Belfast & Castletown for Titanic

By Philip A. Shart
This item appears on page 29 of the November 2015 issue.

It was at the midpoint of our “Exploring Scotland & Ireland” tour when we got to visit the Titanic Experience Museum (1 Olympic Way, Queen’s Rd., Titanic Quarter, Belfast, Northern Ireland, BT3 9EP, U.K.; phone +353 21 481 4412,

Traveling with Collette (Pawtucket, RI; 888/292-3150,, Aug. 5-16, 2015, we had experienced the chilly, windswept Scottish Highlands, attended the Military Tattoo in Edinburgh and enjoyed a smooth crossing on the Irish Sea, and we were now in Belfast. I was really looking forward to this.

Years ago I had done a research paper on the Titanic for an English class. I got hooked on the subject and have continued to read everything I can find about that ill-fated ship.

Its sinking marked the end of an era. During the early 20th century, man had made tremendous and wondrous progress. He thought he was invincible! On April 15, 1912, that illusion came to an end when the largest and most advanced, “unsinkable” ship sank.

There I was in the Harland & Wolff shipyard, standing near the slipway where the Titanic was built. 

For a few moments I pictured the scene in the shipyard on May 31, 1911, at 12:14 p.m. I envisioned the pandemonium of an estimated 100,000 onlookers cheering and waving flags as, with the help of gravity and 28 tons of tallow, soap and train oil, the 882-foot-long hull slid down the slipway. In just 62 seconds, the Titanic was launched.

From there, our group went on to the award-winning “Titanic Experience.” Housed in a building whose shape makes you think of an iceberg, the exhibition complex’s nine galleries portray the story of the Titanic.

I wandered from room to room, looking at photos of the ship’s 100-foot-long dining room with Jacobean-style alcoves and leaded windows and the tiled arabesque splendor of the Turkish baths — a true, reserved elegance, not today’s Vegas glitz.

Words cannot describe the pictures of the public rooms with marble fireplaces, hand-carved mahogany paneling and crystal lace chandeliers hanging from molded ceilings. I stood in replicas of staterooms of all three classes. 

On a screen, I saw the panoramic 3-D view of the ship’s opulent forward staircase with the ornate gilded balustrades, the walls paneled in oak. On the upper landing was a relief carving of the figures of Honour and Glory “crowning Time,” with an inset clock set at 2:20, the time the Titanic sank. I could picture formally dressed passengers descending the stairs on their way to dine.

That exhibition is about the ship, but there is also the human element, the poignant stories of the more than 1,500 souls who went down with the vessel, and these are shared in a display at the Ulster American Folk Park (2 Mellon Rd., Castletown, Omagh, Co. Tyrone, Northern Ireland, BT78 5QU, U.K.; phone +44 0 28 8224 3292,

There you can see passengers’ clothing that was typical for that time as well as uniforms that stewards wore and life jackets. There were pictures and biographies of some of the passengers who had boarded the ship at Queenstown. Some survived, but others didn’t.

I looked at the photos and wondered about the reactions of these people as they realized that the unthinkable was happening. 

Even with all my readings, I learned two new facts at the Ulster display. The port door in the hull had been opened, as it was believed that the lifeboats would return and more passengers would be able to get into them. Unfortunately, it never happened. As the list to port increased, the door couldn’t be closed, so as the bow went down, seawater rushed in, increasing the port list even more.

In addition, when the funnel broke off, it left a hole where it joined the deck, so as the ship sank lower, water rushed into the hole and into the bowels of the ship, further increasing the speed of sinking.

For the entire tour, I paid $5,478, including airfare (Miami-Edinburgh and Dublin-Miami), insurance, optional tours and a $150 rebate for having previously taken trips with Collette.


Tamarac, FL