In October 2011 the inaugural Ulster Genealogy and Migration Studies Autumn School was held. It was based in Omagh and delivered by the Foundation in partnership with the Mellon Centre for Migration Studies (MCMS) at the Ulster-American Folk Park. Over 20 participants were in attendance coming from as near as the island of Islay off the west coast of Scotland and as far away as Hawaii.

Over the course of a week delegates were given the opportunity to learn more about Ireland’s migration history as well as trace their family history in the MCMS library and at the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland. A number of outings were arranged so that participants could learn at first hand about what life was like in Ulster in days gone by.

River Foyle at Derry

For some the highlight of the week was a visit to the Glenelly Valley, a stunningly beautiful part of the Sperrin mountain range, where, under expert local guidance, they were able to inspect abandoned cottages and an ancient churchyard at Badoney, and enjoy a lunch with musical entertainment in a pub in Plumbridge.

Other outings included visits to Barons Court where the participants received a warm welcome from the president of the Ulster Historical Foundation, the Duke of Abercorn, and a tour round his house, a trip to Derry for a sneak preview of the new exhibition in the Blue Coat Museum at First Derry Presbyterian Church and a chance to meet Brian Mitchell of Derry City Council’s Genealogy Service, and an excursion to County Donegal to find out more about one of the defining moments in Irish history – the ‘Flight of the Earls’ in 1607.

Throughout the week, Dr William Roulston of the Ulster Historical Foundation, and Drs Brian Lambkin and Paddy Fitzgerald of the Mellon Centre for Migration Studies, were with the group to offer them assistance and to answer any questions on family and migration history.

On the Saturday of the Autumn School the Literature of Irish Exile Conference was held at MCMS with the guest speakers Dr Christopher Fitz-Simon, former artistic director of the Abbey Theatre in Dublin, and Dr Sophia Hillan, formerly associate director of the Queen’s University of Belfast’s Institute of Irish Studies.

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The feedback from the delegates was very positive. One participant commented, ‘I thoroughly enjoyed the Autumn School and the opportunity to meet others who share my interest in researching their Ulster heritage. Having access to academics was a huge benefit and advanced my research. Not only were they experts, but they were approachable and interested in our individual research challenges. The visits to the various sites of historical interest and the commentary on the bus were also enjoyable and enriched the whole experience.’

For another of the delegates, ‘The Autumn School provided me with an excellent opportunity to research my ancestors and to gather the
necessary tools needed to continue my search for Irish ancestors with the bonus of visiting places in N. Ireland I would never have gone to, learning about the history of the area and how my ancestors may have lived.’