On Tuesday, May 23, we packed up and headed north for Belfast. First stop: The Titanic Museum, which was amazing. Doesn’t the museum building look somewhat like an iceberg?
The start of our Titanic tour gave us a little background. In the late 1800’s, Belfast was a boom town. The fishing industry was thriving and there were 32 linen mills in the city exporting Irish linen worldwide. Then came the passenger liners…
The photos above show a couple of the first class amenities of the Titanic. Interestingly the Titanic was a British luxury liner operated by the White Star Line, built in an Irish shipyard in Belfast, and partly financed by American investor J. P. Morgan. It was the largest ship at that time and the most luxurious. However, obviously, tragedy struck. Out of 1,303 passengers aboard, 38% were saved. Out of 922 crew members, only 23% were saved.
At least the tragedy resulted in improved passenger ship requirements – emergency drills, better crew training, better communication requirements. Out of all the mistakes which converged to cause the tragedy, the poor emergency communications shocked me the most. The ship closest to the sinking Titanic never received the call for help as the radio operator had gone to bed. (Now, ships have to have someone at the radio 24/7.) And another ship that might have saved more people responded to the call for help with “Shut up!” That radio operator was busy with some other (non-emergency) communications. (Now ship communications are prioritized so that emergency calls are a top priority.)
After a quick lunch in one of the Titanic cafes, we left tragedy behind us and jumped back on our bus to enjoy a city tour. Here’s the Queen’s University of Belfast.
And here’s the student center across the road:
Continuing our city tour, our local guide explained how Belfast, which was plagued by political strife for decades has emerged as a hip, cosmopolitan destination with vibrant arts culture and food scene, rich in Victorian architecture. There are still tensions but the 1960s through 1990s which featured IRA terrorist activities are long gone. Belfast and the rest of the North are part of the British Empire and have followed in the steps of Brexit. The southern Republic of Ireland is a separate country and remains part of the European Union. Seems very strange to have an international border dividing this island, but other than the flags and the type of currency things seem pretty much equivalent and definitely calm.
We arrived at the Fitzwilliam Hotel Belfast and settled in for dinner.
Wednesday morning we took a day trip along the County Antrim Coast. This northern coast is beautiful, in a wild way. The mountains and steep glens are dotted with farms and hamlets and there are panoramic views of the shimmering sea and rocky coastline.
We stopped for lunch at Bushmills Inn just a few meters from Bushmills Distillery, the world’s oldest whiskey distiller.
Next stop: the Giant’s Causeway, a stunning seascape of basalt columns raised by volcanic activity to blanket the shore like thousands of stepping stones.
Back to the hotel, and another yummy dinner. We shared a chateaubriand and a cooking stone!
In the next post, we’ll return to the Republic of Ireland to visit Derry/Londonderry. In the meantime, here’s a map to give you an idea of where we’ve been so far: