BELFAST — The building of the Titanic made Belfast a boomtown early in the 20th century, and a hundred years later the Titanic museum is drawing scores back again.
Steps from where the doomed vessel was designed, built and launched, at the Harland and Wolff shipyard on the River Lagan, now sits the 97-million pound (about $180 million) tribute, its 3,000 aluminum panels forming giant triangular sections arranged in something reminiscent of a futuristic cruise ship.
Its proportions, both inside and out, perfectly capture the scale of the — let’s call it titanic — undertaking of building the world’s largest, most luxurious ocean liner.
The painstaking craftsmanship of the ship’s interiors, the man-hours employed to secure every rivet (3 million of them), the supplies required to feed some 2,200 passengers and crew — all are illustrated through a 13,936-square-metre collection of audio, video, CGI, archival items, scale models, reproductions and interactive displays.
Even the ship’s demise was massive, leaving an 13-km-long debris field after it sank. In one exhibit, visitors stand on a glass floor and look to the watery depths below as images of the broken vessel float by, a gaping hole where the central grand staircase had been.
In the Shipyard Ride, visitors are carried through a recreated building site to get an idea of how daunting and dangerous a project it was. Workplace safety had not been established yet, and nine workers died before the ship ever left port.
Titanic Belfast has attracted well over a million visitors, from 128 countries, since it opened in March 2012, just ahead of the centenary of the ship’s sinking. The museum earned an outstanding achievement award earlier this year from the international Themed Entertainment Association, which said the building, inside and out, is “spectacular.”
Even James Cameron, director of the epic eponymous movie, gave it a thumbs-up.
The museum’s success has buoyed Belfast itself.
According to the city’s most recent data, there were 7.9 million visitors to Belfast in 2012, who left behind $763-million.
Just the notion of a thriving tourist trade is an achievement for a city that, in between the two Titanic ventures, spent most of the intervening century embroiled in the Troubles.
The pubs, well, they were always full, but now the gatehouse guard stations outside sit empty. In the city centre, the huge new Victoria mall anchors a pedestrian-only shopping area, and nearby a new boutique condo and a luxury hotel are both under construction.
Oh, and the city has also gotten a boost from a TV show you might have heard of called Game of Thrones, whose interior scenes are shot there, at Titanic Studios, which is part of the massive waterfront revitalization project still in progress.
Lonely Planet has lauded the city for its “remarkable transformation,” and Fodor’s recently rated it one of the top 21 places to go.
All of which calls to mind an Irish proverb that goes: It’s an ill wind that blows no one any good. Even calamity, given enough time, can have its rewards.
NEED TO KNOW
— Titanic Belfast is open daily year-round except Dec. 24-26. Admission is £15.50 (about $28.50) for adults, £7.25 ($13.50) for children or £39 ($71.75) for a family (two adults, two children). There are discounts for students, seniors and the unemployed. (Note: Two currencies are used on the island of Ireland — the pound in Northern Ireland, euros elsewhere.) Visit titanicbelfast.com.