Jim and I were interested in trying to determine which of the structures and lives depicted might have been similar to our ancestors’. Fueled by our experience at the Famine Museum, we were curious, as well about how the famine had effected the district. I asked one of the employees whether landowners in Northern Ireland had established workhouses and funded ‘assisted’migration as they had in the south and she seemed to bristle. She insisted that, while there had been migration, she’d never heard of any of it being forced. As we walked away, I said to Jim, “Is it my imagination, or was she defensive?” We were both surprised, particularly given our experiences in the Irish Republic where – not only were the questions we asked answered beyond our wildest dreams, but also some questions we hadn’t known to ask. The same experience was to be repeated several times before we left the park. There was a guardedness, a wariness that absolutely reflected the recent and very painful history of the place. Wounds are still fresh and the realities of the conflict too close for comfort here – the Omagh bombing that saw 30 people killed – happened just 10 years ago. There seems a reticence to talk too loudly, to let down your guard, to smile to freely, too relax too much. We felt tense and intrusive – and in the case of the Folk Park, like we were being fed a particular and prettified version of the past that repelled any attempts to look below the surface. Like Beagmore, it presented a history that was wrapped neatly and tied with a bow.
The next morning, we’d meant to drive through the town of Pomeroy – a possible ancestral homestead, but couldn’t wait to get back to the Irish Republic. We jumped in the car without breakfast and headed for County Meath. An hour or so later, in the town of Monaghan, we were starving and so stopped at a little café. We asked the waitress if we were still in Northern Ireland and she (almost horrified) said, “GOD, no...this is the Republic.”We laughed, relieved and felt like we’d come home.