Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Regeneration of a City

So, today we visit a  renewed & transforming Belfast.  A Belfast whose makeover is well underway & whose people are trying hard to put the conflicts of the past behind them. 

As a result of Belfast's increasing tourism & the cities regeneration programmes, four cultural zones within the city have emerged reflecting the history & locality of each quarter.  Yesterday we explored the Queen's Quarter [Queen's University, Botanic Gardens, Ulster Museum, City Hall, Crown Bar, Grand Opera House] & the Gaeltacht Quarter [The Fall's Rd area, initiated to promote the use of the Irish language].

Our first stop today was in the Titanic Quarter. Development here is still underway to transform the vast area of this former shipyard on the banks of the River Lagan, into a harbour village with apartments, bars, restaurants & Titanic attractions.

H & S Crane, Titanic Quarter, Belfast
Wherever you go in Belfast, you'll always catch a view of the enormous Harland & Woolf Cranes which dominate the city's skyline, but the centrepiece of the Titanic Quarter is the newly built 'Titanic Belfast'.  The first thing that strikes you about this building is it's silver three dimensional exterior cladding, the shape of which replicates four 90ft hulls, the exact height of the Titanic's hull. 
We were disappointed to find that we were going to miss the opening of 'Titanic Belfast' by just two days.  Opening on April 1st, we are going to be spending our last night in Belfast on March 29 before driving to Dublin March 30th to fly home to NZ.

However, we were able to park close to the building and take some photos.  There seemed to be a flurry of activity in & out of the building as contractors rushed to put the finishing touches to the site, in readiness of it's inauguaral opening in 9 days time!

The new Titanic Belfast Building, Belfast

On doing a little research about 'Titanic Belfast', I see it will include "a ‘Titanic Experience' exhibition, an ‘immersive theatre' diving underwater to explore the wreck, a Titanic-themed banqueting suit  and a community arts facility for local exhibitions, performances and conferences".

A replica of the grand oak staircase which was on board the ill-fated ship has been built & erected in the centre's banqueting hall.  The problem with this is, that the staircase is only open to corporate guests using the banqueting suite & not part of the main tour for visitors, which has been causing a bit of a stir among the die-hard 'Titanoraks' who feel it should be included in the tour.   NB: 'Titanoraks' is the new buzz word given to those with a particular fascination for the Titanic disaster. 

Titanic Museum, Belfast
A short hop, skip & a jump from 'Titanic Belfast' are more Titanic attractions, including the Titanic Slipway from which Titanic was launched, Thompsons Dry Dock where finishing touches were made to Titanic, the Pump House with the original pumps that were used to empty the massive dock   & the former Harland & Woff Headquarters where the ship builders would have poured over the construction plans of the Titanic.

Titanic's Dry Dock, Thompson's Dock, Titanic Quarter, Belfast

At Thompson's Dock, we booked in for a guided tour of the Dry Dock & Pump House, famous now for it's association with the building of the Titanic.
Our diminutive tour guide & obsessed 'Titanorak' was an enthusiatic bubbly young woman from the north of England who breathed life into the Titanic Story as she told it. Her patter about the history of the Dock & pump house was so informative & interesting , I found myself enjoying this so much more than I thought I would.
The Thompson's Dry Dock is but a big hole in the ground and might not seem like much until you learn what once sat in it.  RMS Titanic sat here while being fitting out... inside & out that is.

Thompson's Dry Dock, Titanic Quarter, Belfast
 A staggering 176 ships were launched from here in the first decade of the 1900's.  In 1907, work began on two of the three ships, the 'Olympic' and the 'Titanic' (the 'Britannic' came later). but considerable upgrades to accommodate the construction of these enormous  vessels was necessary. Three existing slipways were merged into two, and a huge steel gantry erected over them so that the ships could be built side by side.

When the superstructure was completed, the ships were launched into the river and towed to the deep-water fitting-out wharf, then returned to Thompson's dry dock for final work. 

The Pump House, Thompson's Dock, Belfast
Once the Titanic had been towed into the dry dock, the gates at the end were shut, and the water pumped out.  Astonishingly, the dock could be pumped dry of its 26 million gallons of water in just an hour and a half – a rate of two swimming pools per minute.

The Pump House, Thompson's Dock, Belfast

The deep-water fitting out wharf, Titanic Quarter, Belfast
Just down the road from Thompson's Dock is the new Public Record Office of Northern Ireland, with its collection of materials relating to every facet of Northern Ireland's history & a great place to start if you are researching your family roots.    

To use the PRONI's research facilities, you must first register as a PRONI visitor. You will receive a photographic Visitor Pass and visitor number (which you will need when ordering a document).   You will need to have with you, your passport or some other form of photo ID before being issued with your photo ID lanyard.

Services available at PRONI include free Wifi, & a large Search Room with electronic ordering, internet access and laptop points.
I spent about an hour here looking through microfiche film but didn't find any new dates or names that I didn't already have on my family database.  Had I been more prepared, I'd have come armed with specific people & dates so as to narrow my focus, but it was good to look around & see what was available.   When I'm next in Belfast, I'll be prepared for my PRONI visit.
St Anne's Cathedral [also known as Belfast Cathedral], Belfast

From here we drove into the city to walk around the revitalised Cathedral Quarter, the focal point of which is the St Anne’s Cathedral in Donegall Street.   This Church of Ireland church is also known as Belfast Cathedral.

St Anne's Cathedral, Belfast

St Anne's Cathedral, Belfast
Historically the centre of Belfast’s trade and warehousing area, today’s Cathedral Quarter is now the City’s cultural hot spot as well as a thriving business, educational and leisure district

St Anne's Square, Cathedral Quarter, Belfast

St Anne's Square, Cathedral Quarter, Belfast
St Anne's Square, looking through to St Anne's Cathedral, Belfast
Just around the corner from the Cathedral is St Anne's Square, a newly developed complex of buildings created around a beautiful piazza surrounded by apartments, cafes & businesses enhancing the physical environment of this previously run-down area. 
Made in Belfast Restaurant, Cathedral Quarter, Belfast

James Larkin [Irish Trade Union Leader & Socialist Activitist] Sculpture on a wall in Donegall Place, Belfast

Bronze wall sculpture of James Larkin, Belfast

Graffitti, Belfast

The Roost Pub, Belfast


The John Hewitt Bar, Belfast

The Quarter also boasts a diverse mix of bars & restaurants. The Duke of York is nestled in one of the Quarter's cobbled streets & one of Belfast's most famous traditional pubs, it's walls & ceiling stuffed to the gills with signs and memorabilia.   This wee pub is well worth a visit during the daytime before it fills up with the evening crowd.   

The wall opposite the Duke of York, Donegall Square, Belfast
The easiest way to find the Duke of York Pub is to walk straight down past to the John Hewitt  Pub on Donegall Street & look for an entry-way on your left hand side just past the pub; it'll have "The Duke of York" in big letters painted on the wall with an arrow.

The Duke of York Pub, Donegall Square, Belfast
The Duke of York Pub, Donegall Square, Belfast

There are many cozy wee pubs, cafe bars, trendy restaurants & luxurious hotels in the Cathedral Quarter.

The Merchant Hotel, Waring St, Belfast

The Merchant Hotel on Waring Street is a beautiful Italianate building, dating from 1860, it was once the former headquarters of the Ulster Bank before being converted into the luxurious 5-star Merchant Hotel. The old banking hall has been converted to a spectacular restaurant & is well worth a look. 
The Merchant Hotel [formerly the Merchant Bank], Belfast
The grand interior of the Merchant Hotel, Belfast
One quirky wee bar on Church Lane is Muriel’s Pub named after its former resident milliner & according to the staff, a 'Madame' of certain repute.

Muriel's Cafe Bar, Church Lane, Belfast
Inside the doors of Muriel's you first see an array of colourful modern undergarments, the likes of which I'm sure Muriel herself couldn't have imagined in her wildest dreams. At the back of the bar you're attention is drawn to the displays of hat paraphernalia of a bygone era.
Muriel's Cafe & Bar, Church Lane, Belfast
Bittles Bar, Victoria Square, Belfast
Another curious little pub is Bittles Bar near Victoria Square.   It's tiny, just one small triangular room adorned with portraits and pictures of Ireland's most celebrated literary figures, from Wilde to Yeats, Joyce and Beckett.
Bittles Bar, Belfast
Nearby Bittles Bar is Victoria Square Mall, on top of which has been built a large glass dome, lit at night & visible from many parts of the city.  Inside the dome, accessed by a lift, there is a superb viewing platform from which to get great views across Belfast city.
Victoria Square Mall, Belfast

Viewing Dome of Victoria Square Mall, Belfast
Victoria Square Viewing Dome, Belfast

Looking down from viewing dome into the Mall, Victoria Square, Belfast

The Albert Clock Tower viewed from Victoria Square Dome, Belfast
Our day of sightseeing was drawing to a close but there were two more well-known sights we wanted to add to our list.  So while my cousin walked back to pick up the car, we walked along Custom House Square passed the Albert Clock Tower & over to the Big Blue Fish Sculpture on the Quay where we waited to be picked up.

The Albert Clock Tower, Belfast

The Leaning Albert Clock Tower, Custom House Square, Belfast

The 'Leaning' Albert Clock  Tower was completed in 1869 & obtained its nickname after developing a pronounced list, due to being built on reclaimed land. 
Big Fish Sculpture, Belfast

Across from the Albert Clock Tower you'll spot the Big Fish on Donegall Quay beside the River Lagan.  When you take a closer look you find that each scale on the fish is a printed ceramic mosaic, depicting aspects of Belfast's past -  a newspaper cutting, a letter, a photograph, an illustration maybe of a sailing ship or maybe a portrait.   What at first sight seems to be an over-sized fish, turns into a complex mosaic, crammed with information waiting to be discovered.   Made in 1999 by artist John Kindness, the pictures & text on the tiles are mainly from the Ulster Museum, but some are contributions from Belfast school children.

Mosaics clearly visible on the Big Fish sculpture, Belfast
I have to say it's my favourite sculpture of all those I've seen in Belfast over the last couple of days.

We certainly packed in a lot today & probably couldn't have got around all these landmarks quite so easily had we not had my cousin with us to guide us around.  One thing that's evident when you're visiting a new city, is that you tend to waist a lot of time studying maps & routes on how to get from one attraction to the next.   When you have someone with local knowledge, you get a much more thorough view of the place.  So thank you Audrey, for an awesome day.  You've been such an enthusiastic, positive advocate for this wonderful city. 

Evidence of Belfast's regeneration is all around, but as well, the pride & optimism of the Belfast people, like my cousin, is clear for all to see. 

New Commercial building, Belfast
On our way back to my cousins' house we stopped off at Belfast Airport to meet, for the first time, another of my distant cousins, Hilary.  We'd corresponded & spoken briefly on the phone, so I was excited to meet her in person.  It was only going to be a short meeting, as she was catching a flight back to her home in England.   Tomorrow I'm heading down to Enniskillen in County Fermanagh to meet many more of my long lost cousins, as well as one of my grandfather's last remaining first cousins, Hilary's mother.   Hilary had just spent a few days with her mother Lillie & told me she was looking forward to meeting me at last.  Lillie, now 91 had been corresponding with me for 5 years & regularly wrote appealing to me to 'hurry over'.   In a couple of days we'll finally get to meet.


  1. Thank you for this wonderful site. We just got home from a week in Dublin and Belfast. It was a whirlwood tour conducted by our daughter, who just finished a semester at Trinity College(we are American) but you filled in the gaps for us. You are a terrific writer and photographer.

    1. Many thanks for your kind comments about my blog. I write it mainly as a record for myself but hope too, that it may help others when planning their own trips to Ireland.