The weekend of 14th April was the centenary of the sinking of the Titanic, a hugely significant date in the maritime and social history of Belfast. We had arranged to visit the city for a Van Morrison dinner concert taking place that weekend in The Culloden Hotel. We had set out innocent of all knowledge of the imminent anniversary but as soon as we stepped off the plane and got to the centre it became apparent that Belfast was deep in the throes of a titanic Titanicfest.
|Easons bookstore's contribution|
|Some of the leaflets picked up at the airport|
|Belfast also has a strong Dissenter tradition|
|Human "Icebergs" in the city centre|
|World's largest Titanic model constructed entirely from balloons|
|Sanity restored at The Crown Liquor Saloon|
|....with a couple of pints of the blackstuff|
|Is what it says|
|A scale model of the ship with Titanic Belfast in background|
|The "King of the World" pose is seemingly mandatory|
The Titanic Visitor's Centre was one of several highlights during our visit. The exterior design of the building reflects the scale and shape of the prow of The Titanic whilst the reflective quality of its cladding panels evokes thoughts of the crystalline reflectiveness of its nemesis the Iceberg. It rises up five floors like the decks of the ship.
|A line from Thomas Hardy as noted in the exhibition|
|An "Airfix" sculpture of The Titanic|
|The atrium extends to the top of the building and is faced with corroded steel panels|
|The ship goes down|
The exhibition gallery on the first floor shows the rapidly changing Belfast of the 19th century with its range of interconnected industries; the displays concerning the linen mills, rope works and the early years of Harland &Wolff are particularly detailed and innovative. Of note are gigantic projected photographs of city locations with shadowy Edwardians moving across them, giving the feeling that you are present in a fabulous gothic city. The second floor includes temporary exhibition galleries and educational facilities. The third & fourth levels are dedicated to the building of the Titanic, laying the keel, framing, plating and riveting, bulkheads and decking and exhibition galleries which are impressive as they show such detail as the magnificent linen cupboard, the sanitary fittings, a drinks cabinet, a first class and third class cabin, behind the scenes on the Titanic and a display that tells the story of the maiden voyage emphasising the class distinctions.
|The last picture, taken as the ship left Queenstown|
|A reconstruction of one of the lifeboats|
A highlight is an immersive projected computer simulation of all of the Titanic's decks with the virtual view rising from the depths of the engine room up to the top deck through the various class-defined decks between. Finally, the top floor supports an elegant banqueting hall and hospitality suites. Here the centrepiece is a full sized faithful reproduction of Titanic's own grand staircase which controversially is only accessible to those who visit as part of a corporate junket.
We allowed the best part of a day for our visit.
On the river in closeby SailorTown we discovered The Belfast Barge, a museum, restaurant, bar and performance space owned and operated by Lagan Legacy, a professionally staffed charitable heritage organisation. Its focus is on the city's seagoing and industrial heritage.
|The bar is an intimate and sociable space|
|The set of "A Better Boy" in the bowels of The Barge|
Ironically the interview was conducted in the underwater saloon in the middle of a lake in his residence at Witley Park in Surrey. He recalls Tommy's childhood, his early days as an Apprentice aged 16 at Harland & Wolff and his last moments aboard the stricken liner. It is a fine play which moves and informs. We learn Thomas kept bees and this fact is used by the playwright to illustrate Thomas Andrew's care for the fate of the Titanic's passengers. In evidence to the Titanic Inquiry one of the survivors descibed how those left on the sinking ship were like swarming bees clinging to the decks. A Better Boy personalises the tragedy and deserves future performances in other theatres throughout Ireland and England.
All over the city dinners and events, including the opening of a Remembrance Garden at Belfast's City Hall marked the Titanic's centenary.
|The new memorial carries the names of all of the dead|
We had dinner at James Street South, a restaurant which aspires to gourmet status. There we had their "Titanic Tasting Menu" which offered a flavour of the food in the 1st class Dining room. Each or the dishes was paired with appropriate wines. The menu included such treats as oyster with champagne sabayon, consomme with scallop, cucumber and celeriac, lamb, peaches in chartreuse jelly, chocolate and vanilla eclairs and petit fours.
|Van the Man|