I came across this interesting little place in 2006 when I was driving around the back roads of Inishowen, County Donegal. It is the Doagh Famine Village, which depicts life in Ireland during the famine years (1840’s). At first I thought the whole thing had been built for visitors, but I soon learned that the thatched cottages and other buildings had been in use for a couple of centuries, and that the owner’s and guide’s families had lived in them right up until 1983.
What first caught my eye was the van in the parking lot, photo below. Along with giving details of the visitors center etc., it also said, “We specialise in Funerals, Wakes & Match Making. In November it is Re-Designed to become Irelands Lapland.” This more than piqued my curiosity. As it turned out, they do in fact use the village for all sorts of events and occasions, including weddings, funerals, wakes and engagement parties! I also learned that “Lapland” is associated with Santa and his reindeer in Ireland. No North Pole for them! So if you happen to be in this part of Donegal in November or December, you can experience Santa’s village complete with reindeer, twinkle lights and holiday cheer!
Inside there are lots of exhibits showing the plight of the Irish during the famine. It was sobering to walk through the displays and see re-creations of the horrible starvation and harship the people encountered.
Many of the exhibits deal with Irish life and traditions in general. For example, one room re-creates the Irish wake where the body is kept at home until the time of burial, with all the friends, relatives and neighbors coming to pay respects to the dearly departed. One exhibit went into all the traditions and phrases that have made their way to England, the U.S. and even France.
Outside the visitors center, there was a plaque (below) showing the population in Ireland during the 19th century and the decimation of the population because of the potato famine. Again, very sobering stuff. There were more than 8.5 million people in Ireland in 1845, and by 1850 there were less than 3 million. Many emigrated, but millions died in the famine.