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New programme celebrates Ulster Scots connection to US Independence

5 July 2024

A special programme of events will take place throughout July, August and September to mark the anniversary of the US Declaration of Independence and celebrate our wider local and historical links to North America.

The programme is being delivered by Derry City and Strabane District Council following on from a notice of motion approved by Council Members last year to explore opportunities to celebrate Strabane’s historic connections with North America. Events, which will be held in Strabane, will include an exhibition, a series of talks and open days, and the dedication of a Blue Plaque to one of Strabane’s famous sons, Alexander Ector Orr.

The Alley Theatre will host a special exhibition curated by Council’s Museum Services, titled ‘Ulster-Scots and the Declaration of Independence’ opening on July 4th and running until August 30th.  The travelling exhibition is on loan from the Ulster Scots Agency and includes a selection of objects from Derry City & Strabane District Council’s Museum collection.  A series of talks delivered throughout the month of July by a number of leading experts in Ulster-American history will also be held at the Alley Theatre in tandem with the exhibition. The featured guest speakers are Dr Paddy Fitzgerald of the Mellon Centre for Migration on the 4th July; Dr William Roulston of the Ulster Historical Foundation on the 18th July; and concluding the series of talks on the 25th July will be William Blair, Director of Collections at the National Museums of NI. The programme will focus on some of the key figures of the age, who originally hailed from Ulster, including John Dunlap, who printed the new US constitution in 1787, and Charles Thomson who designed the Great Seal of the United States in 1782. William will also touch on the narrative around the forefathers of President Woodrow Wilson, who have long been associated with the townland of Dergalt and the homestead building located just outside Strabane, which is currently maintained by the Ulster American Folk Park.

Looking ahead to the exhibition, curator at the Tower Museum, Roisin Doherty, said: “With the mass emigration of the Ulster Scots to the US, it was inevitable that many rose to prominence within the spheres of business and politics within the new colonies. The programme of events taking place will highlight the important role immigrants from Strabane and the surrounding areas played in the laying the foundations of society in America. It offers the chance to find out more about some of the individuals whose prospects flourished in the US, and who left a lasting legacy in the new world.”

Among the events taking place is a special talk on Strabane’s very own John Dunlap. Born in Meetinghouse Street in 1747. Dunlap left his native Strabane for America in 1756 and went on to be a Printer, Soldier and Newspaper Publisher. Today he is most frequently recalled as, not just the man who printed the US Constitution, but also as the printer of the Declaration of Independence. Fittingly the National Trust’s Gray’s Printing Press in Strabane will be open on the 4th and 27th July, and further dates in August and September, to give an insight into an industry in which the Strabane of the very late 1700s and early 1800s played a leading role.   

In August, a blue plaque will be unveiled by the Ulster History Circle to commemorate the prominent New York businessman and financier Alexander Ector Orr, who was born in Strabane in 1831. He is known as ‘the Father of the New York Subway’ for arranging the financing and construction of this major rapid transport system which opened almost 120 years ago in October 1904.

For more information on the full programme of events go to

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