At first glance, the photos of Belfast’s docklands in the 1910s look like little more than giant swathes of structural metal over a concrete base.
Keep looking, though, and you start to pick out the tiny, vulnerable looking figures high in the mish mash of metal. Working twelve hour days many storeys off the ground with little in the way of security, the docks had ambulances on call the whole time, and the minnow-like men, barely visible in pictorial records, risked their lives whenever they went to work.
This kind of glance into the past is what the Titanic Museum in Belfast specialises in. Reopening earlier this year after roughly €5 million was spent on modernising an already impressive museum, the exhibition named for the dock’s most famous and tragic of products, sat right where the Titanic was built, is actually about far more than the boat itself.
Sure, the entire stark, modernist building is an interpretation of the Titanic’s bow, but a large chunk of what’s inside is more about the city itself. From some of the early embers of The Troubles to portraying stark working conditions, our self-guided experience strolls through approximations of the docklands, takes us on a gentle ride showing the construction methods of the ships, and eventually leads to the launch of the boat and an exploration of its short life span.
“Built by the Irish, sunk by the English” has long been a tongue-in-cheek slogan of Titanic in Belfast (though the museum itself shies away from such commentary, preferring a classier selection of books and souvenirs), but what’s often set aside amongst the tragedy is how much of a boom period Belfast went through as a result of its heavy shipbuilding phase, something that is aptly highlighted here.
Eventually you stroll through to a recreation of Titanic’s cabins (the more luxurious of which are every bit as sensational as they look in James Cameron’s famed movie), and then, of course, the disaster itself, which is covered in detail, but, refreshingly, not the main point of the museum by any means.
Of course, we learn in detail of the iceberg (and the failings that led to it not being spotted, and hit at such a high speed), the deaths and the lives that continued, and the scrambled rescue mission to grab freezing cold survivors from the water. Then there’s the cultural fall out of Titanic’s fate, including that movie, and a spot where you can lean out over a faux bow and take a picture just like Winslet and Di Caprio. You can also see some items returned from the depths.
So yes, a touch of cheesiness along the way, but all in all, Titanic is classier than that, and succeeds in being both educational and entertaining, which we find to be something of a family museum trip sweet spot.
With its tragic return to the news recently, the museum, a nod to events of more than a Century ago, feels as relevant now as it ever has.
Tickets to the Titanic Experience in Belfast often need to be booked in advance due to its popularity, especially on weekends, and come in at around €27 for adults and €12 for children. Family tickets are also available.
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