With the 100th anniversary of the tragic sinking of the Titanic, I got to thinking as to what I may have in my photo archives to contribute to this significant, somber occasion. As it turns out, not too much (ha) BUT I did visit Belfast in Northern Ireland a couple of years ago. What does that have to do with the Titanic, you may ask? Well, you may or may not know that the Titanic was built in Belfast by the company Harland and Wolff ship builders, and I had the opportunity to take a tour (on double-decker bus, no doubt) of this crusty old city and it’s famous ship yards.
Seeing the actual shipyards where the Titanic was built was a bit of a trip – just thinking about all that hard work that went in to building that ship over two years and how such a task, even today, would take such massive feats of engineering. Despite the sinking of that impressive vessel and the 1,500+ lives lost there is a banner displayed on one of the dock buildings that proudly states ‘TITANIC: MADE IN BELFAST’. On one hand, it was probably the most beautiful ship ever made (at least from my understanding of the CGI renderings courtesy of James Cameron), but on the other its generally more famous for its demise, not the grandeur of the ship itself. Paradox or Antithesis? (seriously, which one, if any – I’m a photographer, not a writer).
Our bus left the shipyards and continued the tour of Belfast where we got an decent view of the city – I have to admit, I’ve traveled to and lived in many cities worldwide but Belfast had to be one of the saddest looking places I’ve seen in a long time – and I’m from Ottawa (zing!). Lots of gray faces, decaying buildings, broken windows, and an unsettling amount of CCTV cameras EVERYWHERE. The building of the Titanic could actually have been the best thing going here…Well, I shouldn’t be TOO hard on Belfast – I’m well aware that Northern Ireland has had a very tumultuous past and is only recently experiencing an extended time of peace. From the looks of things, though, and talking with locals, there is still a very palpable tension that smolders between the loyalists and republicans (just mentioning to a few guys at the bar that my grandfather was Manx was enough to get me cold shoulders and into a heated discussion). In any case, I can see that it’s going to take Belfast some time to make a full recovery – and I sincerely hope they do recover – but let’s just say I have no plans to move there (or visit again).
On the upside, I did get to spend a long drinking session on a Saturday afternoon at Belfast’s oldest tavern, White’s. This place was amazing – built in 1670(!) it was chock-full of old Irish posters, postcards, nick-knacks, arched ceilings, and old-Irish men sporting fine caps, sitting in dusty shafts of window light. Half-way in to my 5th Guinness these 20-somethings joined me in the booth and broke out traditional Celtic instruments and whipped the place up into a fury of song and swaying. A really memorable time – I have to thanks the group, Keep ‘er Lit and Annie (owner of the place) who was super kind and took my friends and I out to lunch the next day.
This post went sideways a little, but the timing is still appropriate.