A Titanic City and a Giant’s Causeway
By Corey Sandler, Destination Consultant Silversea Cruises
We headed north from Dublin to Belfast, the capital and largest city of Northern Ireland, which is—like it or not for some residents—part of the United Kingdom.
A tenuous peace has more-or-less taken root in the past two decades, with some level of power-sharing between the two sides:
The Unionists or Loyalists (mostly Protestants supporting the continued link to the United Kingdom) and Republicans (mostly Catholics who want a union with the independent nation of Ireland.)
You can call it a religious conflict.
Or a political divide.
Or a clash of cultures.
Locally, they call it The Troubles.
Queen’s College, Belfast. Photo by Corey Sandler
In the Industrial Age, Belfast flourished as a center for two major industries: linen (which is the source of one of the city’s nicknames, Linenopolis), and shipbuilding.
At the sprawling yards of Harland and Wolff, the RMS Titanic was built.
The shipyard is still there, now devoted to new industries like wind farms and offshore drilling.
But the newest major attraction is Titanic Belfast, which opened last year to coincide with the centenary of the incomplete maiden voyage of the luxury liner.
The angular metallic structure was intended, according to its designers, to evoke the image of ship.
It stands 126 feet (38 m) high, the same height as Titanic’s hull.
Locals have already applied their own nickname: The Iceberg.
Belfast Titanic Museum
The museum on the site of the former Harland & Wolff shipyard tells the stories of the ill-fated RMS Titanic and her sister ships RMS Olympic and HMHS Britannic.
That last ship had been intended as a liner, but was converted at the start of World War I to be a hospital ship; it struck an underwater mine off the Greek island of Kea on the morning of November 21, 1916 and sank.
There were 1,066 people on board, but only 30 died.
The Britannic was the largest ship lost during the First World War.
One of the more extraordinary natural wonders of Northern Ireland lies along the Antrim Coast.
The Giant’s Causeway is an area of about 40,000 interlocking basalt columns, the result of an ancient volcanic eruption.
The tops of the columns form stepping stones that lead from the cliff foot and disappear under the sea.
Most of the columns are hexagonal (six-sided), although there are also some with four, five, seven or eight sides.
Giant’s Causeway. Photos by Corey Sandler
Some 50 to 60 million years ago, Antrim was subject to intense volcanic activity.
Molten basalt intruded through chalk beds to form an extensive lava plateau.
As the lava cooled rapidly, contraction occurred.
Horizontal contraction fractured in a similar way to drying mud, with the cracks propagating down as the mass cooled, leaving pillarlike structures, which are also fractured horizontally into “biscuits”.
So much for science.
According to legend, the columns are the remains of a causeway built by a giant.
The Irish giant Finn MacCool was challenged to a fight by the Scottish giant Benandonner.
Finn accepted the challenge and built the causeway across the North Channel so that the two giants could meet.
In one version of the story, Fionn has second thoughts about his upcoming battle when he realizes that his foe is much bigger than him.
Fionn’s wife, Úna, disguises Fionn as a baby and tucks him in a cradle.
When Benandonner sees the size of the ‘baby’, he reckons that its father, Fionn, must be a giant among giants.
He flees back to Scotland in fright, destroying the causeway behind him so that Fionn could not follow.
I like that version.
I think of it as another Titanic, a half-completed crossing of the sea.
Dunluce Castle, Northern Ireland The bay at Giants Causeway
Photos by Corey Sandler