Monday, August 25, 2014

Belfast and Its Famous Ship

Most American’s, when they think of Belfast, likely think of “The Troubles” of Ireland that took place in the 1960’s and ‘70’s. I have much to say on that subject, as I’ve been pleasantly steeped in the history, and an eager student for the past few days. (That will be my a future blog post, so stay tuned, it’s a fascinating subject.)

But today I am anxious to share something with you that I was, ashamedly, ignorant of until I met Daniel and Peter, who live in the City of Belfast.

Thanks to James Cameron, we all have a somewhat truthful knowledge, of the ill-fated ship, Titanic. What you may not know . . . in fact, what I’m most certain most of you don’t know, is that the Titanic was built in Belfast, Northern Ireland.

I’ve found the city of Belfast to be as multi-layered as an onion, and this was just one more revelation that delighted me. I am going to attempt to share with you now what I learned as I walked the shipyard where the Titanic was built, and where passengers boarded, but there is no way I can translate the absolute beauty of the area and how the people of Belfast have brought this story to life. They have, in essence, managed to resurrect the ship so that you feel as though you have stood in the bowels and walked the deck.

The first notable landmarks associated with the Titanic are two giant yellow cranes that sit in the harbor of Belfast. These cranes are actually visible from miles away, they are just THAT BIG. The cranes held the Titanic as it was being built in 1909-1911. 

The Titanic launched out of Belfast Lough on May 31, 1911.  Interestingly, however, the ship was not yet “fitted out”, meaning there were no guest accommodations, furniture and such. It would take 3,000 men  another 10 months before the ship was ready to receive passengers.

Just a few hundred yards away from the cranes, sit the Titanic museum. But this isn’t your typical museum. It is a tribute.

The front of the building is designed as an exact replica of the hull of the Titanic.

The most fascinating thing, however, was the layout of the ship. They have erected steel posts that mark the length of the Titanic and show the divisions of the ship, so you can actually stand there and feel as though you are in the ship. The ground has an outline around these steel beams that show the scope of the ship. It’s fascinating to stand there and realize that this was an absolutely massive ship.

The point you see on the ground would illustrate the very front point of the Titanic. Looking back, the steel beams outline the proportions and size of the ship. 

On a glass wall nearby are the name of the 1500+ people who lost their lives in association with the ship, not just in the sinking, but during the building as well.
The Titanic was captained by Edward Smith, whose name is here on the wall with the names of all the lost. The story goes he went down with the ship, and in the water, swam to a lifeboat but turned away when he saw it was overcrowded.  In all, thee were 898 total crew members: Chefs, bakers, butchers, scullions, mailroom staff, barbers, engineers, fireman, stokers, trimmers stewards, pursers, waiters and other uniformed and ununiformed on both upper and lower decks.  Seventy-six percent of the crew were lost at sea.

Peter and Daniel explained that there were deaths that occured in the building of the ship, and many of these were questioned due to the strife between Catholics and Protestants. Did he fall? Was he pushed? We may never know. We do know that during the launching of the Titanic, shipyard worker James Dobbin was hit by fallen timbers and killed. Working in the shipyard was low pay, dangerous and physically demanding. Accidents, such as falling into the river and being crushed, was common. People worked up to 68 hours a week.

The headquarters of the White Star Line, where Bruce Ismay and others designed the Titanic. As chairman of the White Star Line, Ismay was in the odd position of being a passenger on board a ship he owned. It was Ismay's influence that caused Captain Smith to accelerate through the icefield rather than slow down or stop for the night. After the disaster, Ismay was savaged by both American and British press for deserting the ship while women and children were still on board. He denied that was the case, stating he went into the water then climbed into a lifeboat nearby.