Belfast Titanic Museum

Belfast 2016

This past weekend, B and I went up to Belfast for an overnight stay. There was a big tattoo convention on up there at the Titanic Museum. The drive up from Dublin is only about an hour and a half, and is a simple easy straight shot up on the M1. We left early Saturday morning and arrived to Belfast about Noon. This enabled us to go through the Titanic Museum and then on to the convention.

Belfast 2016

First the museum. It’s on the waterfront of the harbor at Belfast (view above) where many ships were built about 100 years ago. Among others for the White Star lines were the Olympic, the Titanic and many others. To commemorate the building and launch of the Titanic, and its subsequent sinking -there is now a museum built in a modern architecture style – which is designed to look like the prow of a ship. You can see it just behind us, below.

Belfast 2016

The museum itself is 5 stories and it costs 17.50 for the basic entry to the museum and the ship nearby. What I expected was not quite what it was though. The place was packed full of people (it was a weekend) and you went up to the main museum based on the time on your ticket. We started out by visiting the large ship nearby – the SS Nomadic. This was the ship that ferried passengers for the Titanic from the port of Cherbourg, France to the Titanic. The vessel itself is dry docked, and has been restored on the inside. There are a few tables, some wooden benches, and a partially interactive museum system. There are some displays of old luggage and some history of a few of the passengers that crossed on the Nomadic to the Titanic. The ship itself is a “supplement” to the larger titanic museum, so while it did lack in information and history (they could have told more about the service of the ship itself) it was ok. The decks were easy to wander and it was good for the 45 minutes we were there.

Belfast 2016
The main steam pipe for the Nomadic

Belfast 2016
Iceburg Lettuce Ahead!

After touring the SS Nomadic we headed inside the main building and were herded into a line with everyone that was on the 1:15 walk through. They promptly had us stand in front of a green screen to take a picture (to be super imposed on a deck of the Titanic, in front of the museum or any of 5 other poses you could later buy for 7.50 each). Then we were sent up an escalator. What we were expecting was a museum of history and artifacts and lots of details on the people who were aboard the Titanic. It’s not really what we got. There were lots people – and as you shuffled through – it was walls of reading and posters and old blown up pictures that were about Belfast, the manufacture of the Titanic (and other ships) and then about the white star line. You walked though area after area like this – much of which in such crowded conditions was impractical to try and read. (It was also quite warm). Eventually, you get to a point they send you up an escalator to the third floor and you stand for about 20 minutes to take a “ride” in a bucket around a room that comprises most of the 2nd and third floor). The ride moves you about from video screen to video screen while you listen to a radio broadcast telling you stories from those that worked building ships. They talk about the heat, they talk about the riveting process, and so on.

Once done with that, you’re marched into another room with more reading / large photo displays, a replica of two rooms of the titanic, a display of carpet samples, and some china samples from the manufacturing process. Eventually, you end up in an area with a repeating video of an ocean (and a fake railing which everyone poses in front of) and the lone item from the time – a letter sent before the Titanic disembarked from Ireland. Finally, you’re sent into a theater room with a repeating video of the underwater oceanographic view of the wreck itself. It is pretty much the same video you see in the movie Titanic with DiCaprio. Here, you take a breather – and then are sent through a bunch of oceanographic displays of old diving gear and modern technology (scuba type subs). There’s also an interactive display on multiple screens where you can “pilot” the subs over the computerized video of wreckage and try to pick out what’s there.

The last rooms are dedicated to the telegraph dispatches from the titanic, the lifeboats, and the survivors. There’s also an interactive computer system set up where you can look up individuals on the ship – and get some other very basic details. Again though -with the crowded nature of the museum – there were bottle necks and folks just didn’t try to read what was there -because it was almost impractical.

After leaving the museum, we headed downstairs for some refreshments at the cafe. I ended up getting a sandwich and white star lines piece of carrot cake:

Belfast 2016

The cake was fine, but it was served on a replica Titanic plate (let’s all ooh and ahh):

Belfast 2016

After that, we went up to the 5th floor of the building and into the Tattoo convention. This was very cool (though I didn’t take any pictures – how did I not take pictures?!?). Before heading to our hotel – the Tara lodge. The Lodge is straight downtown Belfast – and within walking distance to just about everything including the bars, the Queen’s College, and the Botanical Gardens. More on the botanic gardens tomorrow.

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Taking Flight with the Fairies

Wishing Trees (aka May Bushes or Fairy Trees) are hawthorn trees where people tie ribbons to ask blessings from the local saints/deities/wee folk. The hawthorn usually flowers in May, time of the Bealtaine festival of rebirth (now generally known as May D

Yesterday, I mentioned that S. was in town and we went over to several places including a place new to me – Duleek Abbey. One of the other places that we went was the Hill of Tara. I have posted a blog about it before (you can see it here – Hill of Tara), but I decided that maybe I should go into one of the interesting things about Ireland and ancient faiths that is relevant to the Hill of Tara (and other places around Ireland).

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Here in Ireland, the people are considered mostly Catholic / Christian in faith. Now this is changing as time moves on and immigrants from other places arrive, but one thing that is interesting is that if you know where to look – there is evidence of far older beliefs. Celtic beliefs. When you go to Tara, you wander the grounds up the ditches, down the ditches. You see the stone of destiny, and you feel the ever blowing wind at the top of the hill. The smell of grass is thick, and the bleat of sheep and moan of cows are carried from the fields below. There are kids running about, dogs playing fetch, and others that are just enjoying the view. One thing that most people miss – because they don’t walk the perimeter of the site – are the the Trees.

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To most people, the Hawthorne trees / Hawthorne bushes edging the Hill of Tara are trees are nothing special and most of them are what they seem. The reality is that trees are among Ireland’s most ancient. They can live to be 400 years old. The trees grow in a knarled fashion with rough trunks that have deep divots and curves. In spring time, the trees bloom in white flowers and as their leaves come in they have thorns just under each tiny little sprout. These thorns typically 1–3 cm long. In autumn, they bear a red fruit type berry. The hawthorn has been regarded as the emblem of hope, the ancient Greeks used to carry Hawthorn branches in wedding ceremonies, but somehow during medieval times the tree took on a lore that might help, in part, to explain why people avoid them. The crown of thorns that Christ wore during his crucifixion is said to have been made from a Hawthorn tree.

In Irish legends, the first humans on the Island encountered a “fairy” or “mystical people”. They were called the Sidhe (pronounced Shee-hey). Something happened (was it a fight?) and the Sidhe were banished to the Realm of the Fay. Some of the wee folk chose to remain, however, and they live underground or sometimes are said to reside in certain trees or bushes, usually of the hawthorn variety. You don’t want to disturb the fairy folk or you might bring some kind of misfortune upon yourself.

Other legends say that a pair of Hawthorne trees serve as a portal to the Land of the Fay and if you’re not careful, you can fall through the portal and wake up ‘on the other side’.

What’s interesting is that at the Hill of Tara, there are a pair of “Fairy trees” (aka Wishing Trees), despite the negative connotations around the “portal” and the “wee people”. While you could walk through the portal between the trees into the netherworld, those that visit these trees are bringing wishes and gifts for the Sidhe to take on to the other side. Over the years of visiting Tara, I have come across these Hawthorne trees in various seasons. In the Winter, the OPW who is in Charge of Tara clears away all the debris and cuts off all of the “ties” and “tags” that have been put on the tree. Come springtime though, the people bring their offerings to the trees. By summer, they are covered in decorations, and by autumn, it is nearly impossible to find a place to put your own. It is a very interesting place. Each wish is different – but they tend to be in similar forms.

Children’s pacifiers / bracelets or toys – Perhaps in mourning for a lost childhood, as a symbol of growing up, or as a wish for children (more children)?

Hill of Tara - Fairy Tree

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Pet items (like a collar, a leash, or a poop bag) – Perhaps their pets are lost? Perhaps they want a pet? or perhaps they are hoping that people will learn to clean up after themselves.

Hill of Tara - Fairy Tree

keychains or little plush shaped like animals

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Notes / messages and paper items:

Hill of Tara - Fairy Tree

My offering to the Fairies

Hill of Tara - Fairy Tree

Ribbons, hair ties, and barettes:

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Hill of Tara - Fairy Tree

Bells, chimes, things that move with the breeze or catch the sun and sparkle.

Hill of Tara - Fairy Tree

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Hill of Tara - Fairy Tree

I think for me, the fact that the belief / wishes are still being placed on the trees makes Tara that much more magical and the cultural tradition very sweet. I’ve not seen any other trees, though I hear that they are all over Ireland – one even having had a petition to have a road routed around it successfully. For me – I always take the time to leave a little something for the fairies – just in case. ;).

For a legend about the trees, you can checkout a blog post at – http://www.derryghosts.com/tree.htm

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Duleek Abbey, Co. Meath

Duleek Abby

Spring has finally arrived to Ireland, and as part of so has the sunshine and the chance to visit some further sites. My friend S. arrived this week she will spend the next month touring around Ireland. After picking her up at the airport and giving her a day to get over the ‘jet lag’ we struck out in the 19C day and decided to see some sites. Among them were several I had been to previously – New Grange; KNowth; Old Mellifont Abbey; Hill of Slane; ; and Trim Castle & Area. One thing that I did do differently was on the way, we stopped in at Duleek Abbey Ruins.

Duleek Abby

Duleek or Damhliag in Irish, translates to stone house or church- is a small town in County Meath, Ireland. The town began as an early Christian monastic settlement. St. Patrick established a bishopric here about 450 A.D. St. Cianan in 489 A.D., where a Pre-Norman Church was built on the site of St Mary’s Abbey. Today the ruins of the second incarnation (St. Cianan’s Church) Abbey are visible in Duleek today.

Duleek Abbey

Duleek Abbey

This monastic settlement was raided by Vikings in 830 and again in 1149. The body of Brian Boru lay in state here in 1014 on it’s way to Armagh after the Battle of Clontarf. In 1180 Hugh de Lacy, the Anglo-Norman Lord granted the church and lands to the Augustinians. What remains of the Abbey today is the 13th century southern arcade with a 14th century southern aisle (below). In the east gable of the aisle is a 16th century window (above). The plaque says “this window was made by Sirr Johne BelleWe Knight and Dame ?”

Duleek Abbey

Duleek Abbey

To the west is a 15th century bell-tower which was formerly joined to an earlier round tower. The round tower is no longer standing but the scar where it was joined onto the square tower is clearly visible on the side (below behind the tree). There are some faces carved into the bell tower as well. (close up below)

Duleek Abbey

Duleek Abbey

In the center of the former church, there’s a carved slab tomb which has carvings from the 1600’s which you can see below in the 4 photos.

Duleek Abbey

Duleek Abbey

Duleek Abbey

Duleek Abbey

There are two Celtic high crosses in the churchyard that date from the 10th Century. Within the church are some early cross-slabs, a Romanesque pilaster-capital, and the base and head of the South Cross (first picture below).

Duleek Abbey

To the north of the abbey is a small but complete High Cross. This Cross is only about the height of a person, and is quite weathered and difficult to see what the carvings are. Front:

Duleek Abbey

Close up of Gryphon?

Duleek Abbey

Reverse:

Duleek Abbey

With S for size measurement:

Duleek Abbey

There is also an effigial tomb slab of James Cusack, Bishop of Meath 1679-1688 (above), as you can see below.

Duleek Abbey

There are several other gravestones in the area, and a “modern” church that has now been converted to a restaurant for the town on the property (first picture). As a side note, there’s also a quaint little thatched cottage in Duleek within walking distance to the Abbey ruins (we parked in front of it) that I had to get a photo of – because it’s just been re-thatched and looked so pretty in the sunlight.

Duleek Abby

The full flickr set is here.

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