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When entering the Famine Museum, the first thing in sight is a man and woman with their trunks and the word “emigration” written in big red letters across a banner.  You learn in depth about what drove the Irish away from their homeland, including the Potato famine, as well a first hand view into a single Irish family’s, the Mellon’s, experience.  But it was the Ulster American Folk Park where it was much easier to visualize and put the facts into real situations as to what these families underwent.

Every home and building was taken down and rebuilt in the park.  The first home was one room that would have slept a family of eight.  The smaller families who rented homes like this most likely never made it through emigration.  On occasion, the landlord would hire a ship to send his tenants because it would lower his taxes and he would be able to make better use of the land by growing crops or housing his animals.

The Blacksmith Forge was the only replicated building in the Irish part of the park.  The windows in the forge were small and there was no lighting.  The Blacksmith was able to properly light the metal by the temperature of his iron.  The Weaver’s Cottage housed two different looms, a woolen and linen, which created the yarn that was used to make their clothing.  The weavers would use bark, cherries, flowers, and other elements of nature to create different colors.  The Presbyterian Church had three different entrances.  The three wings held rows of boxes, which each family was assigned and paid for.

The Melon’s original home still stands in the park where it was built during the early 1800’s.  The family lived in this home before they migrated to Pennsylvania.  The famine forced many families to leave Ireland.  Even though the Irish received little encouragement from the Americans to migrate, families like the Melon’s still strived to have material comfort and personal independence.  The last family lived in the home until 1954, when a descendent of the Mellon family purchased the home and built the park around the home.

A white home with a straw roof, originally built by the Campbell’s, is a two family home.  Mr. Campbell had six children with his first wife.  When his wife died of illness, he married his second wife who already had six children of her own.  The Campbell’s migrated from Scotland to Ireland during the second tier of the plantation.  The home is complete with a dining room, study, small kitchen, living room, three bedrooms, and a nursery.  A unique feature of the home is the open fireplace in the living room, where they smoked their fish and meat.

The Catholic Chapel was complete with a fireplace opposite each side, rows of pews, and a small confessional in the back right corner.  A small door led to the priest’s corridors, with a desk and a bench that his mattress pulled out of.  The Children’s School, built in 1845, had six rows of desks and benches.  Once the children’s handwriting was up to par, they were allowed advanced from the chalkboards to ink and paper. The children were required to bring their own turf or they had to sit in the middle of the room, away from the fireplaces in the front and back.  They were allowed to enter at whichever age they chose and allowed to leave school whenever they pleased.  Every child did not attend school, some stayed home and worked from the families, i.e. farming.  Out in the workforce, men make turf by cutting out bricks of dirt.  It was left to dry out for three weeks, then once it was brought to heat the turf turned to charcoal.

The small town was complete with a post office, two grocery stores, a saddle and harness maker, a rope and twine maker, a clothing maker, a pharmacy, and a printing press.

When the families migrated from Ireland to America, they traveled on the Atlantic Voyage.  They were afraid to leave their homeland in risk of never returning.  The lower level of the ship was made of bunks, which would each sleep a family of four.  Everyone on this level would go to the bathroom in the same bucket, drink water from the same jug, and they were rarely allowed out on the deck.  These unsanitary ways is what led to disease and death, which stopped many of the emigrants from ever making it to America.

In the park, most of the American homes were replicated. The homes were very similar to the Irish homes because it was the only way they knew how to build.  Some homes featured a room they had water flowing through the bottom where they would hand their meat and keep it fresh.  In Ireland, if they killed any animals on land that was not their own, they would immediately be brought to jail, but in America they were allowed to kill whatever they wanted.  Other homes were cabins, with farmhouses behind their homes, which held their coup.  Their various meats were fenced in behind their homes.

The Famine Museum gave us a great deal of information about the people of Ireland’s journey to America and the Ulster American Folk Park allowed us to see how they lived their everyday lives before, during, and after their migration to America.

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