A trip to Belfast would not be complete without paying tribute to the hard-working shipbuilders of Titanic and to those lives lost.
For our last day in Belfast and Northern Ireland, we chose the Titanic Belfast attraction. Titanic Belfast is a visitor attraction opened in 2012, a monument to Belfast’s maritime heritage on the site of the former Harland & Wolff shipyard in the city’s Titanic Quarter where the RMS Titanic was built. It tells the stories of the ill-fated Titanic, which hit an iceberg and sank during her maiden voyage in 1912, and her sister ships RMS Olympic and HMS Britannic. The building contains more than 130,000 sq ft of floor space, most of which is occupied by a series of galleries, private function rooms and community facilities.
Dave and I grabbed a taxi from the hotel and decided on the deluxe tour. We purchased the White Star Premium Pass which offered us discounts in two restaurants and gift store and entry to the attraction as well as an hour walking tour and entrance to the Nomadic, tender boat.
We had a couple of hours before our guided tour, so we were outfitted with headphones and started on the very extensive, multi-floor exhibition. They begin with conditions in Belfast in the early 1900’s and how the company was formed, how the ship’s plans were created and the how the ship was built.
There was even a gentle, but very clever ride, reminiscent of Disney ride showing the building process with narration of a riviter behind it. Such backbreaking work in the shipyard.
Each display was VERY well done going into as much detail as you wanted or as little. Every floor was crowded, but not to the point you couldn’t get to each visual and enjoy it.
Obviously, the end of that fateful cruise was looming and they did a wonderful job of showering the hard work each shipyard worker endured and how the design of the ship was created using the best materials available to them at the time.
As that fateful day neared, the rooms darkened and the tone changed from hopeful and excited to dread and fear as the alerts about icebergs were sent…ignored, then disaster as a result. One felt your heart grow heavy as you listened to first-hand accounts from survivors as you looked at some of the last photographs of the ship ever recorded frozen in time.
We had to end our tour right then because the guided tour was about to start. Libby, our guide, was a perky Irish Lass who told us about a lot of the symbolism surrounding the construction of the attraction and took us through the Harland and Wolf buildings where the designs of Titanic were drawn. Those buildings are now a very expensive hotel.
There was amazing attention-to-detail put into the design of the attraction as well as the grounds surrounding it. The wooden benches outside spelled out the last message of Morse code from the Titanic. The outline of the entire ship was embedded into the pavement where the ship sat under construction. I was a amazed how narrow it actually was, but it was very long.
There were vertical steel beams to indicate where the Titanic and her sister ship, the Olympic would has sat in the shipyard. However, they indicated the height of these beams were only about a quarter of the actual height of each ship.
Even the design of the main building itself represented the full height of the bows (front) of each ship and they were covered with thousands of steel plates representing the workers. Really well done.
Of course most everyone is aware of some of the “famous/rich” people who were on board like the Asters, Molly Brown, etc., but our guide told us about the Sage family. They had 11 members of their family on board. All went down with the ship. Only one body was recovered….a 12-year old boy from the family. All of those stories need to be told.
After the guided tour, Dave and I enjoyed lunch in one of the four cafes and had a terrific ham and cheese quiche. Then we continued with the rest of the exhibit.
They continue with the inquests after the sinking including the findings in the number of life boats which no doubt resulted in numerous deaths. The movies made about the sinking and the technical advancements in not only ship building, but underwater discoveries were also explored.
A highlight for me was the astonishing way they displayed the wreckage in the sea floor. They had a glass floor in a darkened theater and lit the scanned images underneath it as if you were in a submersible floating over there ghostly wreckage. It was brilliant and sad.
The last part of the tour was spent touring the SS Nomadic. It’s the last remaining ship of the White Star line sitting in dry dock. It was mainly used a tender to transfer passengers from ship to shore and transferred passengers from Titanic on it’s last stop in France before it sunk. The last time for many to be on dry land.
We were both pretty pooped after a long day on our feet, so we grabbed a taxi back to the hotel and decided to eat dinner in the hotel for the first time. It was great and I asked to take a piece of lemon meringue pie back to the room. They wrapped up a plate including a pitcher of cream for me to take.
Oh, and I now have Dave’s cold. Cheers!
Today, Dave and I were following the paper trail left behind by our ancestors in Northern Ireland. We spent three quarters of the day at PRONI (the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland) here in Belfast. Like our national archives in USA.
Dave had arranged for us to meet up with Dr. William Roulston. Roulston is Research Director of the Ulster Historical Foundation and is a renown author of numerous books about the Ulster area.
We were honored William agreed to meet us and generously spent an hour of his time showing us the ropes of the process at PRONI. Unfortunately, the electronic process of requesting documents was down today, so it was a paper process all the way around.
Upon arriving at the PRONI building, we were required to register and get ID cards, which needed a photo being taken and having a card to gain access to areas throughout the building. Then we had to place all belongings into a locker. We were only allowed cameras, a notebook, pencils and any meds needed to be carried in a clear plastic bag they provided. Everything else had to go into the lockers so that documents could not be smuggled out in any bags. Security was everywhere here.
You then went into the Search room, where you’d request the documents needed. You’re then given a table number (where you’ll view the documents) for the Reading room. Once they have found your requested documents, they post your table number on a digital board. You go up to the reading room desk, sign out your documents, then go to your assigned table to read them.
Luckily, Dave had done his research on the PRONI website and had written down some of the exact PRONI document ID numbers we needed, so that part was easy and pain free.
We requested multiple records for both McCausland and Magee/Macghee and were overwhelmed by the fragility of these live documents and the shear history contained in them. The paper was so old it either crackled and cracked when you opened it, or was so thin, it felt like touching fabric.
The documents that made our jaws drop were:
- The will of Alexander McCausland in 1675. Dave’s possible 14th great grandfather.
- an extensive family tree created in 1830 dating back to Baron McCausland, chief of Clan McCausland in Scotland.
- A bargain and sale document between George Macghee and his brother Patrick with William Stevenson for land and premises in Strabane in 1729. What was so cool about this was that all three signed the document and all three had their wax seal on it.
- A lease between Sir George Hamilton (Duke of Baronscourt) and David Macghee for land in Strabane in 1671. This doc also had s single wax seal on it that was almost complete and had detailed graphic on the seal, probably the Duke’s signature ring.
The most exciting document for both of us was a bargain and sale between George Macghee and his wife Rebecca Macghee with Oliver McCausland. BOTH of our families recorded on a document for property sold between them. We had the security guard take our photo with the brittle document. So neat!
Then I remembered a document we both already knew about and had read a transcript of it online that I really wanted to see the original of. It’s the will of George Macghee from 1742. PRONI had it and I wanted to see it.
They brought it to me and I was shocked it wasn’t even in a protective envelope, but was all folded up. Dave took a video of me opening this very large document, but I’m having trouble transferring videos on the road, so I’ll post it once I’m home. Dave thinks the “paper” is some kind of canvas. It’s VERY thick and had a texture to it.
What is so unusual about this will is that it’s a grandfather (George) recognizing his illegitimate grandson in his will and also providing for him after his death. Pretty extraordinary, expecially for that time period and in Northern Ireland.
This day left me gobsmacked, as they like to say in the UK. Just blown away at reading these long-forgotten documents and signatures of our possible relatives. I have to continue to say “possible” until we find out for sure. Until we’re proven completely wrong, they could still be potential relatives. We did pay to have copies made of some of the documents and we were allowed to take photos.
Either way, it was a great experience. And we needed a Guinness! So we took a taxi back go the hotel to freshen up, then went back to White’s Tavern for dinner. However. after we arrived and Dave went to order us dinner, they informed him they were only serving drinks. So, we moved on to other pub. They weren’t serving food either, so we went to a third option, even closer to our hotel and they WERE serving food, so we stayed.
The Thirsty Goat has a mix of modern and vintage decor with wood paneled ceiling, plush cushioned booths, and wooden menus. I chose the beef fillet special and Dave ordered up the Irish Stew. Probably the best meal I’ve had in Belfast so far. The two Guinness helped and then I applied Sticky Toffee Pudding directly to the hips. Oooo…so good! They even had some life music tonight. A man playing guitar and he threw in some Irish tunes, so it was a fun night.
This morning Dave and I checked out of Fir Tree Hotel. I can honestly say we will not miss it and will not be visiting again. You’ll notice we haven’t posted any photos of it or our room. Onward…
We are now headed to Belfast to drop the car off at the airport, get a cab into the city and check in to our hotel for the next three nights.
Dave indicated I had not taken a photo of him driving the car. I took a short video in Scotland of him, but realized he was right. So here it is!
He did a great job driving, despite my nagging him he was too close to the curbs and hedges and a GPS/SatNav that died and having to use a different one. We really liked the Audi we got upgraded to by the nice man inside the airport at the Hertz desk. He was great even taking us outside to let us know where we’d be returning the car.
Dave got us safely back to Belfast airport today. It was a shame the young men who man the outside Hertz rental car pick up & return were so unhelpful and rude. Both at pick up and return, they were unpleasant to deal with.
Anyway…the taxi driver and hotel receptionist more than made up for the airport dudes. Both were extremely friendly and helpful and answered all our questions.
We were both hungry and walked over to White’s Tavern for lunch and a pint. I had Bangor’s (sausages) and Mash (potatoes) and Dave had fish n’ chips and we both had Guinness. What a cool pub. Supposedly haunted, it originally was established in 1630. Which means it has been a pub since around the times the Pilgrim’s landed. Think about that.
Our first order of business after checking in at The Premier Inn, was to take a hop-on, hop-off bus tour of the city. We walked to the first stop and were glad to see the tour was just about to leave. We sat on the outside, upper deck of the double-decker bus and were whisked around the city for an hour and a half tour.
Unbeknownst to us, there was a woman’s rights march today in Belfast and the bus had to wait for the march a bit and drive a slightly different route.
The tour showed the good, the bad, and ugly. Unfortunately, there is still some major bad and ugly in Belfast with the religious differences and segregation. There has been peace, but you can tell the unrest could bubble up at any time. After photographing a few of the murals dedicated to those who sacrifices or were innocently killed, I stopped photographing them. I hate war, I especially hate violence, and I wasn’t crazy about it all being a focus of a tour bus. It is, however, part of Belfast’s past and should be remembered to not repeat in the future.
There are some historical buildings in Belfast NOT associated with The Troubles, and they were pointed out and they drove through what could be considered the “slums” of the city as well as the more affluent neighborhoods. It was uncomfortable to me to not only take the tour bus down the streets of these poorer neighborhoods, but for the tour guide to be talking on the speaker about how poorly they live….while driving down the street and people who live their walking about. Edinburgh, this was not. And perhaps that is WHY they do it. They need to show the world.
We also drove to the Northern Ireland parliament building which is very grand, but way outside the main city.
After the tour we walked around the city for awhile and did a wee bit of shopping. Dave picked up a free Guinness hat and I bought one of the two things I’ve been looking for in Ireland: a Claddagh ring.
There is an old Irish saying that goes, “With These hands, I give you my heart and crown it with my love.” The Claddagh ring consists of a heart with a crown held by two hands symbolizing love, loyalty and friendship. There are specific ways one is supposed to wear them as well.
Dave is still not quite over his cold and I was starting to get a sore throat so we cut our night short and hope to get some rest.