The name of Tyrone’s largest town, OMAGH, is synonymous with the worst single atrocity in the history of the Troubles when, on the afternoon of Saturday August 15, 1998, a five-hundred-pound car bomb, planted by the dissident Republican group the Real IRA, exploded on Market Street. Twenty-nine people died and more than two hundred were injured. Much of the eastern part of Omagh’s main street was devastated by the bombing and has since undergone major reconstruction. The area uphill to the west, originally thought to be the bombers’ target on the basis of their misleading warning, remained unscathed and contains two adjacent buildings that would grace any town – the fine classical courthouse and the irregular twin spires of the Catholic Sacred Heart Church. Though there’s little to see in the town itself, it’s a useful place to base yourself for exploring the area.
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The Ulster American Folk Park
The most successful of Northern Ireland’s American-heritage projects is the Ulster American Folk Park, three miles north of Omagh in Camphill. The first significant emigration from Ireland to North America was that of Ulster folk in the early eighteenth century, many of whom were of Scottish Protestant origin. Of all the immigrant communities in the United States, it was the Irish who most quickly – and profoundly – made their mark: the three first-generation US presidents of Irish origin were all of Ulster stock, and thirteen overall could trace their roots to here. Throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, thousands of people left to establish new lives in North America, a steady flow of emigrants that became a torrent during the Famine years.
You can find detailed information on the causes and patterns of migration in the folk park’s indoor gallery, which surprisingly pays little attention to the Native Americans dispossessed by the Ulster settlers, but the real attractions lie outside in the park itself, where original buildings have been transplanted or replicas constructed to provide a sense of Ulster life in the past. The disparity in living conditions in nineteenth-century Ireland is illustrated by the juxtaposition of a typical pre-Famine single-room cabin from the Sperrins, with the Mellon Homestead, a significantly more substantial dwelling from which the local Mellon family migrated in 1818. A recreated Ulster street, including the impressively authentic Reilly’s Spirit Grocers, whose shelves are packed with appropriate period stock, leads to the Union, a full-sized brig, reconstructed to demonstrate the gruelling conditions endured during the voyage across the Atlantic. An American street leads to edifices constructed by the Pennsylvanian settlers, including a massive six-roomed log farmhouse. There are plenty of other buildings, and you’ll meet costumed guides and craftworkers ready to explain their activities and answer questions, augmenting the folk park’s attention to authenticity. One event of note here is the annual Bluegrass Festival over the first weekend in September.