History pupils from 3A and 3F went back in time on Tuesday, 26th April as they paid a visit to the Ulster-American Folk Park outside Omagh. It's only a slight exaggeration to suggest that the Folk Park experience is akin to time travel. The tour began with a wander around an 1820s Irish village, complete with, among other old-fashioned bits and pieces, authentic period-style shops, a pub, a schoolhouse and a blacksmith. The blacksmith proudly demonstrated his art and allowed a couple of the pupils to try their hands. After visiting several inhabited cottages, the pupils were left well aware of the hardships of the early 1800s. But they also got a taste of the routine jobs of the era that these days would be considered niche skills.
Further down the road, the pupils bought sweets from an authentic shopkeeper circa 1835. Then it was straight on the boat for a six-week voyage to the land of opportunity and the American dream. But, as the captain pointed out, this was not going to be plain sailing…The trip (six weeks if you were lucky) would be beset by cabin fever, sickness and quite possibly death. The human cargo was consigned to the belly of the boat at all times. The unpleasant conditions were graphically described. And when the question of toilet facilities arose, the pupils were left with a vividly grim picture of transatlantic travel during the mid-1800s.
All the pupils managed to reach America safely (through a special door). There they were greeted by the American equivalent of an Irish village. They learned of the opportunities afforded those fortunate enough to survive the voyage westward - trade agreements, thriving industries and all the land you could handle.
The concept of the Ulster-American Folk Park is to paint a real-life picture of the hardships and opportunities in Ireland and America during the 1800s. It certainly did that. The pupils will be able to add an extra dimension to the Junior Cert history answers in a few weeks’ time.