Northern Ireland, Belfast and The Titanic Experience

Titanic Museum Belfast

The Unsinkable and the Unthinkable

“Certainly there was no sailor who ever sailed salt water but who smiled – and still smiles – at the idea of the unsinkable ship” –  Charles Lightoller (Surviving Officer) in ‘Titanic and Other Ships’

The Titanic Museum and Experience has been built on the site of the previous Harland and Wolff workshops  right in front of the slipways that were built for the construction of the Titanic and the sister ship Olympic.  This area which has become the Titanic Quarter was previously called Queen’s Island but twenty years ago it was a no hope area of rotting buildings, dereliction and silted up docks and the transformation is truly remarkable.

Borgo 9.jpg

Inside the building was equally as impressive as the exterior and after collecting our pre booked tickets (10% saving) we made our way through to the exhibition which started with a history of nineteenth century boom town Belfast before taking us to the top floor for a shipyard ride with various displays of the construction process and then descending through various galleries that dealt with the launch, the fitting out, the maiden voyage, the passengers and the sinking.

The exhibition has a good mix of exhibits, interactive displays, full size reconstructions and plenty of information and facts.  My favourite was the story of the riveters who worked in a five man team and were expected to fix six hundred white hot metal rivets in a day.  One man heated it in a furnace before throwing it to a second man called the catcher who collected it in a bucket before passing it to the three man finishing team who hammered it into place.  All of those jobs sound dangerous to me but I imagine the catchers to be the most so.

Titanic Belfast

By the time that we left the final gallery about the search for the ship we were all happy to declare this to be among the best experience museums that we had ever visited and what good value at only £12.50 and I would certainly be happy to recommend anyone to visit this place.

There are many theories about the reason for the sinking.  The Captain has been blamed for being reckless, the White Star Board for trying to set a speed record despite the danger but currently the most popular is the rivets.  Apparently those used at the bow and the stern were made of iron rather than steel and contained high levels of impurities.  They only had a 5 mm tolerance and as a consequence of the collision they shattered and popped their heads and the steel plates of the hull undid like a giant zipper.

From the very day that she was designed she was almost doomed…this (the use of iron rivets) was the Achilles heel of the Titanic.” – Paul Louden-Brown, White Star Line Archivist.

Steering the Titanic

So, everyone knows that the Titanic sank but as we came to the end of the visit I began to think about what if it hadn’t?  To begin with the three millionaire U.S. businessmen who died that night, John Jacob Astor, Benjamin Guggenheim and Isidor Strauss might have gone on to be even more successful and who knows what they might have achieved.  Thomas Andrews, the designer of the ship might have built something even bigger and better and Captain Edward Smith could have carried on crashing into other ships.

For sure I wouldn’t have met the American visitor who was looking at a list of the victims and comparing pictures with a faded photograph that she was holding.  She told me that it was her great uncle who was one who drowned that night.

Titanic (1)

Just maybe someone on board emigrating to the New World might have gone on to be the U.S. President and this isn’t as unlikely as it sounds because thirteen of forty four Presidents (30%) claim ancestral heritage from Ulster (Andrew Jackson, James Knox Polk, James Buchanan, Andrew Johnson, Ulysses S Grant, Chester Alan Arthur, Grover Cleveland, Benjamin Harrison, William McKinley, Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton).

We certainly wouldn’t have had that awful film ‘Titanic’ with Leonardo DiCaprio and we would never have had to endure Celine Dion singing ‘My heart will go on’.  As a point of interest there have been twenty-two films that are directly or indirectly based on the story of the Titanic and if you want my opinion (you are going to get it anyway)  the best of all was ‘A Night to Remember’ made in 1958 and starring Kenneth More playing Second Officer Charles Lightholler (see quote above).


Before leaving the exhibition we had a good value Titanic themed lunch in the ground floor restaurant and then after visiting the slipway overshadowed by Samson and Goliath in the Harland and Wolff shipyard which are claimed to be the two largest free standing cranes in the World and have become a canary yellow symbol of the city.

With warbling Celine Dion ringing in our ears we retraced our steps now back towards the hotel and found the thirty minutes of time that we needed to visit the St George’s indoor market which happened to be a craft fair today before making our way back to the hotel to rendezvous with a taxi and a driver guide who was going to take us on a completely different sort of experience – a tour of the politically troubled areas of West Belfast.

Titanic Experience Belfast


63 responses to “Northern Ireland, Belfast and The Titanic Experience

  1. Love the shot with KIm! 🙂 I’d forgotten you were doing Belfast, Andrew. Obviously impressed? I don’t know anyone who’s been recently who wasn’t. Off to walk the Giant’s Causeway next 🙂


  2. Well, another interesting post, thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. We loved the Titanic Experience too – so well done and fascinating. Did you see SS Nomadic outside, it’s also a great place to spend a couple of hours.


  4. Did not know that 30% of US presidents claimed ties to Ulster. So thanks for that tidbit.

    What does a Titantic themed lunch consist of?


    • It is even higher than that when you include all of Ireland – twenty-two out of forty-four US Presidents (including Barack Abama) have claimed Irish ancestry but some of these claims are a bit dubious.
      The Titanic themed lunch was a either a beef and vegetable pie or a fisherman’s pie but I doubt if either really had very much connection with the Titanic.
      The very top floor of the centre is a banqueting suite decorated and furnished in the style of the 1st class dining room. It isn’t included in the tour.


  5. The museum sounds fascinating.
    Wow. Can’t believe so many presidents had ties to Ulster! 😮


  6. Perhaps we might have been spared the Ronald Reagan experience if the Titanic might not have sunk?


  7. I’m headed to Ireland with my family next month and I wondered if this museum was worth visiting. Thanks for the tips!


  8. Seems like it is a very interesting place, Andrew. Very useful post.


  9. I like your titanic pose photo – did you have to pay extra for it? I actually preferred the outside to the museum!


  10. melissajane14

    Sounds like an awesome experience, and I, too, love the photo of you and Kim 😉 But your next tour of troubled Belfast sounds even more interesting…


  11. Andrew, what happened to the Olympic?


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  18. Finally! Someone who agrees with me about that movie (*Titanic*).

    I had no plans to watch it, but I suggested to my brother-in-law that they should watch *The Ghost and the Darkness* and he made me a deal; they would watch *TGatD* if we would watch *Titanic*.

    I suffered through the movie only to be told they didn’t feel like watching *TGatD*. On the plus side, I was glad whatshisname drown if he was too stupid to get onto the plank.


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  21. You are certainly right about ‘A Night to Remember’ . I don’t think that Kenneth More has ever produced a bad film.


  22. Oh to have been spared Celine Dion


  23. A really fascinating post, Andrew


  24. Just as impressed the second time around Andrew.
    Billy Connolly tells a good story about working in the yards in Glasgow and throwing hot rivets up to the riveters.


  25. And did you buy the tee-shirt with the slogan “It was all right when it left here?” I was asked to buy this for a Thai friend: the Titanic story has travelled far and wide. I agree with you, one of the best museums.


  26. What an interesting place, never knew it existed.
    If I ever get across the sea to Ireland I might give it a go! The nearest I ever got was on a clear day looking across from the Isle of Man.


  27. Another comment re the rivetting. Something they don’t tell in the new Museum but which they told on the old Lagan Boat Tour to the Titanic shipyards (maybe 10 years or so ago) was that the shipyard was a Protestant workplace with few Catholics admitted. When they were, they given jobs as the bottom rivetters. This meant that they constantly had objects fall on them from the top rivetters (sometimes deliberately it is said) often causing serious injury. In the days before the NHS, an oral history of the time remembers one such worker being taken home in a wheelbarrow after his legs were smashed in such a way.


  28. Still never made it to Belfast. John went quite often because of research collaborations with Queens and I always meant to tag along “some day”. Now that’s scuppered for the time being, but when I do get there I shall definitely visit this. You sold it!


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