Friday 19 April 2019

Titanic 100: Your essential guide

RMS Titanic. Cobh was the liner's last port of call.
Robert Douglas Spedden, watched by his Father Frederic is playing on deck with a spinning top.

Pol O Conghaile

Pol O Conghaile has a Titanorak's guide to the doomed liner's centenary year

Belfast: The Interpretive Centre

If you've visited Belfast recently, you can't have missed Titanic Belfast -- the star-shaped structure sitting like a spaceship on Queen's Island.

The £97m/€116m aluminium colossus is twice the size of City Hall, and already looking like Northern Ireland's most iconic building.

Eric Kuhne's architecture wouldn't amount to a hill of beans, of course, without a quality exhibition inside.

So get ready for full-scale reconstructions, 3D tours of the ship's interior, tales from survivors and even a replica of the grand staircase in the main function hall.

The world's largest Titanic visitor attraction (yes, they measure such things) devotes 14,000sqm to the story of Titanic's conception and construction, her catastrophic maiden voyage on April 15, 1912, the aftermath of her sinking, the myths and legends she inspired, and the discovery of her wreck.

For years, Belfast has had its Titanic walks, its Harland & Wolff drawing rooms, the slipways from which she was launched into the River Lagan.

The final piece of the puzzle falls into place when Titanic Belfast opens to the public today.

Let's hope its maiden outing is rather more successful than that of the legendary ship it commemorates.

Details: £13.50/€16.20. Tel: 048

9076 6399; titanicbelfast.com.

Newfoundland: The dive expedition

Nothing is beyond the reach of Titanic tourism -- including the ship itself.

Though some may find the notion of joining a Mir submersible as it visits the ship's last resting place a tad ghoulish, to others, a 12,465ft dive to the world's most famous wreck would be the adventure of a lifetime.

Bluefish, a travel service to the rich and famous, is one company offering the chance to join two expeditions staged out of St John's, Newfoundland, on July 2 and 14.

The expeditions will take a maximum of 20 divers each to the site of Titanic's sinking, where the submersibles will descend some two-and-a-half miles to explore the wreck and debris field on the ocean floor.

Mir submersibles are constructed of nickel steel and designed to withstand enormous pressure.

The Titanic lies in darkness, but powerful lights will illuminate the anchors, bridge, prow, Marconi room and even the grand staircase, "all nestled within rivers of rust," Bluefish says.

The dive lasts 12 hours, and you'll need pockets just as deep to pay for it.

In today's terms, a first-class ticket on the Titanic would have cost $57,200/€43,428. The dive is even more.

Details: $59,680/€45,311pp. See thebluefish.com.

Las Vegas: The Titanic Artefacts Exhibition

You can count on Las Vegas to showcase the surreality at the heart of Titanic mania.

Where else, after all, could you touch a fake iceberg, itself contained within an exhibition of genuine artefacts salvaged from the wreck, itself contained within an enormous, Egyptian-themed pyramid?

RMS Titanic Inc's experiences have touched down in Orlando, Singapore and the Science Museum of Minnesota, among other places, but Luxor's exhibition is the Big Daddy.

There are more than 300 artefacts, ranging from passenger postcards and personal effects to a 15-ton piece of the Titanic's starboard hull, complete with video footage of its recovery from 12,465 feet.

Sure, there is the question of whether Titanic should have been left to decompose in her watery grave. But salvaging the artefacts meant they could be preserved, and their impact is undeniable.

A cook's hat; perfume samples that passenger Adolphe Saasleld hoped to sell in New York; a beautiful filigree ring of gold, platinum and blue sapphire, with the engraving: 'L to A, 6.9.10'.

Entering the exhibition, visitors are given a boarding card with the name and back story of a passenger, whose fate you can check against a list at the end.

Before emerging into the souvenir shop (Titanic snow globes, anyone?), I look up mine -- Jacques Heath Futrelle, a 37-year-old author who had just signed several book contracts in Europe.

He did not survive.

Details: $32/€24.30pp. Tel: 001 702 492 3960; luxor.com.

Southampton: The crew's story

Of the 1,517 people who lost their lives on the Titanic, 549 came from Southampton.

Most were crew serving in the merchant navy, and their deaths had a devastating effect on the city.

Numerous memorial events are planned to commemorate the 100th anniversary, ranging from guided walks around the Old Cemetery in Southampton Common, where there are no fewer than 45 memorials for Titanic victims, to the creation of a full-scale outline of the ship near Guildhall Square.

A spoken timeline will be delivered here on April 14, with distress flares launched into the sky.

The 100th anniversary will also see the opening of Southampton's new Sea City Museum, a reboot of the Old Magistrates' Court into several galleries focusing on what was once a gateway to the world, the hidden history of Titanic's crew, and life in the merchant navy 100 years ago.

Details: See southampton.gov.uk; seacity.co.uk.

Cobh: The final port of call

Titanic anchored offshore at Cobh (then Queenstown) on April 11, 1912. It took 123 passengers, supplies and its final mailbags on board before turning its nose toward the Atlantic.

It was here, too, that Fr Frank Browne shot the last-known photograph of the ship afloat.

Fr Browne, whose pictures can be seen at the Cobh Heritage Centre, travelled on the Titanic from Southampton to Cobh, where he was one of seven passengers to disembark. Somebody was clearly on his side.

As well as the heritage centre, and its new Titanic Experience, Cobh has a year-long series of events and activities commemorating the town's association with Titanic, ranging from summer concerts on Spike Island to walking trails, a maritime festival, and a closing ceremony on December 8.

Titanic Centenary Week (April 9-15) lies at the core of the commemorations. It kicks off with the arrival of the MS Balmoral on April 9 -- the cruise ship retracing Titanic's original voyage.

A series of gala concerts telling the story of the ship's connection with Ireland, and featuring the voices of Cara O'Sullivan and Eddi Reader, will be performed for several nights along the promenade.

On April 11, the Irish Air Corp will even perform a fly-over.

Details: €20 (concert tickets). See cobhheritage.com; titanic100.ie.

The Atlantic Ocean: The memorial cruise

How does the notion of a commemorative cruise to the site where Titanic sank, with stops at the original ports of call, and the option of period costumes strike you?

One memorial cruise -- on the MS Balmoral, departing Southampton on April 8 -- is booked out, perhaps testament to our enduring fascination with the ship.

A second cruise, however -- departing New York on April 10 on the Azmara Journey -- recently saw prices slashed from $4,900/ €3,795pp to $999/€758pp for inside cabins.

So maybe there are superstitious souls out there, too.

The cruises, available from Miles Morgan Travel, are aimed at enthusiasts and descendents of Titanic passengers, and will include lectures, entertainment and a memorial service at the sinking site.

Details: See titanicmemorialcruise.co.uk; milesmorgantravel. co.uk.

Belfast: The Titanic Festival

Titanic has its associations with Southampton, Cobh, Cherbourg, New York and Halifax, but Belfast remains its birthplace, the city where the great liner was designed, built and sent on her way.

As local wags are so fond of pointing out: "She was fine when she left here."

Given the marketing value of the association, perhaps it should come as little surprise that the city is splashing out £2.4m/€2.9m on its Titanic Festival (March 31-April 22).

Highlights include the return of MTV to Belfast with an open-air concert on the slipways (April 13), a spectacular digital projection lighting show (April 7-11), and a gala event at the Waterfront Hall (April 14).

For all the whistles and bells, however, nothing beats the Thompson Dry Dock for sheer atmosphere. Yes, it's basically a hole in the ground. But this is also the footprint of the liner itself, the space where Titanic was fitted out before her funnels were attached.

It seems eerily empty.

The dry dock is one of several sights on various Titanic tours of the city, which include the slipways, the old Harland & Wolff drawing rooms and the original pump house.

One of the best is a minibus tour with Susie Millar, the great-granddaughter of Thomas Millar, who worked in Harland & Wolff as an engineer and then sailed on the ship towards New York 100 years ago.

Details: See discovernorthern ireland.com/titanic2012; titanic tours-belfast.co.uk.

Holywood, Co Down: The kids' trail

The Ulster Folk & Transport Museum's Titanic exhibition may be blown out of the water by Titanic Belfast, which opens today, but don't write off a visit just yet.

The appeal here is intimacy. On a recent visit, the first things my five-year-old daughter and I encountered were a third-class porthole and a silver soup tureen that had been recovered from the wreck.

Inside, displays included drawings of the ship, models of the White Star liners, newspaper headlines from the night she sank, and a poster of James Cameron's movie signed by Millvina Dean, the last survivor of the Titanic at the time of her death in 2009.

As we explored, Rosa filled a kids' activity sheet with stickers, and when we got home she drew a picture of Titanic, which we uploaded to its online gallery. Happy days.

Details: £6.50/€7.80 (adults) £4/€4.80 (kids). See nmni.com.

Addergoole & Abbeyleix: The Titanic villages

Some 2,200 people were on board RMS Titanic when she struck an iceberg 375 miles south of Newfoundland.

Many more were involved in its construction, design and operation. So perhaps it's not surprising to find connections of all kinds throughout Ireland.

Take Jack Phillips, who left the Marconi station at Clifden to work as the liner's senior radio operator, and who sent the distress calls that resulted in the rescue of almost 700 souls.

Or take the 'Addergoole 14', a group of emigrants who left Mayo to join the ship at Cobh. Just three of them made it to the US, a story that will be remembered during Mayo Titanic Cultural Week (April 8-15).

Highlights include a Titanic Ball, bell-ringing and the release of paper lanterns on April 14, the opening of Ireland's first Titanic memorial park in Lahardane, and a re-enactment of the departure of the 14 on Easter Sunday, complete with pony, sidecar and period costumes.

Meanwhile, Belfast may have built the ship, but Abbeyleix, Co Laois, was responsible for four stunning rugs in the Titanic's state room.

At Heritage House, a curious museum includes a display on Abbeyleix Carpets, whose manager, William Henry Gillespie, went down with the ship.

Details: See clifden2012.org; mayo-titanic.com; abbeyleixheritage.com.

Cherbourg: La Cite de la Mer

Titanic reached Cherbourg at 6.35pm on April 10, 1912, where 281 passengers embarked via tenders over the short hour-and-a-half she spent in port.

They included the fabulously wealthy Colonel John Jacob Astor and his wife Madeleine, and Sir Cosmo Duff Gordon and his wife Lady Lucy.

At 8.10pm, the ship departed for Cobh, "lit up like a beautiful chandelier".

This spring, Cherbourg's La Cite de la Mer, a theme park dedicated to the deep sea, is opening new exhibitions dedicated to the Titanic and the history of emigration.

Visitors -- who can already see an aquarium, classic submersibles and tour an 8,000-ton submarine at the park -- will follow the journey of emigrants leaving the French port through film and archival photos.

Details: €15.50/€10.50. See citede lamer.com; cherbourg-titanic.com.

Nova Scotia: The Titanic grave

After Titanic sank, 337 bodies were recovered, the majority of them by ships dispatched from Nova Scotia. Of them, 128 were buried at sea and 209 were delivered to Halifax -- with 150 of those buried in three cemeteries in the city.

The granite graves, including that of the Unknown Child -- a two-year-old boy known as 'Body No 4' -- continue to be visited by thousands of people every year.

It's a pretty grim association and, understandably, the city isn't planning any rock concerts or Titanic triathlons to celebrate it.

Instead, a series of book signings, lectures, live performances and a candlelit procession will culminate with a moment of silence at 12.20am on April 14 (100 years after the Titanic began to sink), and the launch of flares symbolising her call to help.

Quite outside of the 100th anniversary commemorations, Halifax's Maritime Museum of the Atlantic is home to some intriguing artefacts.

They include a fully intact deckchair from the ship, and a poignant pair of children's leather shoes ... believed to belong to the Unknown Child.

Details: See titanic.gov.ns.ca; museum.gov.ns.ca/mma.

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