Thursday, 22 March 2012

The Gathering

Today I was heading to my great grandmother Lizzie's home in Enniskillen, Co. Fermanagh & meeting more of my distant cousins for the first time.  I was excited beyond belief that at last I was actually going to be spending time around the place where Lizzie was born. 

Last glimpse of Belfast City from Motorway, Co. Down, Northern Ireland

We were on the road early as we were going to go via Omagh to visit the Ulster - American Folk Park there.   We stopped off in the township of Omagh first. 

"Balance" Sculpture, Market Street, Omagh
The first thing that strikes your eye when you walk down Market Street in Omagh is a bronze sculpture which stands just over 4 metres high.  It apparently represents the people & the state working together as one, with a renewed sense of harmony, equality & balance.  All power to them if that can be achieved.
Sadly, Omagh will be forever scarred by an event which devastated not just those living in Omagh &  the rest of Northern Ireland, but the whole of Ireland.   It happened on Saturday 15 August 1998 when the dissident ‘Real’ IRA committed the single worst terrorist atrocity of the Northern Ireland ‘Troubles’.   A car bomb set off in the main street of this market town, killed 29 and wounded hundreds.   The victims were both Protestant & Catholic, 15 of whom were between 18 months & 21 years of age.
Just 13 weeks previously, the Good Friday Agreement had been signed.   Opposing sides that had warred for centuries, and bitterly so during most recent decades, had signed up to a blueprint of how they would work peacefully together.   Religious and political co-existence seemed possible.

The attack so horrified Ireland and the UK that it ended up pushing forward the peace process rather than halting it.  Martin McGuiness, a former IRA commander & leader of the IRA's political wing Sinn Fein, and party president Gerry Adams condemned the attack.
Prior to the bombing, Omagh had been celebrating a cross community festival. The community had already been working together; the links were already becoming strong & have remained strong despite the 1998 tragedy, in making a change for the better. 
In the end, "a terrorist act intended to keep the ‘Troubles’ going, actually hastened its end".

The "Garden of Light" Memorial to the victims of the 1998 Omagh Bombing
Just round the corner from the main street stands a large memorial to the tragedy known as “The Garden of Light”.   It comprises of 31 small mirrors which reflect the light on a sunny day, each of which have been etched with the name of a victim.  These 31 mirrors also include inscriptions for unborn twins, whose mother was killed in the blast.
'Families Moving On' Office, Omagh
Walking back to the car we past this office for ‘Families Moving On’, a group set up for the support of interdenominational victims & survivors affected by the Omagh Bomb & other terrorist related incidents during the troubles in Co. Tyrone.  A stark reminder that some will carry the scars of terrorist acts for a lifetime. 

The Mellon Homestead, Ulster American Folk Park, Omagh

The largest attraction in Omagh is the Ulster – American Folk Park just south of the town.

Chooks in the yard, Ulster American Folk Park, Omagh

The Blacksmiths Forge, Ulster American Folk Park, Omagh
The Ulster-American Folk Park tells the story of Ulster emigrants journey to North America in the 18th and 19th centuries and has more than 30 historic buildings on site, spread over 40 acres of rambling parkland, giving you a sense of rural life as it would have been back then.   

The Blacksmith's Forge, Ulster - American Folk Park, Omagh
Following the path, you walk through parts of an Irish village of smallholdings, cottages with their turf fires burning, churches, weavers shop, and a blacksmith’s shop.

A one room dwelling of a tennant farmer, Ulster American Folk Park, Omagh

In the yard, Ulster American Folk Park, Omagh
The dwellings within the park, range from a typical one room tenant farmer cottage to the more substantial two storey home of a wealthy landlord.

Campbell House, Ulster - American Folk Park, Omagh
Some homes throughout the Ulster countryside were dual-purpose dwellings like the Weaver’s Cottage.   In these homes, a room would have been set aside for a handloom on which to weave linen. It was here that the man of the house would have spent long evenings weaving, while his wife spun the flax fibres into yarn and the children carded and combed the flax in preparation for the spinning wheel.  I was particularly interested in this replica of an Ulster Weaver's House, as it would have been very similar to the house my Scottish ancestor, my great great great grandfather, would have lived in also, for he was a Hand Loom Weaver in Ayrshire, so this house in particular, gave me a real sense of what conditions would have been like for them.

A Hand Loom which takes up one room of the Weaver's Cottage
Cottage Fireside, Ulster American Folk Park, Omagh
The Weaver's house would generally have had only three rooms, with the middle room housing the Hand Loom, another being the Kitchen & the remaining room being the only bedroom.

The old Schoolhouse, Ulster American Folk Park, Omagh

Replica village, Ulster American Folk Park, Omagh

Replica quayside village
Most of the houses and shops are original, having been demolished stone by stone and re-built in the park. At the end of the path you come to a city street, complete with well-stocked shops, leading down to a quay where you can board a sailing ship & get a glimpse at what conditions were like on board an Immigrant ship or ‘coffin’ ship as they were later to be known as, due to the large numbers who died on board before reaching America.

Replica Clipper, Ulster American Folk Park, Omagh

Conditions on board an Immigrant Ship, Ulster American Folk Park, Omagh
On board the replica Clipper, Ulster American Folk Park, Omagh
When you disembark, you walk via the Immigration Post into a virtual street from 19th Century Boston. Back on the path, you journey on until you are in the American countryside, with farmsteads & log cabins complete with crops and livestock.

Replica of American log cabin, Ulster American Folk Park, Omagh
Log Cabin, Ulster American Folk Park, Omagh
The Ulster American Folk Park walkway, Omagh, Co. Tyrone
We spent a good couple of hours here & could possibly have spent longer if we’d had the time.  And while the name - Ulster American Folk Park - might put  off those with ancestors who immigrated to countries other than America, there is definitely plenty of relevant history here about what life would have been like for anyone with ancestors who emigrated from Ireland & well worth a visit.    Allow yourself at least a couple of hours to see everything here!

Ulster American Folk Park, Omagh, Co. Tyrone

We continued on to Enniskillen & as we get near, I am struck by how similar the farm land is here to that of rural New Zealand & wondered if my great grandmother Lizzie would also have noticed that, when she arrived in New Zealand 127 years ago.

Enniskillen, Co. Fermanagh, Northern Ireland
Once in Enniskillen we drove out to the small village of Ballinamallard which is the nearest village to the small farming settlement of Coa where Lizzie was born & the church where many of her siblings & their descendants have attended;  a faithful Methodist family since my great great great grandfather stood amongst a gathering to listen to the Principal Founder of the Methodist Movement, John Wesley preach in a wood not far from the family home in the mid-late 1700's.

Ballinamallard Methodist Church, Enniskillen
 We pass by the home that Lizzie's youngest brother William built & where a further 2 generations of his family lived, on a farm near where he & Lizzie grew up.

The home & farm where Lizzie's brother lived, Enniskilen
Rural Post Box, Ballinamallard, nr. Enniskillen, Co. Fermanagh
William was the youngest of Lizzie’s siblings & only 10 years old when Lizzie left Ireland for New Zealand in 1885.  Sadly, he nor his other siblings were ever to see their sister again.

Emerson Grave, Sydare Cemetery, Enniskillen
Our next visit was the Sydare Cemetery where three of Lizzie’s brother’s & their families are buried. I see many other familiar names on gravestones here who I've added to my genealogy database over the years.

My Ancestors resting place, Sydare Cemetery, Enniskillen, Co. Fermanagh

We had only a couple of hours left before meeting up with more cousins at a restaurant in Enniskillen for dinner, so we head on to where we'll be staying for the next few days.  Another distant cousin whom I've been corresponding with for a few years & a family history addict like myself, wrote to me several months ago offering us her home to stay in while we were in Enniskillen.  Myra is an absolute gem & in her late 80's she is fitter than most 70 year olds I know.  Her beautiful home sits on the shore of a small lough & from the warmth of her large conservatory, we can see a large group of swans & ducks floating among the reeds at the edge of the lake.  It's an idyllic spot.

Our Homestay in Enniskillen
Dinner had been arranged at the Killyhevlin Hotel just on the outskirts of Enniskillen township & it was here that six more members of my family came to meet me.   It was a wonderful evening & I was so humbled by their generosity & warmth.  They had so willingly opened up their arms & invited in this girl from New Zealand who, until today had been a stranger to them.  Some had not known of their connection with New Zealand until I contacted them a few months earlier - their fathers & my grandfather were first cousins. 

My Irish family

It was a fabulous evening & one I'll not forget.


  1. So cool! I'll be going to Omagh to see the ancestral area - the whole family came here though so there's no one to meet...

    1. Don't you believe it Anne! I'm sure you'll have distant family still living in the area. Until a few years ago, I had not idea I would one day meet my great grandmother's descendants. I had never really given any thought to the fact I might have cousins to meet there. And certainly would never have imagined that my late grandfather would still have two first cousins still living there. Go search a little more, I'm sure you'll find them! Good luck :D