There is a unique museum just outside Omagh in Northern Ireland called the Ulster American Folk Park. Set in delightful countryside, the museum aims to tell the story of how the natives used to live and follows those that emigrated overseas to seek new opportunities in the new land of America.
As you walk through the park, the buildings start from the simplest of hovels and progress along the evolutionary scale until you come to a wooden sailing ship in the centre of the park. All the buildings before the ship reflect what life was like through the ages in Northern Ireland. The buildings that follow the ship reflect the lives of those who chose to settle on the other side of the Atlantic.
Inside the ship itself, the exhibit tells the story of what the emigrants went through during their long sea voyage. As if the voyage wasn’t hard enough, they were ensured a frosty reception at the other end with many sent back because of suspected disease. It seems even back then, the Americans were particularly choosy about who they let in.
The park is very interesting and well worth a visit. One of the things I find most interesting about the place is how housing technology changes over time. In the space of a few hundred years, the humble abode evolved from little more than a cave through a single room hut right up to multi-storeyed, multi-roomed, stone built dwellings. At the end of the park, although the timeline hasn’t moved beyond the 19th century, the technology used is not that different from brand new houses being built today.
Sure, there have been advances in glazing technology which means windows are no longer single glazed, they’re double or even triple glazed. Homes are built with more advanced materials with less environmental impact, but the majority of new houses today still have four walls and a pitched, tiled roof. Modern heating means less chimneys, but the silhouette of a modern dwelling is broadly the same.
When I was young, I used to think that we would all be living in space or under the sea. Or maybe a troglodytic existence in an underground labyrinth of tunnels. I assumed that we would use far more advanced materials than merely bricks. Houses would have a fusion reactor to provide energy. Windows would be extra-dimensional spaces which would have whatever you wanted on the other side of them. Fancy looking out on Lake Geneva – no problem.
There would be no need to clean or even decorate. Drones would wake up now and then and take care of the dusty corners and usher out the occasional rogue spider that breached the laser defences. Instead, we all live in houses that our Great-grandparents would feel right at home in.
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