Once upon a sunny day, I took a five year old Kitty to the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum near Belfast.
As the sun was shining we focused on the outdoor folk museum, leaving the indoor transport museum for a rainy day. The entire site cover 170 sites including the Transport Museum, so wear walking shoes if you hope to see most of it in one day.
Located near Holywood (pronounced Hollywood), on the north shore of Belfast Lough, the Folk Museum recreates life in Northern Ireland as it was a century ago. The fictional village and surrounding townland feature farm houses, schools, churches and even an early cinema. Instead of demolishing historic buildings across the province, they were instead dismantled and reconstructed here brick by brick.
We began on Ballycultra’s main street and ye olden days sweet shop, indulging in a childhood favourite of mine, chocolate covered honeycomb. Yum.
Next we wandered into the drapery, with shelves full of boxes of silk stockings and cotton handkerchiefs. In the back room a lady weaver in a traditional wooden shawl was making brightly coloured tweeds, deftly sending the shuttle backwards and forwards. Kitty was bewitched and stood gazing at the pattern taking shape on the loom, whilst the lady told us about the death of the cottage industry of weaving as the industrial revolution dawned, replacing foot powered looms with huge mechanical steam powered machines. The industrial revolution prompted mass migration from the poverty of agricultural lands to the squalor of the city.
In Victorian and Edwardian times Northern Ireland was celebrated for its linen industry and Ulster linen tablecloths and napkins are still prized wedding gifts.
I was keen to visit the forge as just three generations ago my family were the town blacksmiths in Armagh. Today the smithy was creating a poker, glowing red hot as it emerged from the embers, he then curled the metal into a spiral to create an elaborate handle.
Cultra is history brought back to life. We played hula hoops in the old school yard, fed the donkeys apples, chased chickens roaming free in a farm yard, sat in the village jail, and watched a lady make potato farls over an open fire.
The upper bedrooms of the houses often had a musty smell, mingled with the peat of the fire below. A porcelain jug and bowl, plus bed pan, were the en-suite bathrooms.
Every bed had a patchwork quilt, some pretty like the kind you can buy in a trendy vintage shop, but in the poorer homes they were made from old bits of tweed from worn out suits. This is the true origin of patchwork, to reuse every piece of material available to you. I am hand stitching Kitty a quilt in an ongoing crafting project with an estimated completion date of her 21st birthday. But just like these quilts, despite their lack of pretty flowers, every stitch is made with love.
The sights, sounds and smells evoke the world of our great grandparents, it’s a humbling experience that makes me appreciate the luxury and convenience of our modern world.
Kitty appreciated chasing chickens around authentic farm yards and back lanes, and feeding the donkeys.
Here’s the location of The Ulster Folk and Transport Museum on Google Maps.
I hope you enjoyed my staycation inspiration. If you do try any of these activities, I would love to hear from you. What are your tips for a staycation in Northern Ireland ? #staycationinspiration.