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Ulster American Folk Park

The Mellon Cottage

   Just  north of Omagh in County Tyrone is the Ulster American Folk Park, part of the National Museums of Northern Ireland.  Focused on the emigration experience, it contains a reconstruction of Irish homes and villages (similar to Plimouth Plantation, Sturbridge or Williamsburg).  Built around the homestead of Thomas Mellon (born in 1813 and emigrated in 1818 to Western Pennsylvania) it represents a typical homestead left behind by many emigrants to the New World.   Thomas became a lawyer, a judge and later in life set up the Mellon Bank in Pittsburgh.  

   In addition to the Mellon homestead, the “Old World” section includes a weaver’s cottage (I got a lesson in spinning wool), a forge, the Presbyterian Meeting House, a Schoolhouse, a Mass House, along with other homes either moved from other locations in Ireland or constructed to fit into the village.  But it doesn’t end there.  You move into the “Dockside” area to learn how the emigrants traveled to the various ports, and go through a brig, similar to one that the Mellons would have taken in the early 19th century.  When you leave the ship, you walk into the “New World” experience on an American street similar to one which would be found in Boston, New York, Baltimore or Philadelphia.  Some of the houses on this side were de-constructed and moved stone by stone to the Park to be re-constructed.  Others, such as the Mellon home from the Pittsburgh area, were carefully copied and built in the park.

   The museum staff, dressed in period costumes, explain their roles.  The weather today was sunny, but cold…it was 33° when I arrived a the park (a little chilly for this Florida person) so the fires in the cabins were a popular place to gather.  I got a lesson in spinning in the weaver’s cottage.   Once you moved from the Old World to the New World, the fires changed from peat to wood.  

   One of the main reasons I decided to stop at the Museum was The Mellon Centre for Migration Studies, located on the site.  It is part of the Libraries consortium of Northern Ireland, and is a reference only collection of material on emigration, particularly to North America.  It contains over 17,000 books, plus journals, newspapers and maps, and an Emigration Database containing 33,000 primary source documents.  The Irish Emigration Database is accessible free at . The only portion of the database not accessible at DIPPAM is the Passenger Lists which are available on Ancestry.

   This was definitely a valuable stop on my trip.  As you move back in your research to the 18th and early 19th centuries, the records become scarce.  Understanding how the population of Ireland lived, learning about the social history of the people, will allow you to write about their likely experiences, even if you don’t have specifics.  The Ulster American Folk Park, along with the National Museum of Ireland - Country Life were well worth the time I spent.

   Happy Hunting!

If you are interested in a Research Trip to Belfast in October of 2016, contact me.  If I get a large enough group, I’ll plan the trip for the week before or after Dublin.

© Donna M. Moughty 2007- 2018