Belfast remains especially proud of its industrial heritage, and yet its proudest and probably historically defining moment is also its biggest failure.
The RMS Titanic was in its time the largest ship ever built. Conceived in 1907, it was one of two ships made to replace the SS Teutonic and the SS Majestic, then the oldest ships still in operation with White Star Line. The intention was to out do Cunard, which had just developed the two fastest passenger ships in the world, the RMS Lusitania and the RMS Mauretania. Inspired by the competition, plans for the ship would promptly swell to unprecedented proportions. An ambitious budget of £3,000,000 was contracted to Harland and Wolff, whose trusty relationship with White Star Line dated back to 1867, the letters of agreement signed and authorisation given for the immediate construction of the Titanic.
For Queen’s Island to accommodate construction on such an awesome scale, three of its major slipways were destroyed and two, much larger (the largest ever created) and exacting slipways were carved-out. 15,000 men slaved for 26 relentless months on the two ships (construction of the RMS Olympic began simultaneously) in arduous and dangerous conditions. 246 people were injured and nine killed, overall, in the building of the Titanic. On completion, the mighty ship measured 882 feet in length, 92 feet in breadth and 104 feet in height. It contained eight, class-based passenger decks and allowed for a total capacity of 3,457 people (including an 892 capacity for crew members).
Despite the fact that it was launched from Belfast and safety tested in Irish waters, it took its first and last commercial voyage from Southampton in England, on April 14, 1912. On route toNew York City, the Titanic famously collided with a colossal iceberg (of roughly half its size) on its starboard side, ripping through five of its watertight compartments in the process. Within three hours the ship was altogether submerged in the icy waters of the North Atlantic Ocean. Those lucky enough to find room on the lifeboats (seats were allocated in accordance to the strict policy of “women and children first”) arrived at their destination on the RMS Carpathia three days later. Those who fell in the freezing water died within minutes from hypothermia. Of the 2224 passengers on board, only 710 survived, less than one third.
There are numerous monuments associated with the “virtually unsinkable” passenger liner in Belfast, most of them situated within the Titanic Quarter, which stretches along the east side of the River Lagan. Samson and Goliath, towering, twin yellow cranes stationed in the shipyard of Harland and Wolff, push-up the skyline. The Harland and Wolff Drawing Offices, where the designs for the Titanic were first drawn up, can be viewed from here. The SS Nomadic, the only surviving vessel of the White Star Line, can be viewed from theHamilton Graving Dock, nearby. Most prominently however, is the Titanic Belfast, a monumental visitor centre constructed in the angular form of the ships’ prow.
1. The Titanic Belfast (Opening Times: Monday to Saturday from 9.00 a.m. – 7.00 p.m. Sunday from 10.00 a.m. – 7.00 p.m. in summer / Monday – Sunday from 10.00 a.m. – 5.00 pm in winter) Prices: Adults £13.50 / Children £6.75 (children under 5 go free) / Senior citizens £9.75 / Students £9.50 / Family (2 adults and 2 children) £34.00
2. The Titanic and Olympic slipways, where from the Titanic was launched into its one and only voyage over 100 years ago, are just adjacent to Titanic Belfast.
3. The Thompson Pump House and Graving Dock, where the Titanic was fitted out, offers free admission, but charges for guided tours (Opening Times: Monday to Sunday from 10.00 a.m. – 6.00 p.m.) Prices: Adults £5.00 / Children £3.00 (children under 5 go free) / Senior citizens £4.00