The Dark Horse – Belfast

A couple of weeks ago I was in Belfast attending a conference – the first one for a few years. Being good, sitting through the conference sessions and catching up with people I hadn’t seen face to face for some time, I didn’t have much time for exploring the city. However, on the second night of the conference one of the major equipment suppliers traditionally hosts a free shin dig and this year was no different, so with just about everyone one else attending the event I made my way to the Cathedral Quarter and the Dark Horse.

Inside it’s a very traditional Irish pub with lots of glass and polished brass.

But one of the main attractions is the courtyard behind the pub where all the walls are a gallery of street art depicting scenes of Irish history and culture – with a good helping of Irish humour too.

SS Nomadic

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SS Nomadic, the last remaining White Star Line ship, sits in the dry dock facing the Titanic Belfast building. The entry ticket to the Titanic exhibition allowed us to visit the vessel, so we went to have a look.

The small ship was a tender that used to ferry first and second class passengers out to the White Star liners at Cherbourg, where the port was not deep enough to take the big ships. A smaller companion vessel, SS Traffic, used to ferry the third class passengers, after all we couldn’t have the great unwashed coming into close proximity to their betters! Both the NOmadic and Traffic transported passengers to the Titanic when it arrived at Cherbourg from Southampton at the beginning of its fateful voyage.

There are scale models of both vessels in the main saloon on the Nomadic.

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Visitors can wander around the ship to see the passenger lounges, crew’s quarters and the working areas.

There were separate lounges for the first and second class passengers where they could relax during the short journey out to their liner.

Like in the main Titanic Experience exhibition, the latest technology was being used, including video projections of the captain and this barman.

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My favourite parts were the crew quarters and working areas

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It was interesting to see the riveted hull up close

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And up on deck we could get close to the funnel

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and pretend we were steering the vessel out at sea!

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During World War I and until 1919, Nomadic was requisitioned by the French government and she saw service as an auxiliary minesweeper and patrol ship and for ferrying American troops. After the war she returned to her role as a tender. The Second World War she was requisitioned again and on 18 June 1940 took part in the evacuation of Cherbourg. After the fall of France she was taken over by by the Royal Navy and based in Portsmouth harbour, and operated as a troop ship, coastal patrol vessel and minelayer for the remainder of the war.

After the war she returned to tender duties and was retired in 1968 and then spent a number of years moored on the Seine  in Paris being used as a restaurant and nightclub. In 2006, faced with being scrapped, the Northern Ireland government Department for Social Development bought the vessel at auction. She was returned to Belfast and restored her to her original 1911 condition.

A Titanic Experience

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Belfast has a proud history of shipbuilding, alas, like heavy industry elsewhere in the UK, no longer the major force and employer it once used to be.  Harland and Wolff still have operations in Belfast, but not on the scale of the 20th Century when it built ships intended for companies such as the White Star Line. Today it mainly focuses on the offshore oil and wind industries.

Source :Wikipedia *

The most famous ship built in Belfast by Harland Wolff was the RMS Titanic, and in March 2012 Titanic Belfast opened to take advantage of this to boost tourism and as a focus for the regeneration of the city. it’s been extremely successful becoming the most popular tourist attraction in Northern Ireland and it has also been named Europe’s top visitor attraction. It’s actually located beside the Titanic Slipways, the Harland and Wolff Drawing Offices and Hamilton Graving Dock – the very place where Titanic was designed, built and launched in 1912. So we thought we should go and take a look and after our visit to Stormont drove to the city centre and the Titanic Quarter.

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The building, clad in 3,000 individual silver anodised aluminium shards, is quite striking. It’s design takes the form of four ships’ prows, with its main “prow” angled down the middle of the Titanic and Olympic slipways towards the River Lagan. It’s 38 metres high, the same height as Titanic‘s hull. Some people have suggested that the “prows” look more like icebergs and it’s been nicknamed it “The Iceberg” by some locals. This short video explains the inspiration behind the building

The entrance fee wasn’t cheap, £17.50 for adults. But we stumped up. It was certainly busy but not so crowded that we couldn’t see the exhibits during the self guided tour.

There are nine galleries, that tell the story of RMS Titanic, from her conception in Belfast in the early 1900s, through her construction and launch, to her famous maiden voyage and tragic end. The exhibition also provides context with information about the history of Belfast and shipping in the city as well as social and political background in Ulster at the turn of the 20th Century.

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The galleries are innovative and interactive employing all the latest tricks and technology – including interactive screens, holograms, a chariot ride through a “shipyard”.

The main focus of the exhibition was the design and building of the ship rather than the tragedy of it’s sinking and the aftermath (although these were covered too). This made it particularly interesting for me.

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One of the most hazardous jobs in the shipyard – riveting. The heavy metal rivets were heated so they were red hot and then literally thrown up to the riveting team up on the scaffolding, one of whom had to catch it. The hot rivet was then inserted in the rivet hole and it was then hammered by a worker on the other side of the plate.

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This archive video is from the John Brown’s shipyard, Glasgow in 1949, but shows how it would have been done during the building of the Titanic.

And people wonder why we need “elf and safety”

There were reconstructions of the different types of cabins on the ship after it had been fitted out.

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The wreck of the Titanic was discovered and explored in 1985. After sections covering the tragedy and the subsequent enquiry the exhibition finished with a film of the wreck on the seabed shot from a submersible. DSC00186

I had expected that Titanic Belfast would have been something of a “tourist trap” but this was definitely not the case. Although inevitably commercial, it was well done and by concentrating on the local connection – the construction of the ship rather  – it was relevant to the city and interesting. It took us a good couple of hours to work our way through the galleries and it was time well spent and worth the entrance fee.

We hadn’t quite finished, though. Moored outside in a dry dock was the last remaining White Star vessel – SS Nomadic.

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* The original uploader was Stavros1 at English Wikipedia – Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons by LittleTony87 using CommonsHelper., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7416860

A flying visit to Belfast

It’s been a busy week for meetings and travelling round the country. After Warwickshire on Wednesday on Thursday a flew out from Manchester to Belfast and back. The meeting was in the afternoon so as the plane landed at about 10 a.m. I had a some time to myself to mooch around and explore a city I’d never visited before. I didn’t have much time but was able to look around the city centre before my meeting and then afterwards, as I had a few hours to kill I was able to take a look at Stormont, the home of the Northern Irish Assembly which is set in  a very pleasant public park.

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And it was a beautiful, sunny, but cold, day too.