We visited the Ulster-American Folk Park this week which is just outside my home town of Omagh, County Tyrone. It is a largely outdoor living museum which tells the story of Irish emigrants who left Ireland during the Great Famine of the 1840’s to seek a better life in America. This was right up my street, history buff that I am.
The tour starts off in the ‘Old World’ of Ireland showing tbe harsh conditions that people lived in which led to them to risk everything to cross the Atlantic Ocean. We walked round authentic Irish cottages, schools and churches which had been painstakingly relocated brick by brick to the park and returned to their former conditions.
It is estimated that around one million people died during the famine years when a series of potato crops failed leading to an unprecedented human tragedy, this having been the dietary staple of the Irish people. Hundreds of thousands of others chose to emigrate to England, Scotland, Australia and North America. The overall population of Ireland was estimated to fall by 20-25% during the famine years as a result of starvation, disease and emigration.
The centre piece of the museum is a replica clipper which emigrants would have boarded to make the perilous journey from Ireland to the colonies. The cramped conditions below deck, where up to 200 people shared bunks 3-4 apiece and lived off basic rations created an environment ripe for disease. Not for nothing were they referred to as ‘coffin ships’ with a mortality rate of 5-30% depending on the length of the journey.
The second part of the tour takes you into the ‘New World’ of 19th century America, resplendent with Pennsylvanian farmhouses and outbuildings. The tour told of the many emigrants who from humble origins rose, through hard work and ingenuity, to positions of great prominence in American politics, banking and industry. The Irish were to become the backbone of this newly formed country and play a major role to its rise to superpower status.
We really enjoyed the tour, despite getting caught in the traditional Irish downpour towards the end. As a Christian it made me think of the transition from our old lives which are often defined by depression, guilt and self loathing. This ‘Old World’ represents a life where we were spiritually dead, shuffling along the conveyor belt of life wondering about the ultimate futility of existence.
To believe (to have faith) that there is an afterlife is more than a flimsy fantasy invented by the establishment millennia ago to placate the great unwashed. History shows that Jesus did exist and the historical accuracy of the Gospels has been proven over and over again by archaeological finds and parallel historical research. The Bible is generally accepted by academics to be the most credible and consistent historical document of its times.
So while I cannot see the ‘New World’ of the afterlife I can unearth many clues in the present world as to its existence. To get there, however, is no walk in the park. I don’t buy into the whole ‘happy clappy’ Christian worldview that everything is wonderful once you are saved. Any Christian who tells you as such is not being entirely truthful.
Yes, following Jesus will inevitably lead to a better earthly existence but it can also lead to being ostracised by former friends, ridiculed by cynical friends and family and in certain countries brutal persecution. Christian martyrs are not a past phenomenon. Every day Christians are imprisoned, tortured and executed for their faith. The journey from the ‘Old World’ to the ‘New’ can be just as dangerous as the voyage the first emigrants took many years ago.
But whatever your journey if you persevere and stick to tbe straight path with your eyes firmly fixed on the teachings of Jesus I believe you will reach the Promised Land and win tbe prize of eternal life. Before believers were given the nickname of ‘Christians’ they were known as followers of ‘The Way.’ Much of the Bible describes this process as a journey, a path, a race. A hard journey at times but one paved by love, joy and hope.
Choose Life. Choose Hope. Choose The Way.
John 14:6 – ‘Jesus answered ‘I am the way and the truth and tbe life. No one comes to tbe Father except through me.’
Have you Irish descendants?
What is your favourite museum?
Do you view the Gospels as historically accurate? Or a fanciful fairytale?