Walking in my Great Grandfather’s Titanic Footsteps

Just before Christmas of 2016, I found out that it was likely that my great grandfather had worked on the building of the Titanic in Belfast around 1911. This was huge news to me obviously. I have visited the Titanic Museum in Belfast a few times in the past few years and been fascinated by the whole story. Now to find out that i may have some link to it through my ancestry just blew my mind.

An initial search through the PRONI has not turned up any information. I remain hopeful that I will be able to make a connection to my family and one of the most famous ships in the world.

Work

At the start of January, as I do every year for work, I travel to Belfast to exhibit at the annual Holiday World Show. Since last year has been held at the Titanic Exhibition Centre.  So I was just a short drive from the Titanic Dock and Pump House. I decided this was the perfect time to go and see it.

A bit hidden

The first thing to know about this place, is that it is a bit hidden in a business park and not amazingly well signposted. I was there on a Sunday morning and hadn’t a huge amount of time to spend there.  Arriving just before 10am (scheduled opening time), there was no-one around so I ventured over to the cafe. The entrance to this is round the back of the pump house, and found it open. A very friendly guy looked after me – I paid my £3 entrance fee and set off to explore. He said that normally during the week it would be busy enough. A lot of people work in the offices in the surrounding area but generally on the weekend it can be quiet enough. I could concur with that as from the moment I got there until I left, I was the only tourist in the place.

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Pump house

You first walk through the impressive pump house. It has 3 original pumps that were installed in 1910 and reach a depth of almost 40 ft. They are all the more impressive when you find out that these three pumps can empty 85 million litres of water out of the dock outside in just 100 minutes!

Dry dock

Outside is where it gets even more impressive as this is where the dry dock is. The Thompson Dry Dock opened in April 1911.  As you walk alongside it and then down the steps into it, you can’t help but think of the history that happened here. This was where the most famous ship in the world was built. It then went on its maiden and only voyage before that fateful accident on the early morning of April 15th 1912.

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The Thompson Dry Dock where the Titanic sat before its maiden voyage in 1912.  In the background you see the iconic Harland and Wolff gantries and on the right is the pump house.

Atmosphere

My walk through the dry dock was all the more unique as I was the only person in the place. Sound effects of the ship being built and other such ambience are piped through speakers. This gives you an idea of the atmosphere that you might have experienced had you been there in 1911/1912.

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The wall through which the Titanic sailed on her maiden journey

Go early!

All in all, allow yourself maybe 45 minutes to see everything there is to see. If you want to get some great photos with nobody else in them, go there early on a Sunday morning. There’s a fully stocked coffee shop at the start/end for any refreshments.

Check out my vlog from the weekend. This includes a visit to the Titanic Dock and Pump House which starts at around 2’20”.

Shane Smyth

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