Our second day in Ireland, I woke late in the Hilton-Belfast exhausted from staying up all night with a jet-lagged three-year-old who only wanted to play from midnight to 5:00 a.m., but as soon as I pulled back the curtains to view the industrial city with silver clouds and streaks of golden sunlight over the brown buildings, I remembered my itinerary.
The Belfast Titanic museum, the same museum that had once housed my picture, but thanks to the end of James Cameron’s exhibit, I’d missed it. One day!
I dressed quickly, scarfed down our free breakfast of sausage and eggs, and we all began the jaunt to Titanic quarter. Before the trip, I’d studied this walk on Google Maps and had expected the walk to to be much longer than it actually was. As we walked, I imagined what it might have been like 100 years ago; men lining up to go to work preparing for another grueling day with little pay and backbreaking, dangerous labor surrounded by the smell of melting steel and burning coal.
We walked along the water and I wondered if the water molecules had any memory of holding the Titanic, gently rocking her in the bay.
Then I turned the corner and there, over the water, stood the spectacular new museum. Designed to mimic not only the Titanic’s bow, but the iceberg that sealed her fate, and the steel that built her, and looking from above, a star from the White Star Line’s flag. The amount of careful thought that went into the symbolism of the museum astounds me still.
The museum itself was impressive. It was more focused on Belfast’s contribution to the Titanic than on the actual voyage and sinking, with a ride around the recreated slipways so that you could really see what it was like for those men who built her. The sinking portion, though, was the part that took my breath away. It took place in a dark room, black. With only a video of the ship sinking and the telegrams sent and received by the Titanic as she sunk. This room reminded me of something I had forgotten. The Titanic sank in the middle of the pitch black ocean. Nothing was around them. I had never before imagined what it would have felt like to be on the ship surrounded by nothing, how lonely and final and terrifying it must have been to even be placed on a lifeboat and sent into the darkness with no idea if help was coming, if getting on a lifeboat was just prolonging the inevitable. The ship would have seemed so much safer than a small lifeboat in the middle of a dark abyss.
CQD was the signal Titanic used to ask for help, sending the code over the water to anyone that would hear. Titanic was also the first to use the now common SOS, but CQD was what its operators, Harold Bride and Jack Phillips, used the most.
The dark room in the Belfast Titanic museum was filled with telegrams sent back and forth from the Marconi officers to other ships. And then at the end of the room on the wall was the final telegram from the Titanic:
He, whichever operator it was, never finished the “D.” What happened? Was Harold Bride shouting at Jack Phillips, telling him to get out? Did the room fill with water? So many questions and no answers.
The Discovery Tour was worth every penny and my favorite part of the whole visit. Our guide was terrific. She took her time and I felt her passion with every word. We explored the shipbuilding offices and peered out an original window from over 100 years ago, and I imagined what it would have been like to see the steel giant on the slipway looking out the same window Thomas Andrews must have used hundreds of times.
Walking up and down the slipway where the museum had recreated the boat deck, down to the placement of the benches, and near the bow was a memorial created for Thomas Andrews by his nephew. My respect and love for Thomas Andrews increased, which I didn’t even think was possible owing to how much respect and love I already carried for him.
Walking the “deck” was powerful for me. The visit was very profound and spiritual for me. The whole trip to Ireland was like my very own Mecca. Ireland connected me with history, my teenage self, and my current self in a way no other trip could have. But more of that later.