The Titanic Story in Belfast

Go back about 100 years in America. Canal Street and Brooklyn have just been connected by the Manhattan Bridge; Henry Ford is toasting to 10,000 cars sold

In Ireland, the echoes of hammering rivets bounce from the shipyard building RMS Titanic.

The shipyard is the massive Harland and Wolff in Belfast, where a local workforce of 15,000 men are constructing Titanic and sister ship RMS Olympic.

From almost anywhere in this industrial city, the ships loom large. “It would have been like the Cape Canaveral of the time,” explains Úna Reilly, cofounder of the Belfast Titanic Society.

Titanic Belfast
Titanic Belfast

Over 100 years later, Titanic Belfast stands as the natural conclusion to an enduring local – and global ­– narrative. It is a symbol of pride in the city’s shipbuilding heritage; it’s a glittering pillar of technology and a star of architectural achievement.

When James Cameron, director of Titanic, visited the museum, he was blown away by it. “It’s really quite phenomenal,” he said. “It’s a magnificent, dramatic building; it’s the biggest Titanic exhibition in the world.”

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A design to remember

The first sight of the building catches visitors by surprise, with the striking sun-catching plates of aluminium meant to echo waves and ice. Titanic Belfast’s architects state that “the final form encompasses all that that went before: crystal, iceberg, star and bow.”

Or as one blogger put it: “it’s like Frank Gehry (award winning architect of the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao) meets White Star Line meets Star Wars.”

The 90ft hull-a-likes are the same height as Titanic from keel to bridge, while it can hold over 3,547 visitors at any one time – the same number as the capacity of the ship. Between April and September 2012, it welcomed over 500,000 visitors through its doors.

Inside the galleries

Nine distinct galleries make up the exhibition, from setting the scene in industrial Belfast all the way through to where the Titanic lies today. It also includes CGI, audio, special effects, and a “3D cave”, which gives a floor-by-floor tour of the ship, from engine room to captain’s bridge.

The sinking and tales of survivors is poignant, while exploring Titanic’s subsequent place in history covers the movies to the myths. The last stop is Titanic’s final stop: a theatre and observation centre of footage from the wreck.

Simply put, Titanic Belfast is big in scale, investment and ambition. Or, as Clíodhna Craig, CEO of Titanic Foundation says: “It’s going to empower people to think big… just like the guys in the shipyard did 100 years ago.”

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