made gladiator. sometimes-the-best-thing-to-do-is-to-pretend-it-didnt-happen-quote-1Once or twice we smiled insanely through the chaos, where I tend to find myself singing a few bars of the Girls Aloud tune Something Kinda Ooh. (I find that has happened a lot since I had the children. A little like Mannie’s Moomin Papa in Black Books for anyone who gets the reference. Have a little watch here Chattanooga Choo Choo Earworm If not,  take it as solid comedy recommendation ).

This is what I think may be called a coping mechanism. My girls are so used to hearing it that they join in. Everybody Ooh, hear my heart go ooh ooh…

So yes, a few challenges. Overall, a LOT less than previous years. Maybe we just deal with them better. A good trial run for travelling abroad. A good sign for future holidays!

Here are to changes in touring with teeny kids and toddlers. Holidays might be fun again soon. We won’t say relaxing- not just yet! Memorable? Yes. For good reasons? Yes! Thankfully!

I will be blogging highlights. People who read that will see a joyful rundown of lovingly encountered pretty moments. Those who read this post will also be aware of the Pull Ups War in Sligo’s Tesco (both girls had an epic argument over who got to hold a packet of Pull Ups with Minnie Mouse on them), the Waxy Bottom in the car park from Melty Crayola Conditions, The Lost Shoe and the Apocalyptic Post Ice-cream Throw Up of the adorable market which features in the highlights to come.f593fdfd89323afecc872680a17fd251

Weren’t you lucky to be in the know!

PS. Any parents of one or more under two- it DID get easier. A different easy to what you might expect, but a very distinct change from exhausting, tear inducingly tough with nightmarish moments that you cannot awaken from. Cheers to that! (Raising my Diet Coke because I am too disinterested in wine, and diet as I still have a big belly that I call baby blubber but I DON’T CARE anymore!!!!). My babies are happy. In fact, so am I.


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