We visited The Ulster American Folk Park on our first day in Northern Ireland. The park is a living museum with houses and buildings as they were years ago and actors dressed up throughout.
The first part of the park is the optional indoor exhibit. You can easily skip this and head straight outside if you wish to miss this area.
As we walked outside and down the path, we were greeted by a lady in an old fashioned costume. She told us all about the house in front of us and the nearby potato patch before showing us inside to look around the small one bedroomed home with hardly any furniture.
The next place we came to was an extremely realistic blacksmiths shop. We found this really interesting as the blacksmith showed us how to make horse shoes. He explained where the term “strike while the iron is hot” comes from and showed us how to keep the fire burning and how to tell the correct temperature for heating the iron. He showed us some horseshoes and told us about the different horses and how the shoes were fitted. This was one of the highlights of our visit.
Following this, we followed the signs to find various other buildings. We visited a meeting house and a church, a school house and different dwellings before coming to the cobbled street with a post office and different shops to explore.
At this point there is a small ice cream kiosk and it is worth noting that they only accept Euro notes. We didn’t have any so we had to move on fairly quickly, promising to look for a sweet shop which fortunately took card payments!
After our trip to the shops we found ourselves at the port. Here we met another actor who told us all about a sailing boat journey to America. People would sell up all they had in Ireland to emigrate to America. The journey was a cramped one with 4 people to a bunk and took 10 weeks!
We then boarded the boat and walked through it, to come out the other side in “Baltimore, America”.
Here we went in the general store where an actress told us all about how people would visit this store when they arrived in America to get what they needed to start their journey in America. It had everything from food and medicines to cloth to make clothes and a post office so people could have their mail directed there. Due to the distance from where people settled, they would only be able to visit the shop once every six months or so.
Next we found ourselves in rural America complete with authentic houses and corn fields! We met more actors as we went around and learnt the story of the Mellon family who emigrated to America with nothing and became the richest family in America.
After exploring America, it was time to leave the museum. I was really impressed with the Ulster American Folk Park. I wasn’t sure what to expect before our visit but it was a lot bigger and more interactive than I had imagined. It took us a good 2 and a half hours to look around and could easily have taken longer if we had wanted to stop for a picnic in one of the many picnic areas.
There was a gift shop and cafe at the park and wheelchairs were available.
I would definitely recommend visiting the park, we thoroughly enjoyed our visit.
The Ulster American Folk Park with an autistic child?
Plan to arrive as soon as the museum opens, for us this was 10am. At this time the museum is much quieter, in fact we only saw 2 other families as we went round!
The museum is peaceful when it isn’t busy and as most of it is outside it is not too overwhelming.
There are some smells – mostly wood burning to add to the authenticity.
There are a few open fires in the exhibits. If your child is drawn to fire or hot things then I would definitely not let them enter buildings ahead of you.
There are actors throughout the park telling you about their stories and how life was. They do ask questions but there was no need to talk to them and it was acceptable to just watch or leave.
Staff are very friendly and accomodating.
There is one point where it is necessary to cross a real road to get to more exhibits, there is a gate and this is sign posted.
There are sound effects of people talking etc throughout the park in some of the buildings and in the boat that you walk through.
It is necessary to walk through a gift shop to exit the park.
There are toilets in the gift shop and half way round the park.
The park is very large so children will need close supervision.
If you have a wheelchair or pushchair then be aware that, whilst the park is generally accessible, the paths are mainly mud/gravel, there are some cobbled streets and some hills. Some of the doorways are steps or have cobbles outside. We found it difficult to push a wheelchair at times.
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