WITH a quick and easy day trip to Belfast ahead of me, I leapt on board the Enterprise train at Connolly Station (with burning cheeks, in my role as The Very Last Passenger). Phew!
I was setting sail – so to speak – for a visit to the newly-restored SS Nomadic – built in Belfast, and the last remaining ship in the world of the once world-famous, and later infamous, White Star Line fleet.
Affectionately referred to as “Titanic’s little sister”, the Nomadic was primarily built to bring first- and second-class passengers to and from the doomed ship from Cherbourg Port.
In a maritime mood already, I watched the lovely Northern Ireland countryside floating past the fast train, thinking to myself that the endless rolling hills were like giant green waves, speckled with bright yellow foam (the gorse), while dark, craggy hills sulked on the horizon like distant islands.
The quick and comfy train trip soon made “landfall” at Belfast, and I was soon on my way over to the Hamilton Dock at the nearby shipyards, passing by the city’s striking contemporary architecture on the way.
And there she was – the fully restored Nomadic, looking resplendent in the lovely White Star Line livery, and unmistakeably a sibling of the Titanic and her other family members in that noble lost line of ships.
At more than 100 years old, the Nomadic has lived out a diverse and busy life – including serving in both World Wars, evacuating troops, working as a minelayer, becoming a tug, changing owners and being renamed.
The Nomadic eventually settled into her twilight years as a floating restaurant, nightclub and cinema on the Seine.
However, she had become little more than a dilapidated, shabby rustbucket before interest in returning her home emerged.
Sold for just £171,320 (€250,001) to the Northern Ireland Department for Social Development, the Nomadic was returned to Belfast in 2006, limping back into port, and the start of a long and complex restoration process, at a cost of more than £7 million (€8.18m).
As such, the Nomadic today is unrecognisable from the near-wreck she was, with her funnel and superstructure rebuilt after having been removed to allow her to pass under Parisian bridges, and fully restored to her initial, glorious condition.
Stepping aboard, the Nomadic has all of the luxurious touches of the day for her esteemed passengers, with smart touches all around, from the neat wood panelling and ornate metal grilles to the little details that remind you that this ship was for many of her passengers the gateway to luxury aboard the RMS Titanic.
I strolled her neat decks, walking where previous passengers (including Charlie Chaplin, “The Unsinkable” Molly Brown, and Elizabeth Taylor) would have walked, getting a real sense of the ship’s past from the well-thought out presentations, and becoming aware of the ship’s history and diverse life throughout her impressive 233’ 6″ length.
Whether empathising with the small, plain space for a few third-class passengers, or nosily noting that the captain had little more than a glorified broom cupboard for a cabin, the Nomadic was a delight to visit, and it’s wonderful that the last remnant of the White Star Line is such a beauty, and back home in Belfast.
Since the Titanic Centre is mere feet away, I also took in the great Titanic Walking Tour throughout the vast Titanic Quarter, retracing the ship’s building, Belfast’s role as a global port, the life of the formerly bustling Harland & Wolff shipyards – and its modern life, too, with film studios and an armoury there that play a vital role in the hit TV show, Game of Thrones.
As I’d easily fill a couple of pages on this entertaining tour alone, and the great information I learned from its “Titanorak” expert, suffice it to say that it’s well worth dropping anchor for after disembarking the Nomadic – and then, of course, there’s also the Titanic Belfast centre itself to see …