A Visit to Titanic Belfast


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Stuart Kelly visits the 90m Titanic Belfast exhibition... Fri, 13 Apr 2012

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Nancy Bratby

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Thanks Stuart for a well detailed appraisal of Titanic Belfast. I visited it during my few days in Belfast this April which may well possibly be my last. Simply because the commemorative season of the last 2 years, including the totally unsurpassable convention in May 2011 (the Belfast Titanic Society pulled out every conceivable stop and then some) are over and it could well be a case of 'goodbye to all that.' Also my 4 different visits over the years from 1999 to the present has recorded the enormous changes from when Harland and Wolff was totally closed and undeveloped for any public access and I have an apologetic letter from them in 1999 saying so before I went! And now I feel any more changes will be cosmetic and it's a case of you can't go home again. Suffice it to say I've experienced Titanic emotions more intensely in Belfast and felt the connection to Titanic's people more profoundly than anywhere else in her story and perhaps it's now time to say goodbye while the memories are good. Also, thanks to the people of Belfast. They are wonderful.

So I eventually visited after I'd gone to the Ulster Folk and Transport for the first time in 13 years which possibly coloured my perceptions of the new attraction. The F and T is so magnificent with the 'real stuff' off the ship, the wreck and personal effects, as well as the amazing transplanted buildings in the Folk part with much of Titanic interest in many including a riveter's house with a real riveter to talk to...not a hologram, and the 1912 newsreels in the Picturehouse, that the new museum was always going to come up short. The BBC Northern Ireland continuous programme on the 15th, pretty much showed half of the thing which I wasn't impressed by. Finally gaining admission after a half hour wait, my suspicions were confirmed...storyboards. Storyboards and er...storyboards. And frankly, even a reader like me is going to get fed up with reading storyboards for three hours, never mind asking a kid to. If you are going to state the well known fact that 3 million rivets went into Titanic is it asking too much to have a little glass case with an actual rivet inside to show a child how big it was? And if you are going to detail a story on how a worker took some wood home to make a chess board and the family still treasures it, why isn't there a photo of the chessboard? The only items on display were wagebooks and a letter about the shipyard's change of name. Thrilling. And that was eventually reached after a puzzling few boards and exhibits about Belfast's linen industry which it's difficult to link the Titanic to. Also, at this early stage of opening, half the touchscreens were not working. The shipyard ride in a suspended ski lift was amusing and enjoyable in a theme park way though Thomas Andrews would be turning in his unmarked grave but short at 2 minutes. I suppose it could have been worse, at least there wasn't a bungee jumping off the poop deck experience. The biggest let down aside from some inexcusable errors on boards like the 'Abercoin Basin' and 'Harold Brent' of all things..was the writer a fan of the Office? was the launch gallery which I was led to believe would show a perfect virtual image of Titanic out on the slip way when you look out of the window. Nothing of the sort...just a fuzzy black and white hologram of the stocks photo going on and off which conveys nothing, certainly not any awe.

The recreations of the cabins are fine but nothing that had not been done before, excepting the holograms. The 3rd class cabin was not accurate at all however. No red and white White Star coverlets? The one thing I was genuinely impressed by was the virtual lift going up through a section of the ship from the engine room to the bridge. That was pretty good and worth doing twice. But I can't see how that alone cost £90million and am genuinely amazed at where the money has gone. It's not on the content. I knew no more about the people who built her or sailed in her than I did at the start and that is where it fails, there is no emotional connection. No information.

The section dealing with the disaster was kind of notwantingtodwellonthissideofthestorymuch and although I do get why, that this is all about plugging Belfast, I really felt no emotional connection to any of the 5 people whose stories are on the boards. Probably because you are not looking at anything that actually belonged to any of them. The 'sensory experience' portraying the sinking is just a big screen playing a computerization of the sinking followed by a really bad lifeboat in the next gallery. The final part on the wreck does have a very big screen showing Ballard's and others footage spliced together and on the floor you can stand and look down at the wreck passing to and fro under your feet which is nice to look at. But I was distinctly underwhelmed at the finish and it seems I'm not alone judging by a lot of online feedback, not least disappointment from people at not being able to see the staircase. The store at the end has every item you can imagine and an excellent book section it has to be said, though obviously not at Amazon prices.

The big question; after the current our time our place 2012 hype, will it still pay its way in the future? And I really can't answer that. The new memorial by the City Hall is perfect in it's understated simplicity, and I am pleased that many of the scars from the past are healing and that this new development has happened for the people of Belfast. But I feel that overall the building is magnificent, but the content sadly lacking.

Had a look at the Nomadic, she certainly looks a lot better than last May when she was shrouded over, but talk about missing the boat, not being open to the public until November at least. At least I got on board last May, and even got a rivet. Perhaps I should loan it to Titanic Belfast.
 

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