Belfast, 31st of May, 1911. The keel of the Titanic has loomed over the city for over two years. Locals, who have woken, slept and lived under the shadow of the Ship of Dreams are about to witness fantasy become reality as the world’s most talked about ship slides into Belfast Lough and begins its life on the water.
When the 100th Anniversary of the Titanic’s launch is marked on May 31 the ship will be remembered not for its failures or its tragedy. Instead this will be a celebration of a renowned time when Belfast met its greatest challenge and built, what is even 100 years later, the most iconic ship the world has ever seen. Imagine the excitement, the buzz! Imagine living in a place the whole world was in awe of! Well, we say imagine, but perhaps stepping back in time through the TITANICa experience in the Ulster Transport Museum would be a better idea…
So what was it like to live in the greatest ship building city in the world? How did it feel to munch your cornflakes at the kitchen table with the most famous ship in the universe looking in your window? TITANICa is, quite literally, a walk down memory lane at the turn of the 20th Century when Belfast city sat, sooty and loud at the epicenter of the nautical world. This is Titanic immersion and it sounds fascinating. We especially like the sound of walking into a worker’s house and popping into the printers to print our Titanic ticket and peruse the daily paper.
Of course you don’t have to go back in time to see how the Titanic impacted on Belfast. There are all sorts of clues all over the city. With that in mind, why not join us on a Titanic treasure hunt around Titanic Town? First stop – Belfast City Hall.
Belfast City Hall
If you want to start with a building to set the scene look no further than Belfast City Hall. Built in 1906 and described by Lord Pirrie (Chairman of Harland and Wolff ) as ‘the stone Titanic’ this hulk boasts its fair share of Titanic associations. Within the handsome stoney edifice are the ‘Titanic Rooms’ – the Mayor’s Suite built by some of the same hands that worked on Titanic – while in its grounds stands a sculpture of one half of the famous Harland and Wolff, Sir Edward Harland holding the plans for the ill-fated ship in his hand. Of course, probably the most visited sculpture on this central square is the Titanic Memorial, a modest piece ‘Erected to the imperishable memory of those gallant Belfast men whose names are here inscribed…’. To commemorate the 100th anniversary of the ship’s launch, the grounds of City Hall will host (prepare to mark this in your diary!) an exhibition from RJ Welch, the photographic maestro who documented every step of Titanic’s build. In this case a picture most certainly will say a thousand words.
Thompson Dry Dock & Pump House
If a dry dock could talk we’re thinking that the Titanic Docks & Pump-House would tell some cracking stories. Situated in the famous Harland and Wolff shipyards, this was where the Titanic was ‘fitted out’. This cavernous cavity was capable of holding a mind-boggling 21 million gallons of water that it could empty in an equally astounding 90 minutes. And how was all of this water making it in there? Well, that particular plaudit must go to the muscle behind that wonderful feat – the Pump House. Here lives the hearty little chap who pumped with all his might to flood the dock so that Titanic would slide from her frozen state into the chilly waters of Belfast Lough.
At the age of 33, Belfastman and White Star Line assistant deck engineer, Tommy Millar left Belfast on board the Titanic. When the ship drew out of Belfast Lough, Tommy wasn’t only leaving his home behind, he was also bidding farewell to his two sons to whom he gave two pennies with the warning ‘don’t spend those until I see you again’. When the ship sank on April 15th 1912, Tommy Millar went with her and his two sons kept their promise and never spent the coins. Those pennies have been passed down from Tommy’s youngest son to his great granddaughter and conductor of Titanic Tours – Susie Millar. Led by Susie, the tour slips in behind the drama of the ship’s sinking into the nooks and crannies of the story visiting places such as the home of Thomas Andrews (Titanic’s Designer) and stepping aboard Titanic’s tender ship the SS Nomadic. There’s something rather moving about being lead around the city’s Titanic memories by a relative of the ship’s lost. The story of the Titanic, after all, is one of a people and a place and it’s only in discovering that place and those people that you really begin to understand how the ship of dreams became a reality.
The world’s biggest Titanic visitor centre, Titanic Belfast, is opening on 31 March 2012. The best part is, we’re getting a sneak peak around the building on March 30 – and doing a live blog about it. Listen in on our .
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