Government, Graves, and Ghost Stories.

The plan this morning was to bus out to a certain car park in the south end of Belfast to take a walk through the woods and fields to the Giant’s Ring. When I woke up, though, I was really feeling yesterday’s walking in my knees and feet. So, I decided instead to spend the morning taking a tour of the Belfast City Hall.

It really is a beautiful building, right in the centre of the city. I've been seeing a lot of it here, because it's a very useful navigation point for anywhere I might want to go. Also, the bus back to the Old Rectory picks up here.
It really is a beautiful building, right in the centre of the city. I’ve been seeing a lot of it here, because it’s a very useful navigation point for anywhere I might want to go. Also, the bus back to the Old Rectory picks up here.
The rather extensive grounds are open to everyone, and are a popular place to have an outdoor lunch. There's even a huge TV screen set up at one location that was showing the news when I saw it.
The rather extensive grounds are open to everyone, and are a popular place to have an outdoor lunch. There’s even a huge TV screen set up at one location that was showing the news when I saw it.
Okay. A lot of the pictures I took in here didn't turn out all that well. But I'm including a few of them that are okay, like this shot of the statue on the first floor, with the mural and the column.
Okay. A lot of the pictures I took in here didn’t turn out all that well. But I’m including a few of them that are okay, like this shot of the statue on the first floor, with the mural and the column.

Incidentally, admission is free to all, and tours run several times a day. The City Hall was financed by Belfast’s two gasworks when it was built, and the plan and understanding – carried through to this day – is that this building belongs to the people of the city, and they share it freely with visitors.

There are a total of five domes on the City Hall: one atop each of the four corner towers, and this central one.
There are a total of five domes on the City Hall: one atop each of the four corner towers, and this central one.
The Council Chamber. There are fifty-one city councillors, and they elect the Lord Mayor of the city from among their number for a one-year term. Lord Mayors may serve multiple terms, but never consecutively.
The Council Chamber. There are fifty-one city councillors, and they elect the Lord Mayor of the city from among their number for a one-year term. Lord Mayors may serve multiple terms, but never consecutively.
The Lord Mayor's Chair. Also, the chairs of the Deputy Lord Mayor and the Chief Administrator.
The Lord Mayor’s Chair. Also, the chairs of the Deputy Lord Mayor and the Chief Administrator.
This is the actual table that the Ulster Covenant was signed on. One of the more important pieces of Northern Ireland history.
This is the actual table that the Ulster Covenant was signed on. One of the more important pieces of Northern Ireland history.

After touring the City Hall, I walked down to the bus station, and caught the bus to Downpatrick, because there was some stuff there I wanted to see.

This is, as the sign says, the Down County Museum. It used to be a gaol, and Thomas Russell was hanged from these gates after the 1798 rebellion.
This is, as the sign says, the Down County Museum. It used to be a gaol, and Thomas Russell was hanged from these gates after the 1798 rebellion.
The Down County Museum is small, but absolutely wonderful. It has some very nice exhibits. Everything from a beautiful, almost pristine grave cover...
The Down County Museum is small, but absolutely wonderful. It has some very nice exhibits. Everything from a beautiful, almost pristine grave cover…

 

...to replica cells<sup srcset=1..." width="768" height="1024" />
…to replica cells (much more spartan than those at the more modern Crumlin Road Gaol.)…
...to the beautiful (if tiny) Millennium Garden. Really worth the trip, even if it wasn't my main objective.
…to the beautiful (if tiny) Millennium Garden. Really worth the trip, even if it wasn’t my main objective.
Down Cathedral sits on a hill overlooking the entire town. You can see it from pretty much anywhere, but the view of it as you come up the street here is pretty overwhelming.
Down Cathedral sits on a hill overlooking the entire town. You can see it from pretty much anywhere, but the view of it as you come up the street here is pretty overwhelming.
The inside of the cathedral is lovely - cozier than, say, St. Anne's, and impressive in a completely different way.
The inside of the cathedral is lovely – cozier than, say, St. Anne’s, and impressive in a completely different way.
Pipe organ!
Pipe organ!
This is where, as far as history can be sure, the remains of St. Patrick lie, along with the remains of St. Brigid and St. Columba. This is one of the main things I came to Downpatrick to see.
This is where, as far as history can be sure, the remains of St. Patrick lie, along with the remains of St. Brigid and St. Columba. This is one of the main things I came to Downpatrick to see.
Okay. Saw these statues in the streets in Downpatrick and went to have a look. They are of Lynn Doyle, a Downpatrick writer, and three characters (a dog and two men) from one of his short stories. I got the low-down on him from an elderly nun and three of her friends, and then a little bit more from a clerk in a nearby store where I went to buy something to drink. The Downpatrick folks are all so friendly!
Okay. Saw these statues in the streets in Downpatrick and went to have a look. They are of Lynn Doyle, a Downpatrick writer, and three characters (a dog and two men) from one of his short stories. I got the low-down on him from an elderly nun and three of her friends, and then a little bit more from a clerk in a nearby store where I went to buy something to drink. The Downpatrick folks are all so friendly!

So, I got back on the bus, and made it back into Belfast in time to have dinner and catch the Ghost Walk tour. I don’t have any pictures of that, mainly because it was still daylight, so not very scary, and the visuals weren’t half as interesting as the stories.

The stories were very good, though; we had unmarked graves, live burials, grave robberies, plague, ghostly warnings, and all the rest. It was tremendous fun.

Claire is the same guide I had on the Titanic Walking Tour - she obviously knows her stuff, and is great at presenting the material. I got a picture with her because, after two tours, I figured that made us practically family. Thanks, Claire!
Claire is the same guide I had on the Titanic Walking Tour – she obviously knows her stuff, and is great at presenting the material. I got a picture with her because, after two tours, I figured that made us practically family. Thanks, Claire!

And then I came back to the Old Rectory. I’m going to bed now. Tomorrow, I will see about taking a bus out to Enniskillen, then a taxi to Marble Arch caves.

That’ll be fun.

  1. Much more spartan than those at the more modern Crumlin Road Gaol. []

Causeway in the Sun

Last tie I was in Belfast, I took a tour up around the Antrim coast to the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge, the Giant’s Causeway, and Dunluce Castle. It rained pretty hard the entire time, and I got drenched. More to the point, I didn’t really get any good pictures.

This time around, the sun was shining pretty much the whole time. There were some threatening clouds in the afternoon, and I felt a few tiny drops when I got back to Belfast, but really, the weather was pretty much perfect.

So, yeah. You may have seen some of these pictures from last trip, but I think these turned out nicer.

We started from the Europa Hotel. Until recently it held the record for the most bombed hotel in the world. Now the honour is held by the Hilton in Bagdad.
We started from the Europa Hotel. Until recently it held the record for the most bombed hotel in the world. Now the honour is held by the Hilton in Bagdad.
Our first stop was Carrickfergus Castle. We only had a short stop here, so we had a look at the outside, but couldn't go in.
Our first stop was Carrickfergus Castle. We only had a short stop here, so we had a look at the outside, but couldn’t go in.
My seatmate on the tour was Anya, from Denmark. She agreed to take a picture of me here at Carrickfergus in return for me taking a picture of her here, as well.
My seatmate on the tour was Anya, from Denmark. She agreed to take a picture of me here at Carrickfergus in return for me taking a picture of her here, as well.
Carrickfergus Harbour is very pretty.
Carrickfergus Harbour is very pretty.
We stopped for lunch at Bushmill's Distillery. Not enough time for a tour, and a long line at the cafeteria, so I grabbed a sandwich from Spar and walked down into the town.
We stopped for lunch at Bushmill’s Distillery. Not enough time for a tour, and a long line at the cafeteria, so I grabbed a sandwich from Spar and walked down into the town.
The centre of Bushmill Village is very nice. I still can't get over the narrow, narrow streets and narrow, narrow sidewalks.
The centre of Bushmill Village is very nice. I still can’t get over the narrow, narrow streets and narrow, narrow sidewalks.
We stopped at a view of Dunluce Castle, which was very pretty, but we didn't go in. A little disappointed, but at least I went in last year.
We stopped at a view of Dunluce Castle, which was very pretty, but we didn’t go in. A little disappointed, but at least I went in last year.
I didn't get the name of the young lady who took my picture here. But thank you!
I didn’t get the name of the young lady who took my picture here. But thank you!
Last time I was at the Giant's Causeway, tide was high, and I was a little disappointed with the size of it. Today, the tide was much lower, and a whole lot more of it was exposed.
Last time I was at the Giant’s Causeway, tide was high, and I was a little disappointed with the size of it. Today, the tide was much lower, and a whole lot more of it was exposed. All the darker portion was new to me.
It's really much more extensive than it seemed last visit. Also, less likely to kill you if you get close to the waves. And easier to climb on the drier walks.
It’s really much more extensive than it seemed last visit. Also, less likely to kill you if you get close to the waves. And easier to climb on the drier stones.
So, yeah. Much cooler this time around. And not drenched in rain.
So, yeah. Much cooler this time around. And not drenched in rain.
And lots of tiny wildflowers sprouting in amongst the stones.
And lots of tiny wildflowers sprouting in amongst the stones.
Thanks to Anya for once again doing photographer duty.
Thanks to Anya for once again doing photographer duty.
Another shot of the Giant's Boot. Drier this time.
Another shot of the Giant’s Boot. Drier this time.
Here are some kids up at the Organ. They give some perspective as to the size of the formation.
Here are some kids up at the Organ. They give some perspective as to the size of the formation.
Looking up at the Organ. This time, without a big drop of water on the lens.
Looking up at the Organ. This time, without a big drop of water on the lens.
Waves crashing on the Giant's Causeway. Big, but not terrifyingly big.
Waves crashing on the Giant’s Causeway. Big, but not terrifyingly big.
This is the headland on the beach just past the Giant's Causeway. I'm not sure if the little pillars you can see on it are natural or man-made.
This is the headland on the beach just past the Giant’s Causeway. I’m not sure if the little pillars you can see on it are natural or man-made.
The island in the foreground is Rathlin Island. Interesting place. Behind it, the shadowy outline is the Mull of Kintyre - it's actually part of shoreline of Scotland, about twelve miles away.
The island in the foreground is Rathlin Island. Interesting place. Behind it, the shadowy outline is the Mull of Kintyre – it’s actually part of shoreline of Scotland, about twelve miles away.
I had forgotten how much walking was involved in visiting Carrick-a-Rede. And how steep most of it is.
I had forgotten how much walking was involved in visiting Carrick-a-Rede. And how steep most of it is.
So, this is the Carrick-a-Rede bridge from above. With the bright sunlight, you can see exactly how far down things are.
So, this is the Carrick-a-Rede bridge from above. With the bright sunlight, you can see exactly how far down things are.
Here I am, halfway across the bridge. Maria and David, who are from Mexico and are here on their honeymoon, helped out with this picture.
Here I am, halfway across the bridge. Maria and David, who are from Mexico and are here on their honeymoon, helped out with this picture.
This is the view down from the bridge at about the half-way point. It's around a hundred feet down to the water and rocks.
This is the view down from the bridge at about the half-way point. It’s around a hundred feet down to the water and rocks.
They have put up new fences to keep visitors from trampling over the fields where wildflowers will be sprouting soon.
They have put up new fences to keep visitors from trampling over the fields where wildflowers will be sprouting soon.

After this, it was back to the bus, and back to Belfast. My legs are worn out, and I’m going to bed soon.

Those of you who have been looking at my itinerary have probably noticed that I didn’t go to the Ghost Walk last night. That’s because the schedule has changed, and they only run on Wednesdays and weekends. I’m going to try and make that tomorrow night.

I’m reserving judgement on what I’m going to do tomorrow until I see how well I recover from the exertions of today. I had planned to make it out to the Giant’s Ring, and maybe to Downpatrick, but I may try for Marble Arch Caves tomorrow if I’m still tired. Or I may just decide to try and see some of the places in Belfast I haven’t made it to, yet. I haven’t got anything definitively booked, so I can be flexible tomorrow.

In other words, stay tuned. Not even I know what I’m going to do!

Around Belfast

I’m back at the Old Rectory earlier today than yesterday. I want a good sleep before tomorrow’s tour of the Giant’s Causeway and Antrim Coast. And last night was a late night1.

Weather today was a mixed bag. There were periods of moderately heavy rain2, as well as some nice, sunny periods. I was riding on the City Sightseeing city tour, and my plan was to get off at Stormont to tour the Parliament Building, but it was closed for the bank holiday. It was nice to see the grounds, and I might have got off to wander the grounds a bit, but the rain was moderately heavy at that moment.

So I rode on back into Belfast, to Crumlin Road, which used to be called the Murder Mile because of the number of killings that have taken place there during the Troubles. And these were big parts of the reasons:

The Crumlin Road Courthouse is currently derelict. It was opened in 1850, and has a tunnel passing directly under the road to the gaol - the source of the phrase "sent down." During the Troubles, the court used Diplock Courts, where cases were tried by a single judge.
The Crumlin Road Courthouse is currently derelict. It was opened in 1850, and has a tunnel passing directly under the road to the gaol – the source of the phrase “sent down.” During the Troubles, the court used Diplock Courts, where cases were tried by a single judge.
This was the gatehouse or tally house at the front of the gaol.
This was the gatehouse or tally house at the front of the gaol.
The main block of the gaol. Inside are the administrative areas and access to the cell wings.
The main block of the gaol. Inside are the administrative areas and access to the cell wings.
This is the tunnel under Crumlin Road. This section has been upgraded, with a concrete floor.
This is the tunnel under Crumlin Road. This section has been upgraded, with a concrete floor.
This is an older, unrestored section with a flagstone floor.
This is an older, unrestored section with a flagstone floor.
The door to the little holding cell - tiny door, and a cell about ten feet square. They were intended for about ten prisoners, and were segregated. Normally, men and women were separated, but when the Troubles heated up, the segregation was between Unionists and Republicans.
The door to the little holding cell – tiny door, and a cell about ten feet square. They were intended for about ten prisoners, and were segregated. Normally, men and women were separated, but when the Troubles heated up, the segregation was between Unionists and Republicans.
Here's the Governor's office. It's one of the few places in the prison with carpet, and so being brought to see the Governor - usually because of something bad - was being called on the carpet.
Here’s the Governor’s office. It’s one of the few places in the prison with carpet, and so being brought to see the Governor – usually because of something bad – was being called on the carpet.
This is the Circle. The gaol is built on the Panopticon concept, like Kilmainham Gaol, but implemented differently. Four different wings radiated straight off the circle, with clear lines of sight from the central area.
This is the Circle. The gaol is built on the Panopticon concept, like Kilmainham Gaol, but implemented differently. Four different wings radiated straight off the circle, with clear lines of sight from the central area.
Here's a cell, furnished as it was circa 1850.
Here’s a cell, furnished as it was circa 1850.
Here's a cell circa 1950. Somewhat upgraded. Still no toilet, though.
Here’s a cell circa 1950. Somewhat upgraded. Still no toilet, though.
By the 1970s and 80s, they had abandoned the Separate Method of confinement, putting two prisoners - sometimes three, if necessary - into cells intended for one.
By the 1970s and 80s, they had abandoned the Separate Method of confinement, putting two prisoners – sometimes three, if necessary – into cells intended for one.
At some point, they knocked the wall out of between two cells to make a larger room for use as an art classroom. Some of the murals have been preserved.
At some point, they knocked the wall out of between two cells to make a larger room for use as an art classroom. Some of the murals have been preserved.
This is a punishment cell. Note the absence of bedding - bedding was provided at night, but during the day, you could sit or lie only on the floor or on the wooden pallet. Thus, being sent to the punishment cell was called "being on the boards."
This is a punishment cell. Note the absence of bedding – bedding was provided at night, but during the day, you could sit or lie only on the floor or on the wooden pallet. Thus, being sent to the punishment cell was called “being on the boards.”
This cell was used to house condemned criminals. It was twice as large, in part because two guards had to be in with the prisoner twenty-four hours a day.
This cell was used to house condemned criminals. It was twice as large, in part because two guards had to be in with the prisoner twenty-four hours a day.

In addition, the condemned prisoner got a few extra perks – extra tobacco allotment, some stout from time to time, and so on. The whole prison had to be locked down if the condemned prisoner was being moved, taken out for exercise, or taken to bathe. Thus, there was a small washroom attached to the cell, with a toilet, sink, and a tall cupboard.

The cupboard held the restraints used to bind the prisoner when being taken to be hanged. At the time of execution, the prisoner would be bound here, ready to be led away, and then the guards would slide the cupboard away to reveal a door into the scaffold area. From the time of binding to the time of actual execution, only a few minutes would pass, with no time for the prisoner to bolt or struggle.

Steven, the guide, slid the cupboard open and opened the door revealing the noose in a wonderfully dramatic manner. It shocked the hell out of me, and was tremendously affecting.
Steven, the guide, slid the cupboard open and opened the door revealing the noose in a wonderfully dramatic manner. It shocked the hell out of me, and was tremendously affecting.
The noose hanging above the (glassed-over) trap door.
The noose hanging above the (glassed-over) trap door.
The rack they used to bind prisoners upright while lashing them either with birch switches (if under 18) or the cat of nine tails (if over 18).
The rack they used to bind prisoners upright while lashing them either with birch switches (if under 18) or the cat of nine tails (if over 18).
The exercise yard out between C Wing and B Wing.
The exercise yard out between C Wing and B Wing.

After that, I caught the tour bus back around Shankill Road, Falls Road, and the Peace Wall. Unfortunately, it had really started raining again, so I stayed on the bus back around to the city centre. I needed to get more batteries for my camera, anyway, and it was lunch time. So, I took care of those things, and looked at the time.

It was just about three by then, so while I could take the tour bus back somewhere, if I got off, there wouldn’t be another one for me to get back on. I decided to do some walking around the downtown area and the cathedral quarter, instead.

This is the Albert Clock, built in memory of Queen Victoria's husband and consort. It leans about a metre back and a metre to one side, thanks to the earth beneath it subsiding. Now, the tour guides said that each of the four clock faces told a different time, and none were correct. I took that at face value last trip, but this time I went and checked. Guess what? Each face showed the same time, and it was within a minute or so of my phone's time. And they call the CLOCK the four-faced liar.
This is the Albert Clock, built in memory of Queen Victoria’s husband and consort. It leans about a metre back and a metre to one side, thanks to the earth beneath it subsiding. Now, the tour guides said that each of the four clock faces told a different time, and none were correct. I took that at face value last trip, but this time I went and checked. Guess what? Each face showed the same time, and it was within a minute or so of my phone’s time. And they call the CLOCK the four-faced liar.
There are dancing fountains in behind the Albert Clock, with children playing in them. At least, when the sun comes out.
There are dancing fountains in behind the Albert Clock, with children playing in them. At least, when the sun comes out.
I love the way this is worded. And it's good advice, wherever you are.
I love the way this is worded. And it’s good advice, wherever you are.
This is the fish they're talking about. It's the Salmon of Knowledge. They say that if you kiss it, you will gain wisdom. But I'm already wise enough to know that kissing a fish is not a good idea.
This is the fish they’re talking about. It’s the Salmon of Knowledge. They say that if you kiss it, you will gain wisdom. But I’m already wise enough to know that kissing a fish is not a good idea.
Here's a close up of the salmon's scales. It's a mosaic, and each tile has a reproduction of a historical document important to Belfast.
Here’s a close up of the salmon’s scales. It’s a mosaic, and each tile has a reproduction of a historical document important to Belfast.
And here's me standing by the Salmon of Knowledge. Look, folks! I'm really in Belfast!
And here’s me standing by the Salmon of Knowledge. Look, folks! I’m really in Belfast!
This is the Spire of Hope, rising out of St. Anne's Cathedral. It's a sister piece to the spire on O'Connell Street in Dublin, erected in response to the 9/11 attacks in NYC.
This is the Spire of Hope, rising out of St. Anne’s Cathedral. It’s a sister piece to the spire on O’Connell Street in Dublin, erected in response to the 9/11 attacks in NYC.
This is the front of St. Anne's.
This is the front of St. Anne’s.
The interior of the cathedral. Note the chairs instead of pews - each chair had a little pillow attached to the back for the person behind to kneel on. Each of the pillows was beautifully embroidered.
The interior of the cathedral. Note the chairs instead of pews – each chair had a little pillow attached to the back for the person behind to kneel on. Each of the pillows was beautifully embroidered.
This tapestry was made to honour those people lost when the Titanic went down. The edge and the big cross in the middle are made of a myriad tiny white and silver crosses.
This tapestry was made to honour those people lost when the Titanic went down. The edge and the big cross in the middle are made of a myriad tiny white and silver crosses.
The Baptistery has a beautiful mosaic ceiling and marble font, with stained glass windows behind it all. Absolutely gorgeous.
The Baptistery has a beautiful mosaic ceiling and marble font, with stained glass windows behind it all. Absolutely gorgeous.
The Chapel of the Holy Spirit is right across the church from the Baptistery, and has beautiful mosaics, as well. The mosaics were made by two sisters in the 1930s.
The Chapel of the Holy Spirit is right across the church from the Baptistery, and has beautiful mosaics, as well. The mosaics were made by two sisters in the 1930s.
This little shrine contains books in which are recorded the names of all the Irish people, of whatever faith, who died in World War I. Carved on it is the legend, "He tried them like gold in the fire." A powerful symbol of the sense of unity that many have held all through the Troubles.
This little shrine contains books in which are recorded the names of all the Irish people, of whatever faith, who died in World War I. Carved on it is the legend, “He tried them like gold in the fire.” A powerful symbol of the sense of unity that many have held all through the Troubles.
From the Ambulatory, which winds behind the altar and the sanctuary, you can look past a big, silver cross down to the big stained glass windows over the main doors.
From the Ambulatory, which winds behind the altar and the sanctuary, you can look past a big, silver cross down to the big stained glass windows over the main doors.
Organ!
Organ!
On the north side of the cathedral is the largest celtic cross I have ever seen.
On the north side of the cathedral is the largest celtic cross I have ever seen.
Statues of three Buoys across from St. Anne's. They are apparently named Tom, Dick, and Harry. When asked which was which, the guide said, "Why would you care about a stupid thing like that?"
Statues of three Buoys across from St. Anne’s. They are apparently named Tom, Dick, and Harry. When asked which was which, the guide said, “Why would you care about a stupid thing like that?”

At that point, I was getting tired, so I walked back toward the bust stop, ducked into Tesco for a sandwich and some drinks to take back to the Old Rectory for dinner, and then spent the last couple of hours doing up this post.

Now, bedtime. Up early for the Giant’s Causeway.

  1. Mary here at the Old Rectory said, “You push yourself hard.” My reply, “Only because I’m stupid.” And then she says, “Well, at least you’re honest.” See? They know me here.” []
  2. And, about half an hour ago, there was hail for about thirty seconds. []

She Was Fine When She Left Belfast!

I heard that line five or six times today, visiting Titanic Belfast. Everyone who said it chuckled, but you could tell that it was only mostly a joke.

I forgot this morning that it was Sunday. Which means Sunday bus service. Which means that, when I missed my bus to the city centre by about five minutes, I had an hour to wait for the next one. Rather than sit at that stop1 and look like an idiot, I decided to walk down a stop or two and catch the bus there. At least, I told myself, I would be making forward progress.

So, about the time my legs get tired and I start looking for another bus stop, the schedules on all the stops start reading, “No Sunday Service.” I wind up walking down past The Barking Dog, where I had dinner last night, to Queen’s College before I find a bus stop with service. And I got there just in time for the bus.

Once downtown, I found the pick-up spot for the City Sightseeing tour2, got on, and then got off five minutes later at the Titanic exhibition hall.

This was my first good view of the building. The sun decided to help me out and light up one of the walls and not the other, making for a pretty impressive first sight.
This was my first good view of the building. The sun decided to help me out and light up one of the walls and not the other, making for a pretty impressive first sight.
The building is built so that, from above, it looks like the logo for White Star Lines, the owners of the Titanic. Each of the pointy bits is built to stand as high as Titanic's hull, and points in one of the cardinal directions.
The building is built so that, from above, it looks like the logo for White Star Lines, the owners of the Titanic. Each of the pointy bits is built to stand as high as Titanic’s hull, and points in one of the cardinal directions.

 

There's a figurehead statue sitting out front that I thought looked pretty cool.
There’s a figurehead statue sitting out front that I thought looked pretty cool.
And a big sign out front in case you forget where you are. It's made of sixteen tons of steel, the same as Titanic's anchor. This is one of the brief moments in the sign's life when there are no tourists posing in the letters.
And a big sign out front in case you forget where you are. It’s made of sixteen tons of steel, the same as Titanic’s anchor. This is one of the brief moments in the sign’s life when there are no tourists posing in the letters.

I went inside and saw the exhibition. Now, I’ll be honest with you – I’m not tremendously interested in the Titanic. I never saw the Cameron movie3, never got into the whole doomed ship idea. It was a huge ship, and it went down. It was a tragic loss of life, but so were lots of other things.

What the exhibition did that I found fascinating was give a sense of historical context to the whole event. And it made clear that Olympic, Titanic, and Gigantic4 were thoroughly stunning feats of engineering. And not just for their time, either – we’re talking even by today’s standards.

Some perspective. This is MSC Magnifica, the largest cruise ship that currently puts in to Belfast. She is only 72 feet longer than Titanic, and apparently not as tall. So, in 100 years, only 72 feet longer. That's something.
Some perspective. This is MSC Magnifica, the largest cruise ship that currently puts in to Belfast. She is only 72 feet longer than Titanic, and apparently not as tall. So, in 100 years, only 72 feet longer. That’s something.

I didn’t take a lot of pictures inside the exhibition. Most of the stuff that I found interesting was written, and that makes for boring photographs. The three interesting shots I took – replicas of the first-, second-, and third-class staterooms – aren’t very good, but I’m putting them up here, anyway, because – as I said – interesting.

First Class Cabin. The ultimate in sea-going luxury. White Star couldn't compete with Cunard on speed, so they decided to outdo them with style.
First Class Cabin. The ultimate in sea-going luxury. White Star couldn’t compete with Cunard on speed, so they decided to outdo them with style.
Second Class cabin. A significant step down, but still with carpet and good wood furnishings. Even a small couch.
Second Class cabin. A significant step down, but still with carpet and good wood furnishings. Even a small couch.
Third Class cabin. Hard to believe, but apparently even this was luxurious and roomy compared to third class on other ship lines.
Third Class cabin. Hard to believe, but apparently even this was luxurious and roomy compared to third class on other ship lines.

There was even a ride in the exhibit that took you in a little car down and around a representation of the hull that showed how it was built. That was pretty cool, too.

After going through the exhibit, I took a bit of a walk around, waiting for my Titanic Walking Tour to start. I found a couple of cool things to take pictures of.

This is the sleeping giant above Belfast. Folks call him Gulliver, and say that he was the inspiration for Swift writing Gulliver's Travels. Hearing them talk, however, I'm unsure whether the giant was named Gulliver before the book was written, or was named that afterwards in honour of Swift.
This is the sleeping giant above Belfast. Folks call him Gulliver, and say that he was the inspiration for Swift writing Gulliver’s Travels. Hearing them talk, however, I’m unsure whether the giant was named Gulliver before the book was written, or was named that afterwards in honour of Swift.
This huge crane was used to build ships. When it was built, it was so large, they named it Goliath.
This huge crane was used to build ships. When it was built, it was so large, they named it Goliath.
So, here's the problem with naming things with superlatives. About three years after they built Goliath, they built another crane that was ten metres taller than Goliath. There's no one in the Bible bigger than Goliath, so they named it Samson. Good name, still biblical, but implies massive strength rather than massive size. Anyway.
So, here’s the problem with naming things with superlatives. About three years after they built Goliath, they built another crane that was ten metres taller than Goliath. There’s no one in the Bible bigger than Goliath, so they named it Samson. Good name, still biblical, but implies massive strength rather than massive size. Anyway.

The walking tour started at 1:00, and was fascinating. Claire, who led the tour, knew everything about the Titanic, how it was built, and how it fit into history. She really brought home the historical meaning of the Titanic and her sister-ships, and made it clear that Titanic was so much more than just a ship that sank.

Here are a few pictures from the tour.

It's kind of hard to see in the picture, but the yard here alternates patches of ship's decking with grass. The decking represents people saved when the Titanic sank, and the grass represents people lost. It's divided into first class, second class, third class, and crew. The ratio of grass to decking gets dramatically - and depressingly - higher as you go down the social ladder.
It’s kind of hard to see in the picture, but the yard here alternates patches of ship’s decking with grass. The decking represents people saved when the Titanic sank, and the grass represents people lost. It’s divided into first class, second class, third class, and crew. The ratio of grass to decking gets dramatically – and depressingly – higher as you go down the social ladder.
One of two drawing rooms where the plans for the ships were drafted. Note the cathedral ceiling with large skylights - called a Belfast roof - to allow a great deal of natural light for the architects and draftsmen.
One of two drawing rooms where the plans for the ships were drafted. Note the cathedral ceiling with large skylights – called a Belfast roof – to allow a great deal of natural light for the architects and draftsmen.
Three thousand workers had to come through these gates every day. They were only open for twenty minutes - if you didn't make it in, you didn't work. Unemployed people would line up outside hoping someone wouldn't show for work, so they would have a day to prove they were good enough to be taken on permanently.
Three thousand workers had to come through these gates every day. They were only open for twenty minutes – if you didn’t make it in, you didn’t work. Unemployed people would line up outside hoping someone wouldn’t show for work, so they would have a day to prove they were good enough to be taken on permanently.
Drydock 1
This is the Alexandra Graving Dock, the last place Titanic rested on dry ground. After her hull was launched, she was taken to a deep-water wharf and outfitted and completed. Then, she was brought here to be painted, have her hull inspected, and her screws attached.
The gate that closes off the dry dock from the Irish Sea is 44 feet tall, and made of the same steel, by the same men, in the same fashion as the Titanic.
The gate that closes off the dry dock from the Irish Sea is 44 feet tall, and made of the same steel, by the same men, in the same fashion as the Titanic.
44 feet down, at the stern end of the 850-foot-long dock. Pictures can't express the size of the place.
44 feet down, at the stern end of the 850-foot-long dock. Pictures can’t express the size of the place.
Each of these stacks of keel blocks weighs four tons. They were moved about - including being hauled into and out of the dry dock - by hand...
Each of these stacks of keel blocks weighs four tons. They were moved about – including being hauled into and out of the dry dock – by hand…
...and there were an awful lot of them, running the whole length of what would have been Titanic's keel.
…and there were an awful lot of them, running the whole length of what would have been Titanic’s keel.
Here's looking up the side of the dock from the bottom. The man taking the picture should help give some sense of scale.
Here’s looking up the side of the dock from the bottom. The man taking the picture should help give some sense of scale.

That was about it for the tour. We had a quick look in the pump room, and that was that. We did walk by Titanic Studios, where they film Game of Thrones, but there wasn’t really anything to take a picture of, there – just some big, warehouse-type buildings.

By the time I got back on the tour bus, it was 3:30 or so, and the tours stopped at 4:00, so I just had time to ride around the rest of the circuit and fail to take any good pictures. It’s just too hard to do from the top of the bus5. The sheer amount of interesting stuff I saw in that time has got me questioning whether I need to spend a third day on touring just the city, sacrificing one of my planned trips to Marble Arch Caves or Downpatrick. I’ll see how I feel about that tomorrow.

So, at the end of the day, I went and had a nice dinner, and noticed that The Great Gatsby was playing in about an hour in the theatre right near by. I decided to go see it, and I enjoyed it, and then realized that, with Sunday bus service, I had missed my last bus back to the Old Rectory. After trying and failing to hail a cab, I found a helpful watchman at the grounds of City Hall6 who not only told me the rules about which cabs can pick up where, and which need to be called by phone, he let me borrow his phone when I had no luck dialling the cab company7.

Obviously, I made it back. Now, it’s 12:30, and I need to get up early to take full advantage of my second day of touring. City Sightseeing has a courtesy bus that I can call to pick me up here in the morning, so that’ll help maximize my day.

But still. Sleep time. Good night.

  1. Which is right across the street from The Old Rectory. []
  2. With a little help from someone from a different tour company. I tell you, everyone in Ireland and Northern Ireland seem to want to go out of their way to be helpful. Marvelous people, the lot. []
  3. And never plan to. []
  4. Later rechristened the Britannic. []
  5. There’s one picture from my tour of Dublin that I took from the top of the bus that turned out great, and that I really like, but it was completely accidental. []
  6. There’s a big Continental Festival going on this bank-holiday weekend, and he was watching the many tents spread on the City Hall grounds. []
  7. Did I mention how amazingly helpful everyone is? They are all amazingly helpful. This fine gentleman is not unique, though he is a sterling example. []

I’m Here!

So, I’ve made it to Belfast. I have to say, if you have the option of traveling business class, it’s pretty awesome. Bigger, more comfortable seat, better food, airport lounge, all that stuff. I really enjoyed it.

The plane got in to Dublin about a half-hour early. It was a little chilly this morning, but not too bad. I just put my rain jacket on to block the wind, and I was plenty warm enough. Irish customs was really fast and easy: “How long are you staying in Ireland? Business or pleasure?” and boom –  I was through. Literally no more than ten seconds.

Once through, I made my way outside and caught the Airlink bus that runs from the airport through the city centre.

Dublin Airport is kind of a cool building. From this angle, it looks like a hamster run, but from other angles, it looks like billowing sails.
Dublin Airport is kind of a cool building. From this angle, it looks like a hamster run, but from other angles, it looks like billowing sails.

The bus ride in to Grafton Street was easy, as was getting my errands done there. The difference in stress levels this trip compared to the early days of last trip are amazing – just the little bit I know about the place from being here before makes everything easier and less frantic. And, of course, I ran into an old friend.

According to the fellow in the right side of the picture, the city is planning some street changes here that would move the statue. I didn't get the full story, though.
According to the fellow in the right side of the picture, the city is planning some street changes here that would move the statue. I didn’t get the full story, though.

From there, once my phone was linked to the 3 network, I called up a walking path from Grafton Street to Connolly Station, where I was to catch the train north to Belfast. It was about a mile walk, but my luggage wasn’t too heavy at that point, so I decided to do it; if nothing else, it would let me stretch my legs after the long flight and also refamiliarize myself a little more with the city.

This is a view down the Liffey towards Dublin Port. I never made it there last trip. It looks like there might be a tall ship there on the left.
This is a view down the Liffey towards Dublin Port. I never made it there last trip. It looks like there might be a tall ship there on the left.

I made it to the station and got on a train, and then had to fight to keep from falling asleep. I nodded off a couple of times on the two-hour trip, but thankfully, a young lady got on and proceeded to carry on a telephone conversation in a loud, somewhat shrill voice that carried through the entire train car, and I didn’t have to worry about sleeping anymore.

In Belfast, I took a taxi to The Old Rectory.

My favourite B&B from last trip.
My favourite B&B from last trip.

Gerry greeted me, took my breakfast order for tomorrow1, and led me up to my room – the same one I’d had last time.

It really is a lovely room.
It really is a lovely room.
Window View
This is the view from my window. You can’t really see the… little mountains? Big hills? Anyway, they rise up behind everything,
There. Now you can see them.
There. Now you can see them.

I saw Mary again this evening, and she helped me get a table at The Barking Dog, which restaurant I hadn’t been able to try last time. It was a bit of a walk, again, both there and back, but at least I’ll be good and tired when I go to bed tonight.

As I was taking this picture, a gentleman waiting for the bus talked to me at some length about Rugby, and a woman from Montreal that he knows that works in a pub near The Crown in downtown Belfast. Everyone is so friendly.
As I was taking this picture, a gentleman waiting for the bus talked to me at some length about Rugby, and a woman from Montreal that he knows that works in a pub near The Crown in downtown Belfast. Everyone is so friendly.

And now the post is done, the first day of my holiday is done, and I’m pretty much done. To bed. Tomorrow, I have tours!

  1. I confessed to him that I’ve had dreams about his full Ulster breakfast since last time. []

Belfast is Shaping Up

I spent some time over the past couple of days figuring out how I’m going to be spending my time in Belfast, the first stop on my Ireland trip for next summer. Surprise, surprise: I’m not going to have the time to do all the things I want to do. But I’m going to get to do a lot of them.

The first couple of days, while I’m feeling the crappiest from the flight over, I’m going to spend on the Hop On/Hop Off bus tour, seeing the city as a whole and stopping at all the interesting spots I didn’t make time to see last time. I’m going to take it easy, and keep in mind I have two whole days to do this, though if I find that’s too long, I’ve got the option of taking an afternoon to go see Belfast Castle and climb Cave Hill. But the Cave Hill walk is about three to four hours, so that – plus a lunch or dinner at Belfast Castle – will take the entire afternoon. We’ll see.

But the Hop On/Hop Off tour will take me to the Peace Wall and the murals on Shankhill Road and Falls Road, and to Crumlin Road Jail, and Stormont with the parliament buildings, and Queen’s University1, and probably several other places I don’t yet know that I want to see.

The company also offers a package deal – 48 hours of Hop On/Hop Off bus tour with a bus tour to the Giant’s Causeway (and Carrick a Rede, and the Glens of Antrim, and Dunluce Castle, and Carrickfergus Castle, and… you get the idea) for £30. That’s good for me, because it’ll give me another chance to see the Antrim coast, and maybe it won’t be raining the entire time2.

Aside from that, I want to take a day trip out the Marble Arch Caves, and maybe another one to Downpatrick, to see Down Cathedral and St. Patrick’s grave. I’m thinking I can do that the same day I head out for a nice walk to the Giant’s Circle, just outside of Belfast.

I also want to make sure I get to try The Barking Dog restaurant. It was recommended to me last time, but I couldn’t get a seat, so I’ll give it another try3 this time. And any other restaurants that get recommended.

So, with that stuff in mind, I’ve updated my itinerary. Have a look, if you’re so inclined.

  1. I saw the outside several times last time I was in Belfast. This time, I want to take the tour. []
  2. A man can dream, right? []
  3. Or two, or three, or whatever. []

One (Maybe Two) Steps Closer

Today, I booked my tickets.

Now, I really wanted to have only one stop on this flight1, and I spoke to some other travelers last time who recommended Aer Lingus, so I tried to make that happen. I was successful, but ran into a couple of snags. First, I had to travel through the US. Not a huge deal, but I’ve heard far too many TSA horror stories to be completely comfortable with flying through their jurisdiction2. Still, if it saves me four to six hours sitting in another airport or on another plane, I’ll take it.

The second hitch is that all the Satruday flights, which I had intended to take, were full3. After thinking long and hard4, I decided to fly on Friday, instead. That’ll cost me one more vacation day, but I can live with that. So, I booked the Friday flight, with a return flight on Sunday three weeks later.

That gives me a total of 23 days in Ireland.

Once I had the flights confirmed, I e-mailed The Old Rectory in Belfast to book my stay there. I was very flattered that Mary remembered me (and this blog), and am just waiting for final confirmation of that booking before I check it, too, off my list.

I’ve still got eight and a half months before my trip, but even doing this little bit of planning has got me excited to see Ireland all over again.

 

  1. Flying non-stop from Winnipeg to Dublin is still just a fool’s dream, but I really didn’t want to go through London or Amsterdam. []
  2. Of course, I happily drive down into the US at least once a year, and never have any problems. It’s really just the TSA I’m scared of. []
  3. According to the Aer Lingus site, anyway. Some reseller sites still listed seats on the Saturday flight, but didn’t offer little things like being able to choose my seat. I wanted to be able to choose my seat. []
  4. Close to two whole minutes. []

More Belfast

So, I woke up this morning feeling like I’m coming down with a cold. I’m not happy about that, but I’m glad it held off so long. It’s going to make the flight home unpleasant, but at least it didn’t really cut in to my trip very much.

I hauled myself out of bed, and got moving with a fair bit of effort. The breakfast put a much nicer light on the day, and I went off to wander Belfast on a last rainy day.

My first stop was the city centre, because I knew where there was a pharmacy, and I needed cold medicine and ibuprofen. While I was down there, I went back to Victoria Square, because it’s a very cool shopping centre.

This shopping centre is attached to the pedestrian shopping area in downtown Belfast. I am fascinated by the way it blends a mall with the outdoor area. That sort of thing wouldn’t really work in Winnipeg with our weather.
In the main court is this pylon that rises up several stories to a viewing platform at the top of the dome. It’s a very cool looking shopping centre.
Only one of the pictures I took in the viewing area at the top of the dome turned out well. This one shows the Belfast skyline with the Albert Memorial Clock.

After that, I headed out to see the Ulster Museum. The bus stop was right in front of Queens University.

I love the look of this building. It reminds me of pictures I’ve seen of Cambridge.
The Ulster Museum is just around the corner from Queens University. I like the blend of styles on the building.
I am fascinated by the carved stones used in the neolithic tombs. Here’s another good example.
This one is really for my nephew, Ryan, who’s started to get interested in knights and kings. This is the inauguration chair of the O’Neills, where the O’Neill kings sat while they were crowned.
A beautiful replica of a celtic cross at the Ulster Museum.

The rain let up for a little while around then, and I took the opportunity to take a wander around the Botanic Gardens that surround the Ulster Museum.

Just inside the gates of the Botanic Gardens.
So much of the garden is very green, even in October. This makes the few trees with leaves that have changed colour really stand out.
The rose garden was still in bloom.
The garden is a neat mix of autumn leaves with blooming flowers. Not something you see in Winnipeg.
The Palm House. Sandy would love this place. It’s hot, humid, full of lush plants…
…with sculptures peeking out through the ferns and foliage…
…and chairs set here and there in the midst of the plants for students to sit and sketch.

I also managed to have lunch at The Crown, the oldest bar in Belfast. It’s a glorious place, full of etched glass, stamped tin roof, gold trim, and actual gaslights. It was way too packed for me to get a picture, but you can see one here.

I also tried walking out to the area where the Titanic was built, but it really started raining again, and I lost my motivation. Sorry, gang.

So, I made it back to the Old Rectory. Tonight is my last night here, and then I’m back to Dublin on the bus. I want to hit Grafton Street one last time to pick up some last-minute gifts for folks back home.

I’m gonna miss the Old Rectory, though.

The Antrim Coast

Y’know, I’ve stayed in some really good places on this trip: Ariel House, Garnish House, The Moorings, Saddler’s House. Now, I’m at the Old Rectory and I have to say I like it best of all. This is not to denigrate any of the other places I’ve stayed – they were all great – but the Old Rectory is absolutely amazing.

Mary and Gerry are both great people – friendly and helpful and very welcoming. My room is great, and breakfast this morning was the best I’ve had in Ireland. Again, this is not to say I haven’t had good breakfasts in other places, but this one tops it.

So, if you’re coming to Belfast (and you should come to Belfast – it’s a wonderful city), this is the place you want to stay.

Anyway.

Today I took a tour of the Antrim Coast with the Black Taxi company. Norman was my driver, and he was a really good guide. Unfortunately, it rained pretty much all day, so we didn’t linger at a lot of places, and where I did go, I got soaked. This also meant that some of my pictures didn’t turn out because of water on my camera lens. But I got some.

Our first stop was the Carrick-A-Rede rope bridge.

This is the Carrick-A-Rede rope bridge. It’s about a hundred feet above the rocky sea, linking the mainland to an island. Fishermen used to use it to cross to the island for salmon fishing.
Here’s a shot from the island side of the bridge. In some ways, coming down the wet metal stairs was scarier than crossing the narrow, bouncing rope bridge.
This is the kind of rocky island terrain around Carrick-A-Rede.
Some of the islands off the coast at Carrick-A-Rede.

The next stop was the Giant’s Causeway. It really started raining and blowing out there, so I have fewer usable pictures than I wanted.

The Giant’s Causeway was pretty much awash with waves and rain and spray. But it was very cool.
I got out farther on the Causeway, but those pictures are all spray-splattered.
Speaking of spray-spattered, this is the Gaint’s Boot. It’s about four feet tall.
High up the wall of the coast is the Organ, a set of stone rods that look like organ pipes. I walked up there, but again, the weather messed up the pictures I took. But they were cool.

Then we were on to Dunluce Castle.

This is the first view I had of Dunluce Castle as we came over the hill. Very impressive.
The castle sits on a rocky island, with steep cliffs all around.
The castle is connected to the mainland by a bridge – it used to be a drawbridge.
On the mainland part of the ruins is the remains of the lodgings for the castle. You can see that the building used to be two storeys, with small rooms, each containing a fireplace.
The remains of the castle gatehouse.
The castle itself had a seventeenth-century manor house as the main building, complete with bay windows.
Looking out of Dunluce, across the water to a high field. In medieval times, a town surrounded the castle, and the fields have been partially excavated, revealing the remains of houses and shops.
One of the remaining towers, perched high above the sea.

At that point, cold and wet and tired – there was a lot of walking, and a lot of that walking involved steep hills and slippery stone steps – we headed back to Belfast. I spent some time drying off and warming up, and then went out to dinner. I had planned to go to a restaurant called The Barking Dog, which Mary had recommended, but they were booked. Instead, I went around the corner to a place called Abacus and had some very nice chow mein.

Tomorrow, I’m going to hit the Ulster Museum, Friar’s Bush, and The Crown. My trip is almost done.

A Bit of Belfast

This is going to be a short update. I spent most of the day getting from Derry to Belfast. I’m staying at the Old Rectory, which is not really within walking distance of the bus station1, so I broke down and took a taxi rather than try an suss out the bus schedule.

The Old Rectory is amazing. My room is large, comfortable, and beautiful, and the welcome was warm and helpful. In no time at all, I had all the information I needed to find my way back to the city centre on the bus – and then back to the B&B, which is the important bit. Also, a list of good places to eat.

So, I headed off to the city centre to take a look around. Not a lot of pictures, but a couple.

This is The Spires shopping centre. How cool is that? I also need to get a picture of Victoria Square shopping centre.
This is the front of City Hall.
And here’s the side of City Hall at night.

One of the things I find I really like about every city I’ve seen in Ireland is that they all have a pedestrian-only shopping district near the city centre. Belfast is no different in that regard, but it also merges the shopping area into a large shopping centre that is open to the air except for a dome. It was a very cool place, and I’m upset that the pictures I took are all crap. I’ll have to head back there and try again.

While I was there, though, I noticed that the theatre was about to start showing Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, which I had been wanting to see. And I went and saw it.

And that’s why I don’t have more to show you today. Tomorrow, though, is my tour of the city and the Antrim coast. Should have plenty of pictures for you from that.

 

  1. Well, it kind of is, but not when I’m carrying my luggage. []