Ballycultra is a townland giving its name to this a fictional town in the Ulster Folk Museum which is situated about 11 km east of Belfast in Cultra. There is so much to see in this amazing museum, which is reflected by the fact that I’ve had to make, not one, but 3 videos about it, so look out for the other two.
We begin our exploration outside the pretty cottages of Tea lane in the section of park devoted to town buildings, which is what this video will focus on.
The buildings are populated with staff in period clothes who keep fires burning and carry out the kind of tasks that would traditionally have been done in the late 19th Century. They are very friendly and are happy to chat to you about the history of the place. This particular row of cottages was originally located in Sandy Row in Belfast and was moved here to the site at the museum brick by brick. You really do get the feel you’re in central Belfast in a bygone age. Tea Lane dates from the 1820s and was originally Rowland Street but known as Tea (pronounced – Tay) lane. They wouldn’t have had mains water despite being in the city until the 1880s. Gas was connected free of charge in the early 20th Century. The people that rented these houses would have been unskilled labourers working in one of Belfast’s many textiles mills. In the street again you can see how authentically this town is created with its cobbled streets and gas lights.
The houses have a small living room, which effectively is the kitchen too with cooking done on the fire. There’s only a small scullery behind the living rooms, which might later on have had a sink plumbed into it, leading to the back yard, with a dry toilet. Upstairs there are two very small bedrooms.
At the end of the street there’s a corner shop. Again this was an original building which was moved here from Nelson Street in Carrickfergus.
This late Victorian shop is typical of the shops that would have served many working-class areas. This shop is setup as a confectioner and it’s interesting to see the old sweets and biscuits, but many of these shops would have sold general groceries as well.
Adjacent we have Cluan Place, which originally came, brick by brick, from East Belfast. You’ll notice that these houses are a bit bigger than the ones round the corner and would consequently have been occupied by workers commanding a more responsible role than those in the laborers cottages we saw. A quick look inside shows us that they’re slightly larger in proportion and the scullery already has a little sink plumbed in. There is definitely a little bit more space in this house, but it’s still on the small side.
Perhaps at this stage you won’t be surprised to learn that this was a former Irish Museum of the Year. It’s a very impressive place. How this was moved here from its various locations and built again from scratch it anyone’s guess. Quite a feat of engineering.
As we go into Mill Street we come to one of my favourite exhibits. The local pub Hugh McCusker’s. Now this isn’t the original building, but a replica of a pub from Upper Irish Street in Armagh. It’s probably a good job that it’s now represented here as the original was demolished in 1970. So I guess that illustrates the importance of a museum like this in preserving buildings that are fast disappearing from our urban environment.
We then cross the road to Leanard McAlinden’s hardware stores which is closed today, but you can see the vast assortment of goods that it would have sold.
Next we visit a National School constructed in 1837 and typical of the schools that existed throughout Ireland at the turn of the 19th Century. This school was dismantled in Ballycastle at brought to the folk museum in the 1970s. It’s not just the buildings, but the authentic way in which they’re furnished which really makes this place work so well. Children between the ages of 6 and 12 years would all have been educated here together under one teacher. These schools were credited with increasing literacy across Ireland during the 19th Century.
We visit an area known as The Diamond. This was typical of an Irish town or village square. You can see the communal pump for drawing water, remember many of the residences would not have had water in their homes.
This business, John Kelly Limited, was a major coal distributor and what we see here again is a replica of an original coal yard. You need to remember here that Belfast was reliant on coal for its thriving industries in the past – for its textile firms and the shipyard. So aside from it being important domestically, it’s what powered Belfast economically. Coal would obviously have been distributed from here by horse and cart.
Moving on into Meeting Street now. Again we see a very modest dwelling
and right next door is a very interesting little bicycle repair shop; essentially a house given over as a workshop.