We were on the small cruise ship Marco Polo, it was a voyage round the British Isles, and we stopped off in Belfast. This is not one of my favourite cities, but it has a real gem in the Titanic exhibition. We researched before sailing where the ship would dock, how far it was from the city centre as well as the distance to the Titanic. It was a short cab ride, but no public transport, so we joined the taxi queue. Chatting to others we shared with another couple, so it was only £8 fare to be halved, rounded up to ten of course. Belfast is part of the UK, so they take sterling but if you ask nicely they also take euros.
The drop off point is a short walk to the entrance, the whole building has been designed as the ship’s exterior. The only reason I could appreciate for the large expanse outside the exhibition was a gathering point for large groups, there is no protection should the elements be unkind. We were directed to tickets selling to those not among a tour group, didn’t have to show proof that we were eligible for the cheaper pensioner rate. One look sufficed. Up the stairs to the gallery entrance, and then we were in the illuminated dark. You walk in, and they have reproduced the Belfast atmosphere of the time, the streets, the animated photos of the people, holograms, the sounds so you can hear people calling to each other. I am glad they didn’t re-create the smells as well, because the 1912 odours must have been pretty pungent.
There are mock-ups of state cabins, as well as those occupied by the poorer third-class passengers. There really was a class differentiation on the Titanic, the more money you had the better the accommodation, the less likelihood you would die when the ship hit an iceberg, your money gave you a remoteness from the common people who may be infectious. Shame the lifeboat wasn’t segregated. One was saved and is part of the exhibition, pretty basic and not to be endured on a rough April sea for too long. Little protection from the elements, the seamen’s sharp elbows would have been rough as they rowed away from the sinking vessel. A cabin has been reconstructed that would have been occupied by those with little money, bunk beds, very little room to store a change of clothing, let alone underwear, a sink, and a toilet shared with other poor people.
There is also a short film of the raising of the artifacts, how difficult it was, and the way the wreckage is distributed over such a large section of the ocean’s floor. I found this particularly interesting, regrettably my love of almost fifty years not so, shortly we were off to sit in the four-seater car that powered us silently from upper to lower levels, seeing the Harland and Woolf shipbuilders at work, riveting away in enclosed conditions worse than those endured by contemporary miners.
After finding the exit door we were in the cafeteria for a coffee and cake, then across the open expanse and private Titanic road to the SS Nomadic, which is the only surviving vessel of the White Star fleet. It was the Titanic’s tender, used to transport passengers etc across Belfast water. Built the year before the Titanic, it is fascinating to wander round unrestricted. There is the obligatory sign of wealth demarcation, those poorer sat or stood at the back, out of sight of those in the main saloon. There is a hologram of a bartender polishing his glasses, Pam was unaware I was taking the photo so movements are slightly blurred. We spent quite some time wandering around this preserved museum, a tribute to Edwardian craftsmanship. The attention to detail was impressive, from the uncomfortable wooden bench seating with the parquet flooring for third-class, to the roominess of the rest of the Nomadic. No idea how brave you had to be inside when the waves were high, but there was a fair amount of room up top if you wanted to admire the height of the waves overlapping the bow.
When we joined the taxi queue we chatted to another couple, who wanted to have a city tour. A saloon car taxi turned up next, they do have the London style but these are something of a rarity. He agreed to take the four of us for a short city tour, Falls Road, defunct City Hospital, it was fascinating to be driven along the route the Orangemen take during their marching season. The wall dividing the city and religious citizens is abnormally tall, with a sliding metal gate on rollers that were closed each night at 8pm to keep the battle lines drawn and clashes less likely. Our driver was informative, his accent was easy on the ears, well worth the reasonable negotiated fee plus generous tip because of his pleasant manner and shared knowledge.
There was insufficient time to investigate the hinterland, Giants Causeway was not within our daily reach, we felt that there was so much more to offer the sight-seer, the undoubted highlight was the Titanic, one of the better atmospheric exhibitions with sensory displays to keep the most jaded interest alive.
Where is Ballygobackwards Castle? In the middle of Ireland, somewhere mythical, only visited by those who will be escorted by Winter, a man who travels between this world and the next. There is a locked room, with a baby crying. Or is it? Go to Amazon, enter the words Ballygobackwards Castle, by Harry Pope, and all six short stories are there for you to buy at 99p each.
Harry’s latest writing successes: Buried Secrets, sold over 5,000 copies on Amazon, £2.99 e-version, or £6.99 printed.
Hotel Secrets (don’t buy that hotel) £3.99 e-version, £5.99 Amazon
Six long ghost stories all about Ballygobackwards Castle. A series of ghost stories also audio. Find on Amazon, very reasonable 99p each.