Ulster American Folk Park Launches Anniversary Programme

Unveiling of an Armagh-born priest's Civil War buggy marks the start of the living history museum's 40th year

The Ulster American Folk Park in Omagh has launched its 40th anniversary year with the unveiling of an exceptional object dating back almost two centuries.

Visitors to the living history museum, which gives a first-hand emigration experience, will be able to see an American Civil War buggy which belonged to a priest from County Armagh and learn of the fascinating story behind it.

The buggy belonged to Father Arthur Michael McGinnis, who was born in 1835 and was originally from the Dorsey area of the county. He left Ireland in 1856 for Philadelphia, was ordained a Roman Catholic priest and sent to the small town of Gettysburg in 1861.

Oral family history has it that McGinnis was called upon to give the last rites to a dying soldier in the Confederate camp outside Gettysburg. By the time he got back to the town the Battle of Gettysburg, which was to define the American Civil War, was about to start. He was the first to open his church to receive the dying and wounded from both sides of the fateful conflict in 1863.

Commenting on the authentic carriage, Liam Corry, Assistant Curator at the Ulster American Folk Park said, 'The buggy is a very important object which has a wonderful story. Ownership of it has moved down the generations through Father McGinnis’ family maternal line.

'This new addition to the Ulster American Folk Park’s collection tells an engaging story of the buggy itself and also an insight into emigration in the 1860s and the significant part the Irish played in both sides of the American Civil War.'

Peter Kelly and American buggy

A multi award-winning museum, the Ulster American Folk Park has long been one of Northern Ireland’s leading tourism attractions welcoming around 130,000 visitors each year.

It opened in July 1976 following the restoration of the original homestead of Judge Thomas Mellon, the banking and industrial magnate of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, from which at the age of six he sailed to America with his parents in 1818. Since then the museum has developed with over 90 acres and 33 exhibit buildings. 

Peter Kelly, Head of Operations at the Ulster American Folk Park said, 'We are fortunate in Northern Ireland to have a world-class museum which provides a unique setting for telling the story of emigration. The museum is one of the North West’s busiest visitor attractions and also provides an important learning resource that engages people with all learning styles, abilities and ages.

He added, 'The museum has seen much growth and expansion over 40 years and we remain committed to offering visitors the very best in living history.'

A full programme of events will take place to mark this major milestone. This includes an exhibition of eleven drawings by Belfast artist Frank McKelvey (1895-1974) of American presidents including Johnson, Grant, Roosevelt and Wilson.

Special events planned as part of the 40th anniversary celebrations will include Easter Celebrations, the American Independence Celebrations in July (coinciding with the actual anniversary date of 6 July) and the annual Bluegrass Music Festival which will also be celebrating its own 25th anniversary in 2016.

The American Civil War buggy will be displayed in the Emigrants gallery at the museum. Further details of events and exhibitions to mark the museum’s 40th anniversary can be found at www.nmni.com/uafp .