BY JUDY ENRIGHT
SPECIAL TO THE BIR
Is there anyone on earth who hasn’t heard about the Titanic hitting an iceberg on its maiden voyage in 1912 with the resulting loss of more than 1,500 lives? If so, the uninformed must be living in the back of beyond! It would be nearly impossible to miss hearing something about the ill-fated liner after all the books – reportedly more than 500 – films, and TV exposure since that long-ago mid-April night and early morning in the Atlantic.
A friend and I visited Belfast this spring to see what is reportedly the world’s largest Titanic exhibit and Ireland’s most popular tourist attraction. I believe that both are true. The four-level Titanic Experience is located in an enormous building on the River Lagan and was designed to resemble a ship’s prow and reflect Belfast’s shipbuilding history. The fascinating, detailed exhibit weaves the liner’s story into the history of Belfast and environs, and highlights assorted local industries and residents.
By 1900, the Harland and Wolff shipyard where Titanic was built was the largest in the world, covering some 80 acres and employing about 10,000 workers. We learned that the original name for the shipyard was Queen’s Island Shipbuilding, but in 1888 that was changed to Harland and Wolff Ltd. And we learned that after the Great Famine of the 1840s, the rural economy declined because people flocked to Belfast to find work in the linen mills, docks, shipyards and other industries that employed many workers. Between 1851 and 1901, Belfast’s population grew from 87,062 to 349,180.
I’ve been to many tourist attractions in Ireland over the years and had been to Belfast before, but I was beyond excited to see the Titanic Experience. I simply could not wait! Belfast is booming again as it did at the beginning of the 20th Century as evidenced by the 2.26-million room nights that were sold last year! New hotels, catering to the luxury as well as to the price-conscious market, are popping up in and around the city.
We booked a 1 o’clock reservation online for the Titanic Experience and, because I had earlier met a woman from Belfast who recommended the recently opened 119-room Titanic Hotel next to the exhibit, we stopped there first. We were ushered for lunch into an enormous and bright room – Drawing Office Two – where Harland and Wolff designers once worked to create massive vessels like Titanic.
Because we had a reservation for the exhibit, we chose lunches that should not take much time to prepare. Over an hour later, lunch arrived, apparently delayed thanks to a large group in an adjoining conference room that was catered to first. It was a small glitch and we couldn’t have chosen a lovelier place to wait. I did have to run across the plaza to reschedule our reservation but the Titanic Experience staff was accommodating and, thankfully, there was no problem.
The Titanic Experience is detailed, fascinating, extremely well done and definitely worth making a special trip to Belfast to see. We both really enjoyed the entire exhibit. I especially liked standing on the clear, glass-paneled floor at the end and looking down to see the Titanic as it appears today seeming to pass underneath.
We learned a lot that day. Did you know, for instance, that more than 3-million rivets were used to build the ship? There is much to see and learn at this attraction.
Parking, food, and an ATM are all available on site and there is also an excellent shop where you can purchase Titanic souvenirs.
For future visitors, my friend and I agreed, the best bet would be to stay overnight locally so you can arrive at the building when it first opens, miss the midday crowds ,and have time to see and read everything – and there’s a lot to see. By mid-afternoon on the day we were there, the building was jam-packed.
We also booked tickets online before going and recommend doing that to avoid crowds.
For more information, visit titanicbelfast.com.
We read recently that Premier Exhibitions, an Atlanta-based company that retrieved some 5,500 artifacts from the wreck of the Titanic, has filed for bankruptcy and offered to sell some of the merchandise to pay debts. Also for sale are rights to salvage more relics from the wreck. The remains of the RMS Titanic were found about two-and-a-half miles under the surface of the North Atlantic Ocean 73 years after it sank. Most of the artifacts are kept in undisclosed locations with about 1,500 on display in shows in Las Vegas, Orlando, and Flint, MI, as well as in Hungary and China.
The 147th British Open Carnoustie was held this year in Scotland, but next year’s event is scheduled for the Royal Portrush course in Northern Ireland. This will be only the second time in the Open’s 150-year history that the event will be staged outside Scotland or England. More than 175,000 attended this year’s event and set a record for an Open course.
North and West Coast Links is currently putting together golf packages specifically tailored for the 2019 Open Championship. Visit 2019portrush.theopen.com for details and also northandwestcoastlinks.com.
According to Travel and Leisure magazine’s readers, Ballyfin Demesne in Co. Laois took top honors in the World’s Best castle resort category.
Other Irish properties and their rankings: Sheen Falls, Co. Kerry, No. 3; Ashford Castle, Co. Mayo, No. 5; Ballynahinch, Co. Galway, No. 8; Dromoland Castle, Co. Clare, No. 9, and Aghadoe Heights Hotel and Spa, No. 10. It’s interesting that this year 27 of the top 100 top-rated hotels in the world were in Asia.
Readers choose hotels based on facilities, location, service, food and overall value.
Have to admit I never met an oyster I didn’t like, so I was delighted to see that Connemara Oysters LTD offers oyster farm tours that take about an hour and are suitable for all including children over six.
David Keane, director, said the tours continue to run in the autumn and cater for groups as well as private parties. There are also scheduled tours at the weekends. Extended tours – with walks on the seashore to the oyster beds -are available during spring tides.
For more information, visit dkconnemaraoysters.com.
There’s nothing like a good festival and autumn is an especially good time to attend one because it’s the shoulder season and things are a bit quieter across the countryside.
• A Taste of West Cork will be held Sept. 7-to-16 to celebrate the bounty and beauty of this stretch of the Wild Atlantic Way. There will be something offered for every palate and many of the events are free or have minimum charges. See atasteofwestcork.com for more.
• Dublin Fringe Festival is Sept. 8 to 23 - day and night - with 80 shows in 26 venues. There will be circus, club comedy, dance, gigs, cabaret, live art performance, music and party. See fringefest.com for details.
• Dublin Theatre Festival, Europe’s longest-running theatre spectacle, runs from Sept. 27 to Oct. 14 with international productions, Irish work, theatre for children, as well as critical talks and artist development programs.
• The Portrush International Air Show with aerial displays, entertainment, a food village, arts and crafts market and more will be Sept. 1 and 2. For details, visit: airwavesportrush.co.uk
• The Gourmet Greenway’s last event for 2018 – “It’s all about the Mayo Lamb” - is Sept. 10-16 at An Port Mor restaurant in Westport, Co. Mayo. See anportmor.com for details.
• Speaking of oysters, the world-famous Galway International Oyster & Seafood Festival is Sept. 28 to 30. See galwayoysterfestival.com or galwaytourism.ie for more.
Enjoy Ireland whenever and wherever you go, and especially enjoy the cooler temperatures of the autumn.
BY JUDY ENRIGHT