Sunday 1 April 2012

Terrific Titanic

Yesterday I visited the spanking new £77million Titanic Belfast visitor attraction.

Am I showing off? Only a little. You see, I booked my opening day ticket back in January when the press office was still advising, if rather vaguely, that 'searchable genealogical records' would be available.

Although this was clarified back in February, I decided to go along anyway. Out of noseyness and architectural interest more than anything else, because I'm not a huge Titanic fan and I have no family connections with the North, let alone Belfast's shipbuilding industry.

So, wary of the hype, I went along, and I'm not in the slightest unhappy that I did so.

Externally, the aluminium-clad building is fantastically curious and photogenic, especially under a (nearly) cloudless blue sky, as it was from mid-afternoon onwards. After catching the four 'hulls' from just about every conceivable angle, I went to join my '4.20pm' queue, only to discover that entry was running 45 minutes behind schedule.

This wasn't to be the first queue I joined. A similar period was spent waiting for the 'suspended car ride through the shipyard', after a 'technical hitch' brought the cars to a standstill.

Once cranked up again, the six-minute ride was a huge anti-climax and, frankly, I felt a bit embarrassed sitting in the futuristic-looking thing.

I didn't feel this 'journey' added anything (other than more time in a queue) to the experience.

But the rest of the exhibition is outstanding. It's beautifully presented, with enormous screens showing historical film and photographs of early 20th-century Belfast and the shipworkers, and the interior of the ship itself. Touchy-feely interactive distractions abound, although I don't think many kids under seven would be entertained for long. Even with older children, parents would need to indulge their offspring with fairly continuous commentary through at least six of the nine galleries.

No detail seems to have been left out. In the Fit-Out and Maiden Voyage galleries (to me, the most interesting after the Boomtown Belfast exhibition area), there were recreations of the first, second and third class cabins, and touchable samples of the carpets, ropes, linens, furniture finish etc. 

Here I learned that there were 45,000 table napkins on board, 18,000 sheets and six pianos, and there were only two bathrooms for all the third class passengers.

I had a quick play on the so-called genealogical  database just to see what it held. Basically, you can search the details of all passengers and crew under all manner of criteria.

So I was able to find out what became of selected passengers (Jeremiah Burke, aged 19, a farm labourer who joined the ship at Queenstown, died... Patrick Canavan, a 21-year-old general labourer met a similar fate) and could search for statistics (only three of the under-14-year-old Irish girls who boarded at Queenstown survived).

You don't need or want a blow-by-blow report of every gallery so I'll keep this report short and sweet. As I was handed my 'souvenir proof of visit' on leaving, I felt that I'd learned a lot more about the Titanic and especially more about the city that built it.

I heartily recommend it, despite the queues and the silly gimmicky car ride.

Titanic update –
Ancestryhas released the following records:
  • Outward Passenger List
  • Crew Records
  • Deaths at Sea
  • Halifax, Canada, Fatality Records
  • Halifax, Canada, Titanic Graves