This is the site of the slip where the 885 foot Titanic was built
After a few days in London cadging meals from our English colleagues, we moved on to Dublin, then up to Belfast, a part of Ireland that, somehow, we’d never yet visited. There, Anne Marie found us a flat in the so-called Titanic Quarter.
I never really understood the allure of the Titanic shtick. To me the whole story, as well as the ship herself, seemed a warning parable of human vanity, pride, and stupidity. Nine workers died during her construction and another 250 suffered such shipyard injuries as crushed digits and severed limbs. About 1500 perished when she sank – on her maiden voyage, no less. If I were responsible for designing, building, or sailing her, I wouldn’t be in any rush to brag about it.
And yet, and yet… The Harland & Wolff shipyards in Belfast, where the Titanic, and some titanic sister ships were built, abandoned into derelict status after WW II, was resurrected in the early 2000s, at the cost of hundreds of millions of dollars, as a memorial to Belfast shipbuilding and, of course, to the Titanic.
Titanic memorial building. £17.50 for a tour
But this is what it’s really all about
The slick waterfront development is fairly tacky, and all the renovations in the area have a look and feel of unfulfilled promise, or promise that withered with the onset of the 2008 crash.
Empty condos, vacant storefronts, and grand waterfront walkways gone slightly to seed and inhabited now by skateboarders, oldsters, and drunks. Oh, and tourists. Let us not forget the tourists.
Egged on by a hundred years worth of books about the Titanic,
and by the romantic allure of Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, they come in droves. Lemmings with selfie sticks and pockets full of cash.
Ah well, the remains of the Harland and Wolff years were fascinating.
According to one of the many excellent historical plaques I read, Belfast had never been a deep water port until they dredged the Victoria Channel and made an island with the dredgings, and Harland & Wolff set up their business, which employed 10,000 men in the Titanic’s day, and as many as 35,000 during WW II when the yards were running at maximum capacity. That’ll probably be the extent of the maritime theme on this trip.
Protestant neighborhood, Shankill Road
Much more to our interest, though equally a monument to human vanity, pride, and stupidity, were the neighborhoods, Catholic and Protestant, dating from “The Troubles” of the late 1960s.
Gerry Adams’ headquarters (really)
With a big Bobby Sands mural on its side wall
Inspired by the Civil Rights movement in America, Irish Catholics in Belfast began pushing back against the forces that relegated them to second class status – all the good jobs in the Harland & Wolff shipyard, for example, went to Protestants.
More than 4000 people, many of them civilians, died during The Troubles.
The unrest surged past its tipping point in August 1969, when Bombay Street, in a Catholic neighborhood, was destroyed by rioting.
“Peace Wall” from the Catholic side, Bombay Street
The British Army was deployed to restore order, and by the the time things cooled down, more than forty “Peace Walls” – twenty miles worth – had been built to keep the neighborhoods separate. Distinctive murals cropped up on the Protestant side first, then spread to the Catholic side.
Murals on the International Wall
The astonishing thing to us was the degree to which this segregation exists even today, with security gates from one side of the walls to the other. They close every night.