One of the places we were especially looking forward to visiting was Belfast which is the capital city of Northern Ireland, standing on the banks of the River Lagan on the east coast of Ireland.
We travelled along the Belfast Lough before we saw the large yellow cranes nicknamed Samson and Goliath in Harland and Wolff shipyard. As we docked in the port, we could notice planes coming into landing at the nearby George Best Airport.
Being old enough to have seen the mercurial footballer in his prime, I could not help but wonder what Best would have thought about an airport named after him.
From the early 19th century, Belfast became a major port and Harland and Wolff shipyard was once the world’s biggest shipyard. Belfast was one of the major Industrial centres in the late 19th and early 20th century and was once known as the biggest linen-producer in the world. Belfast became the capital of Northern Ireland following the Partition of Ireland in 1922 and was heavily bombed during World War II leading to a considerable loss of life.
Unfortunately the problems did not end there, Belfast declined as an industrial centre after the war and sectarian conflict between republican and loyalist led to the ‘Troubles’, conflict that continued from around 1969 to 1998. The signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 has led to economic growth and some large-scale redevelopment of the city centre and other parts of the city.
Within the last 10 years, Belfast has found its way back on the tourist trail and has become a popular city break and base to explore the Northern Irish countryside especially the world famous Giant’s Causeway.
It has also drawn on its shipbuilding history with the development of the Titanic Quarter. The RMS Titanic was built on the site in 1912 and the large Titanic-themed museum is not the only attraction in the quarter, with a number of outside maritime exhibits like the SS Nomadic and the HMS Caroline. The waterfront has been developed with restaurants, cafes and there are even film studios nearby used for filming of the very popular Games of Thrones Tv series.
The Titanic Belfast attraction stands proudly like a ship in the middle of the quarter and although we went inside to have a look around and a coffee, we really didn’t have time to explore the attraction.
To get some scale of how large Titanic was, it is worth standing on the slipways outside the attraction, the outline of the Titanic and sister ship Olympic are marked out where they stood before they were released down the slipway.
In a nearby dry dock is the SS Nomadic which was a former tender of the White Star Line and launched during 1911 in Belfast She was built to transfer passengers and mail to and from the Olympic and the Titanic, and is the only White Star Line vessel in existence today.
A walk along the waterfront takes you The Great Light which has one of the largest optics of its kind ever built in the world, and is around 130 years old. The Great Light’s Fresnel Hyper-Radial lenses were originally made in 1887 for Tory Island Lighthouse, situated off Donegal and were made by the famous Saint-Gobain glassworks in France, and then finished by the lighthouse optic manufacturers, Barbier and Fenestre, in Paris.
In the enormous Alexandra dry dock, stands the remarkable HMS Caroline, the light cruiser of the Royal Navy that saw combat service in the First World War. When the ship was decommissioned in 2011 she was the second-oldest ship in Royal Navy service, after HMS Victory.
The Caroline is the last survivor of the Battle of Jutland still afloat. She is also one of only three surviving Royal Navy warships of the First World War. Located near the Caroline is the Titanic pumphouse and dock.
Walking back to Belfast city centre, you get a closer look of the gigantic yellow cranes nicknamed Samson and Goliath in Harland and Wolff shipyard standing guard.
As you make your way over the River Lagan, you seen the Albert Memorial Clock, the rather grand Custom house and a large blue ceramic fish sculpture.
You also pass McHugh’s Bar which promotes itself as Belfast’s oldest bar dating back to 1711.
Belfast city centre is dominated by the imposing Belfast City Hall, which was completed in 1906 and stand in a square of other large grand buildings including the Ulster Bank and Linen Hall Library.
With limited time, we decided to wander around the city centre and a little beyond, a walk down Donegall street took us to St Anne’s Cathedral and St Patrick’s Church. Nearby was the Kremlin club with a statue of Lenin outside.
Belfast is a fascinating city, but is in transition, with many of its old Victorian buildings failing out of use and new development taking place around the city. New ‘quarters’ are springing up to attract visitors to the city. Visitors can even visit some of the conflict spots related to the ‘Troubles’.
Old Fogies Travels are the adventures of two elderly Londoners (The Old Fogies) as they explore their home town and travel around the world looking out for the strange, unusual and absurd.
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