Belfast Docks. Northern Ireland.

A wee journey backwards today, backwards to April 1912… no … even earlier still. Let’s go…

Forget about the more than 1,500 souls that slipped and plunged into the dark and icy Atlantic drink and perished.

Forget about the names and faces of the rich, the powerful, the notable (John Jacob Aster, Molly Brown, authors, heirs, heiresses) who put up the funds and found the drive to build a mountainous, unsinkable craft of the sea.

Forget about Leonardo and Kate playing cutesy kite at the bow of the ship or steamily sucking face in the car below deck…

And now, put your head around the thousands of Belfast poor and plebeian who got up each day in 1910, 11, and 12, and brought themselves to the dockyards of Harland and Wolff where they used their muscles and brawn to build a ship beyond most imaginations’ scope… a floating miracle of the day…

… with simple tools, buckets of sweat, and impressive skill sets.

They put the pieces of the massive jigsaw puzzle together, saw the change from the boatyard’s original name of the ship from Number 401 to TITANIC, and brought it to life.

Today, the Titanic museum sits on this same site in Belfast, the very same site where Titanic and sister ship Olympic were built from nothingness to majestic floating miracles of the day.

Last week, we took this trip through time in the impressive – yes, you might even describe it as titanic – museum dedicated to Belfast and its incredible construction of the epic ship.

The museum itself is enormous in size and takes you on a tour of time, back through the history of Belfast, before the “troubles” of Northern Ireland… back to the time and place…

… back through moody, dimly-lit hallways with interactive displays showing where early plans were hatched… large cavernous rooms containing dozens of men (always men) poring over blueprints and rolls of paper designs they sketched and debated and finalized. Painstaking work by great designers and engineers of the day.

And then, one day, March 31, 1909, the work began in laying the keel on these docks from nothing but a dream and a gargantuan supply of metal, wood, glass, and thousands of Belfast, blue-collar workers.

Here, the 3,000 workers and 3,000,000 steel and iron rivets were hand-driven and hammered into place one at a time by 4 men in a crew. The rivets used in the front of the ship – made of weaker iron rather than steel, were the ones that struck the iceberg.

Two men on either side of the hull hammering in one rivet at a time

Over 2 years, 8 construction workers died and hundreds were injured.

(There was an unwritten expectation in shipyards at the time of ‘one death for every £100,000 spent’, so at a build cost of £1.5 million , the Titanic’s toll was less than the 15 deaths that might have been expected. Early good news.)

A few key “lucky” blokes were even given a free passage on the inaugural sail.

The workers toiled on average 49 hours weekly for the sum of £2.

Finally, twenty six months later, on a clear and momentous May 31, 1911… at 12:13 pm, the 882 foot-long Titanic slid over tons of tallow- into the Belfast Lough, where it sat for almost another year while the glamorous inside fittings were built before she could sail.

Author/photographer William MacQuitty watched the launch saying, “Slowly gathering speed, the Titanic moved smoothly down the ways, and a minute later was plunging into the water and raising a huge wave. I felt a great lump in my throat, and an enormous pride in being an Ulsterman.”

The museum takes you through all of this with dramatic displays and personal stories of those who did the rigorous work.

At one point, a Disney-like ride carries you through the dark, inner workings of the ship during its building phase… up and down you travel through the bowels of the hull of the Titanic with blasts of heat emanating from the furnaces that prepared the rivets for attachment amid ear-piercing hammering and engine noises blasting.

Anchor makers on the Titanic

In less than a year, the Titanic lay quiet on the floor of the Atlantic, broken and memorialized as a grave to hubris and optimistic thinking. The demise of the RMS Titanic was the fault of the designers, not the shipbuilders who made the incredible ship.

The hardworking breadwinners of Belfast at Harland and Wolff continued making ships in Belfast for many more years until the last one was launched in 2003.

Today, their memories lie buried inside this formidable museum on the Belfast waterfront where the world can gain insight into their lives and their world… the memories of an underwater “museum” captured above-ground on the dockyards of Harland and Wolff.

PS As a final notation to this trip, a visit to Ireland and Northern Ireland are a sensory delight with fabulous dramatic vistas.

Beautiful narrow roadways lined with hedgerows or stone walls for driving, and friendly, enthusiastic country folk who share the pride they feel in their lush homeland and history.

Add in some pints of Guinness, a dram of Irish whiskey, or a Shepherd’s Pie made with stout, and an Irish lilt will come to your lips with you hardly even noticing.

After left-shifting a rental car for more than 2,000 kilometres on bucolic Irish backroads, I can proudly attest that I only struck blood-curdling fear into my car’s internal residents and the good citizens of the Emerald Isle a few (dozen) times!

Titanic launch May 31, 1911.