by Jean O'Sullivan
“It was all right when it left here!”
- local Belfast quip about the Titanic
The new TitanicBelfast experience is thrilling, especially when you are evacuated from the building with hundreds of other visitors. For a while I even thought it was part of the tour. The alarm seemed to blend with the other sound effects (machinery, hammering, seagull cries...) in the dizzying multimedia experience. But then an insistent voice ordered us (in English only) to leave the building via the stairs and avoid the lifts. The procedure was more orderly - I imagine - than the evacuation from the actual Titanic, but I was disappointed not to hear the cry “women and children first”.
Disney meets Harland and Woolf
I went with my sister Ruth a few days before the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic. It struck the iceberg on 14 April, which also happens to be Ruth’s birthday - although not her 100th, I hasten to add. We had just finished the Shipyard Ride (think: Disney meets Harland and Woolf) where you take a cable car up and down the side of the ship to see how it was built. Now we were in the most spectacular section: the launch of the Titanic. We stood in a huge prow-shaped space of frosted plate-glass and watched a short archive film clip of the launch on a suspended screen. Then suddenly the frosted glass became transparent, revealing a spectacular view of the slipway where the launch took place and all the port of Belfast, going about its everyday maritime business. The effect was magical. And that’s when the alarm went off.
The big picture
For anyone who missed the saturation coverage of the centenary of the sinking of the supposedly unsinkable ship, TitanicBelfast a state-of-the-art museum which tells the whole story, from construction to shipwreck and beyond, in the city where Titanic was built. Starting with the “Boomtown Belfast” of the early 1900s, the exhibition guides you through the ship’s construction, launch, maiden voyage and tragic last moments.
The story is brought up to the present with the discovery of the wreck, while ‘Myths and Legends’ chronicles the Titanic in popular culture with the stories, films and legends which have grown up around the disaster, not forgetting Thomas Hardy’s poem “The meeting of the Twain”.
As for the evacuation, everyone meekly descended the stairs, exited the building, then turned around and went straight back in. Was it a smoke alarm in the restaurant kitchen – as one staff member suggested – or was it simply a fire drill? I suspect the latter, as the museum had only been open 10 days.
The TitanicBelfast shop is almost as entertaining as the museum itself (and the queues as long). Along with the huge choice of Titanic T-shirts, posters and mugs you can buy Titanic fudge, Titanic tea and Titanic jam. There was a rumour that you could buy Titanic crisps as well but we never found any.
Belfast – a top destination
Eyebrows were raised when Belfast was recently voted one of the world's top destinations for 2012 by National Geographic Traveller magazine. If you have never been at all, the open-top bus tour is a good introduction to recent changes in the city, and also allows a glimpse of the sectarian divide as it passes by the many political murals, not to mention the Peace Wall (an Orwellian name if there ever was one). The tour also visits Stormont Castle, the seat of government in Northern Ireland.
One of the city’s treasures is the highly-decorated Crown Bar, not to be missed. Another is its friendly people. The Titanic may have come to a sorry end but for Belfast it might just represent a new beginning as a destination for tourists instead of war reporters.
Belfast Telegraph - Suddenly the world wants to visit Northern Ireland
Belfast City : Belfast had opened a wonderful new silver aluminium clad building in the form of four hull-shaped wings, ‘the Titanic experience’.
Titanic - Belfast - © 2012 The Irish Eyes - www.irisheyes.fr - contact