Belfast’s premiere attraction is “The Titanic Experience.” It tells the story of the ship that was built with Irish Pride, sunk by English Hubris. But I know the sinking story, I wanted something else. My grandfather had been a White Star Steward, it brought him to America. I wanted to learn more about his surroundings on White Star.
White Star line was the luxury line, if you wanted speed, you checked in with Cunard. There is only one White Star ship remaining. It is one of two tenders built to ferry passengers from Cherbourg to the Olympic Class ships, Olympic, Titanic and Britannic. Nomadic was built to ferry first and second-class passengers (and some overflow third-class). The other tender was Traffic, built to ferry third-class passengers, the name says it all. Both were built in the Belfast yards.
My grandfather worked his way up to being a first-class White Star steward. Some of the same touches on Titanic were used on Nomadic to give customers a taste of what lies ahead. “The White Star Experience starts at the dock.” The same floor tile, some of the same wood paneling, furniture, and molding. Stepping aboard Nomadic was stepping into my grandfather’s world at the beginning of the 20th century.
I also wanted to see was Harland and Wolff, the shipyards where many of the White Star ships that my Grandfather sailed on were built. The Titanic Experience is on the grounds of H&W and the yards where the Olympic and Titanic were built are marked by metal beams that represent the gantry erected to build the ships.
Nomadic is resting in the Hamilton Graving Dock on the shipyard grounds. The lock that seals the drydock is built like a hull that is turned sideways to the dock and seals it so the water can be pumped out.
Currently the Belfast yard is inactive. The last major ocean liner they built was Canberra for P&O lines which went into service in June 1961, about a month before I got to Belfast for the first time. The last ship launched by H&W Belfast was a roll on roll off car ferry launched in 2003, twenty years ago. Features of the shipyards are two giant gantry cranes built by Krupp in the 1970s, Sampson and Goliath. It seems to be a bad choice of names since Sampson got a haircut and Goliath was felled by a stone. Perhaps they are named for the 60’s American cartoon series. They are pretty much white elephants now and there was talk of tearing them down, but they have become a beloved part of the Belfast skyline and are “listed” as being of historical significance.
There is a huge Sound Stage at the H&W complex, Titanic Studios, where “Game of Thrones” was shot. The area is dotted with Stained Glass windows depicting scenes from the show.
As far as the Titanic Experience, the museum itself, I was not as impressed at Trip Advisor thought I should be. It moved people poorly with cul-de-sacs causing people to backtrack and run into each other. It was also overcrowded. I’ve learned more about Titanic’s sinking from reading. The museum offered me no specific insights, no “aha” moment, although it did for my son Kevin, (to see his commentary click here.) At the end the lessons learned from Titanic led to the SOLAS (Safety of Life at Sea) conventions that have saved, and continue to save, many lives.