On the fourth day (July 17), we were destined to make the formidable passage from our stay in Northern Ireland to the Republic, changing hotels, currency, and expectations. Regardless, before we embarked, we were given the opportunity to partake in the Titanic Museum in Belfast. Built around the former site of the Titanic’s construction, it chronicles the remarkable process which brought it to its maiden voyage and eventual tragedy.
My first impression was gaping, open-mouthed awe. The museum is a looming monument of sheer white panels, echoing back to both the ship itself, and the iceberg which determined its fate. Nearby are the gargantuan yellow cranes, Samson and Goliath, which seemingly swallow the horizon in their enormity. Branded with the bold H&W logo, they are representative of Harland and Wolff, the partnership under which the Titanic was made. Even more fascinating was the presence of the SS Nomadic, the last remaining White Star Line ship, perched in the Hamilton dry dock.
However, the interior was even more of a spectacle. A 50-foot replica of the Arrol Gantry led us from the main level to upstairs. One can imagine the daunting size that the original had been (over 300 feet). Without the safety regulations of today, the workers on the steel structure often climbed, rather than use the two functioning lifts (which were treated with skepticism). From that level, a sweeping auditorium displayed footage of the wreckage site of the Titanic, surveying the remnants of the ship, since first discovered in 1985. With the time that remained, we paced through the gift shop, loaded the coaches, and departed for Limerick.
After stretching our legs and checking into Strand Hotel, we left to go to a medieval dinner at Bunratty Castle. The castle itself was built in the fifteenth century by the MacNamara family and has since endured a winding history of rebellions and changing ownership (including the famed O’Brien clan). Now, as a site of Irish cultural heritage and identity, one can get a perspective of what the social scene of former centuries was really like. We were served “mead” with four removes (or courses): broth, ribs, chicken, and finally dessert. In the process of this, the most unique challenge was that we weren’t given forks, spoons, or any other form of cutlery. Rather, we were reduced to sipping our soup straight from the bowl and spearing our food with the knives (the singular utensil provided). This made for somewhat messy eating, but fortunately napkins were in abundance.
Throughout our exercises in creative eating, we were entertained by the nobles of the hall. Dressed in fine clothing, they serenaded us with traditional Irish harp, the fiddle, and even songs in their native tongue. One specific song was actually titled Dúlamán, or “seaweed,” and literally referred to the practice of gathering it for various purposes, such as dyeing and eating.
It was a little melancholy to leave after an eventful day full of adventures. Despite that, what I remember most is the smiles fixed upon all of our faces. It had been a day full of new memories made, and of reliving Ireland’s vibrant past.