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😊



Pedantic Hole Poker

The title of this piece would make my students sit up and listen. I teach boys, aged 12 and up (could be 20 +) so a potentially rude sounding topic is their cup of tea. They might say something like ‘sounds a bit dodge Miss’ and they would be right. So, what am I poking holes in? I had an experience the other day that made me wonder. Am I a pedant when it comes to bloopers in movies? I think not. I don’t look for blue cars turning into red cars, mirrors on a right wall appearing on the left of it etc. In fact when I do spot a blip (Hey Tony Soprano had no pizza and now he had a full one!) I get a surprise. So no. I am not a continuity error pedant. Yet something happened that I did not like. I found myself poking holes in a much loved flick from my childhood.sun-741813_640

My children love the TV. Am I allowed say that? Is it socially acceptable? Should I fib and say they don’t? They do though. It is the truth.

Recently we have had a stab at the odd movie at the weekend that isn’t Frozen. Frozen viewing is a religion in our home as many others (it has hypnotic powers that I find unbelievable) but we are beginning to branch out. I got excited! So on this rainy weekend when the girls had taken turns in being poorly, I introduced The Aristocats. Imagine my excitement! Cute Disney classic from my youth! In the bracket of such Disney movies as The Sword and the Stone, The Black Cauldron or Robin Hood, this is a movie without the desperate underlying tragedies or eerieness of (loved yet paining) classics such as Dumbo, Alice in Wonderland or Pinochio. It is cute and funny, boasting excellent lesser characters


and catchy tunes without too many moments of tear inducing emotive drama. I hadn’t seen it in years but could sing all the tunes at the drop of a hat. I was delighted to share it with my girls.tumblr_m73gypYlp21r5ticgo1_250

We watched.

As we watched, I found something strange happening. It was still cute. Adorable even. I was singing along. Nothing seemed to have changed…but what was it? What was making me uneasy?

It was me! Cynical, thirty seven year old pedantic me with my big old teacher head on. I was poking holes in a Disney Classic.

Sin! CRIME!_-s1qogv

What to do? Having read one of Suzie81speaks.com’s posts about Blogger Inspiration Ideas for Blogging, I realised this was a case for Blogging Therapy.c6654f3f7461a9f257da5520ec0435f3So to cure myself of this horrid feeling, I will talk about it. I will point out the so-called ‘holes’. I will deal with them. I will then live by The First Commandment of the religion I follow which is Frozen and LET IT GO. These are not merely continuity errors (as with all films, there are tons of these here but they don’t bother me), but just observations of a movie made in a different generation being watched in 2017. 

I can then continue to enjoy the cutest movie of all time.

Let the Hole poking commence… (definitely sounds dodgy now)afb3157c3302ca506de45985880f6a9e_400x400

  1. A Myriad of Accents.  Disney of old does this. American Accents in the midst of Sherwood Forest, Camelot or even in the jungle which usually don’t bother me but on this occasion it was all I could hear. American male kittens born to a very French (Hungarian) Duchess (Adelaide). One of her kittens (the cutest little girl, Marie, white with a dinky pink bow) is clearly English. Duchess herself is Eva Gabor. Only thing more Hungarian would have been Zsa Zsa. Hmmm. Yet all her children sound as if they come from other different countries. This didn’t bother a younger me. It also wasn’t bothering my little girls. The only true French accent came from Maurice Chevalier in the opening song. Love that song!maxresdefault.jpg
  2. The Single Mother. In 1988, I never once questioned where Duchess’ kittens came from. Who is the Daddy? As an older person, with thirty years of bad magazines, tabloids and chat shows under my belt, I now cannot help but wonder who fathered these precious and loved kittens? e44d540586667bc20a77fb82ca1ddb56Duchess is a rocking single mother in an aristocratic world. I had never realised as a child. I hadn’t even questioned it! What sort of thought process did innocent me have back then? My girls however asked me several times. Where are the kittens’ Daddy? They weren’t satisfied until Thomas O’Malley (American Irish I assume (Phil Harris voiceover) rocked up. 7e027d728f3f8c9c042cb370e0b82503--kid-movies-disney-movies.jpg
  3. Currency. Madame’s will talks in dollars.1068844_1388905888133_160 Surely francs wouldn’t have confused a nation? Why assume the American currency for a Parisian movie? Oh, the past!! You had little faith in the intelligence of humanity!  maxresdefault-1.jpg
  4. Credits. This isn’t really a hole but more an observation on the style of an older movie. As with Cinderella, my eldest girl couldn’t understand why there was so much writing before the movie began.a-wr-03.jpg It made me realise that my generation accepted credits at the start of a movie and lengthy intros just as we did with music back then (November Rain, Stairway to Heaven etc.) I found myself hurrying up the credits so my little ones wouldn’t lose interest before the pretty little film had begun. I didn’t like that feeling! We are now living in a ‘don’t want to wait’ world and this old movie was just a reminder of that. Watch the credits here for a lovely burst of Olde World Nostalgia. They are lovely to watch really, all orchestral soundtrack and different shades of colour themed to the film. See, I still love it really!

That’s it all. Not too bad really. I actually feel much better! These are not awful things but just changes to adapt to in this modern world.

The Aristocats is not where the holes should be poked. In fact, the interesting bloopers or questions lie with me. I have changed, as have the times and not the Disney classic. In some cases these are good changes, so be not afraid to rewatch those classic movies.

I will leave you with the best quote from the film and having exorcised my pedantic demons, can watch this charming (despite a villainous butler) tale again viewing the ‘holes’ as cute quirks to add to the rest of the adorable moments in this movie and take from it message to women who are happy in their independence.


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