Tag Archives: White Star Line Titanic

Entrance Tickets – The Titanic Experience

“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’

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?

Read the Full Story Here…

Ireland – Cobh Harbour and Cathedral

Cobh Waterfront Ireland

“I went to Cork, Ireland, and stood on the dock some of my ancestors had left from.  I felt their ghosts gather round me, and I cried to imagine what it must have felt like – leaving that beautiful land and those beloved people, knowing it was forever” – Luanne Rice

After a lunch of sea food chowder and Guinness the sun was shining as we returned to the streets of Cobh and took a walk along the charming waterfront.  With brightly coloured houses and  working boats with  barnacle encrusted hulls resting in the harbour we walked among fishing nets and lobster pots drying in the sun and it reminded me of the coastal villages of Cantabria and Asturias in northern Spain.

Close to the Heritage Centre there was a statue of Annie Moore and her brothers. Annie Moore?  Well,  Annie Moore was the first person to be admitted to the United States of America through the new immigration centre at Ellis Island in New York on 1st  January 1892.

Annie Moore Cobh

From 1848 and for the next one hundred years, over six million people emigrated from Ireland and over two and a half million departed from Cobh, making it the single most important port of emigration in the country.

This mass exodus from Ireland was largely down to poverty, crop failures, the land system and a lack of opportunity.  For many people Queenstown (Cobh) was the last sight they had of Ireland and for some it was the last land that they ever saw because this was the last port of call for RMS Titanic before it began its fateful journey in April 1912 and an unfortunate and terminal encounter with an unforgiving iceberg somewhere in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.

Another tragically notable ship to be associated with the town was the Cunard passenger liner RMS Lusitania which was sunk by a German U-boat off the Old Head of Kinsale while on route from the USA to Liverpool on 7th May 1915. One thousand, two hundred passengers died and seven hundred were rescued. The survivors and the dead alike were brought to Cobh, and the bodies of over one hundred who perished in the disaster lie buried in the Old Church Cemetery just north of the town.

Cobh Cathedral

After the harbour we made our way to the Cathedral and stopped briefly to chat to a coach driver who was killing time waiting for his tour group to return.  He enquired about our plans and itinerary and warned us not to be fooled by this afternoon’s pleasant sunshine because, in his words “the next three days are going to be absolutely shite…”.  That was nice of him, if it was me I would have said something encouraging even if it wasn’t true!

It was a tough climb to the Cathedral up a set of steep steps set into the hillside.  St Colman’s Cathedral is the second highest in Ireland, a few metres shorter than St John’s Cathedral in Limerick, and its elevated position makes it seem even taller as it looks out over the town, the harbour and the Atlantic Ocean beyond.

It is a fairly modern Cathedral, less than two hundred years old, built in the Gothic style and its interior is impressive indeed, soaring columns, stained glass windows and opulent decoration, we visited the Cathedral and all of the side chapels and towers and when we were satisfied that we had seen all there was to see we left and took the steep climb down back to the harbour.

RMS Titanic Postcard

Finally we were going to visit the Titanic experience, a small museum housed in the old White Star Line booking office and embarkation jetty.  We were keen to do this because in the previous year we had visited the Titanic museum and exhibition in Belfast and we were interested to see how this compared.

It is much smaller of course and instead of rides and reconstructions this is a virtual reality tour which was easily worth the cost of admission but couldn’t possibly compare with Belfast.

More about the Titanic next time…

By late afternoon we were ready to return to Cork so made our way back to the train station and the journey back where we were faced with another stiff climb from sea level to the top of the town (about ten minutes or so) and the Montenotte Hotel.

Kim, Richard and Pauline went directly back but I stopped off in a pub to watch the European Championship football match between Ireland and Sweden.  The place was crammed full, standing room only and the roof nearly blew off when Ireland scored the opening goal and there was a collective roar that could be heard probably in Stockholm.  Later Sweden equalised and I imagine there was a roar in Stockholm that could be heard in Cork and that poured cold water over the gathering but I had a good time and a complimentary portion of sausage and chips.

Later we dined at the hotel and whilst the others had a full meal but after my unexpected sausage and chips I could only manage a small bowl of chowder.

Cork Harbour Wall Mural

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).

IMG_3571

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

Northern Ireland, Belfast and the Titanic Quarter

Titanic Experience Belfast

Building and Sinking of the Titanic…

“I cannot imagine any condition which would cause a ship to founder. I cannot conceive of any vital disaster happening to this vessel.  Modern shipbuilding has gone beyond that.” – Captain Edward Smith

“You could actually walk miles along the decks and passages covering different ground all the time.  I was thoroughly familiar with pretty well every type of ship afloat but it took me 14 days before I could, with confidence, find my way from one part of that ship to another.”  – Charles Lightoller, Titanic Officer.

Everyone knows the story of the RMS Titanic.  When it was launched in 1912 it was the largest ship ever built.  It was the biggest thing ever built that moved. It weighed sixty thousand tonnes and its two thousand one inch thick steel hull plates were held together with three million rivets.  It was proudly proclaimed as the safest ship ever built.

It might have been considered unsinkable but on its maiden voyage the unthinkable happened and it sunk after colliding with an iceberg in the North Atlantic and Captain Edward Smith was obviously absolutely hopeless at making accurate maritime predictions.

Edward Smith

He may not also have been much of a sailor either.  In January 1889 approaching New York on her final White Star sailing, he managed to run RMS Republic aground.  In 1890 he ran the White Star RMS Coptic aground in Rio De Janeiro and in 1909 he ran another White Star liner, the RMS Adriatic, aground also in New York.

In 1911 as Captain of the White Star ship RMS Olympic he nearly crushed a tug in New York harbour and on the only voyage of the Titanic there was a near collision in Southampton with a steamer  which by strange coincidence just happened to be called the New York.

To be fair collisions in the Atlantic Ocean and in the sea ports were quite common because as the cruise author John Maxtone-Graham wrote, “There were many more close calls on the western ocean than passengers ever heard about”.  This was the case because the Atlantic Ocean was significantly busier than it is today.  Cruise fans today well might tell you that it is the only way to travel, but in the first half of the twentieth century if you were travelling to the United States, it was.

Given his unfortunate record of running into things and damaging company property it might seem odd therefore that White Star Line trusted Captain Smith with the biggest ship ever to take to the seas.  It may also not have escaped reader’s notice that most of these incidents involve New York in one way or another and that was exactly where the Titanic was heading.  Even a raging sceptic would have to admit that these were bad omens.

Anyway, what was a disaster for the White Star Line, the Harland and Wolff shipyard and the one thousand five hundred people who died that night, every cloud has a silver lining and the new Titanic quarter in Belfast is a runaway success story as the city continues to regenerate itself and become a serious tourist destination.

It was cool this morning but the sun was shining as we left the hotel and made our way to the banks of the River Lagan.  This is another area that has been seriously improved.  Twenty years ago this was by all accounts a desperately unsightly area with vast mud banks that were unattractive, smelly and dirty but massive investment has funded the construction of waterside embankments and a new weir controls the levels of the water in the river to keep it permanently full and attractive.

Belfast Beacon Of Hope

On the way we passed by the Beacon of Hope Statue and then Belfast’s Big Fish which commemorates the Lagan regeneration project and then we crossed the river and made our way to the museum.  From the outside this is a magnificent structure designed in such a way that captures perfectly the spirit of the shipyards, ships, the sea, ice and the White Star Line’s logo.

This wasn’t the first time that I had visited a museum about a ship that sank on its first time at sea because in 2004 I visited the  Scheepvaartmuseum or Maritime Museum in Amsterdam which has a full sized replica of the three masted ‘Amsterdam’, a ship of the Dutch East India Company, which in its maiden voyage sank in a storm in the English Channel in winter of 1749.

Actually, it isn’t that unusual for ships to go down on their maiden voyage and Wikipedia lists dozens of them it is just that the story of the Titanic has caught the imagination of the World and after one hundred years shows no sign of running out of steam.

Titanic Experience Belfast