Re-entry after vacation is never easy. It’s particularly difficult after a trip that captured my spirit so completely. A good part of my heart is still back on the Emerald Isle even as I begin to dabble in the affairs of my everyday life. My bride is having an equally difficult time with re-integration. We long for a vacuum in which we could return to a more permanent vacation and a life more like the ones we saw in Ireland. It’s not that our home life is unsatisfying by any stretch. We truly have great lives. It’s only by the contrast of being home compared to a vacation of a lifetime that our lives seem to leave us wanting for more. It’s akin to holding a beautiful painting from a very talented artist next to a Rembrandt so to speak. Only by contrast does one pale in comparison.
I had no idea what a significant role the Titanic would play in our two weeks in Ireland right down to this title of my first blog since returning home. I of course knew that the Titanic was closely tied to Ireland and that Christiana was fascinated with her story. When Christiana informed me that we were going to visit the Titanic museum while we passed through Belfast I can only say that I was neutral. My first instinct was that it would be better to press on and get to more of Ireland’s natural beauty over spending a half a day inside a museum that would cost us over $50 to enter. After only ten minutes in the Titanic museum I pulled Christiana to the side and told her that we could clear the calendar for the rest of the morning and take as long as she liked. I could see how meaningful this history was to her and it didn’t take long for me to get fully invested in the experience as well.
We spent about three hours exploring the story of the Titanic from planning to its construction to its famous sinking. We then walked out into the dry dock it was built in and got a feel for it massive stature. The exhibit is well worth the price of admission even with the cheesy Celine Dione music playing in the background at a few points. The feel of 1912 Belfast stayed with us as we walked the streets of Belfast later that same afternoon. I had no idea what to expect in Belfast but Christiana had selected a tour of the murals for our short visit to the city. After seeing videos of an early 1900’s Belfast bustling with industry, what a stark contrast the streets of the modern city strike. We walked both sides of the peace wall that divided the Unionists from the Loyalists during the Troubles. These streets are still filled with the angst of violence and death even years after the troubles have calmed. To walk these streets though and be able to say that the energy of the troubles is gone is not something that I can do. We left feeling heavy. Feeling drained. One could say our short 6 hour visit to Belfast split between the museum and he streets was a Titanic of a day.
About a week later in our travels we stayed in a room above a seafood restaurant in Dingletown. It was probably the smallest room of our trip, yet it was comfortable and in a great location. There were two posters in the room. One was of the Titanic and the other was of the Lusitania. Not being a history buff I knew little or nothing about the RMS Lusitania but would learn much more in the ensuing days. Perhaps it was a coincidence having these two posters in our little room that we happened into only by an Air B&B search the night before. Perhaps it was a signpost from the Universe directing us to the end of our journey in Cobh, Ireland.
When we reached our final destination in Cobh we walked the seafront that was the final port of call of the Titanic before its ill-fated journey from (then called) Queenstown to
New York. We drank in a pub on the waterfront that hosted gatherings of Irish families saying goodbye to their loved ones the night before they boarded the tender boats that would take them out to the massive ship docked out at the head of the harbor on the night of April 10th, 1912. We sat and drank a half pint the next morning with a view of the rotted old wooden dock where the 150 or so passengers that joined the Titanic in Queenstown boarded their tenders. We choose the Commodore hotel built in 1854 for our lodgings on our night in Cobh. I wanted to stay in a room with a view of the harbor that would have been there in the days that my great grandfather walked the streets of this city so rich in shipping history. After a night of odd dreams we learned that the Commodore was used as a morgue in the days after the sinking of the RMS Lusitania in 1915. The sinking of the passenger liner RMS Lusitania by a German U boat is widely regarded as the turning point in getting the USA involved in WWI. Christiana did a little further research and determined that the Commodore is widely considered to be haunted by the spirits of many of those deceased as well as the German family who were the unfortunate owners at the time of the sinking. One can only picture that German family hiding in the basement of the hotel on that night in 1915 as anti-German sentiment reached its peak.
As mentioned in some of my previous blogs, my family history is closely tied to this part of Ireland. We are lucky enough to have an auto-biograby written by my great grandfather Henry W. Herbert that traces our family history to County Cork, Ireland from his birth in 1871 and over the next few decades. In our haste to get ready for the trip, we forgot to take the book. Many of the details that we couldn’t quite remember while on the trip were left for us to re-discover upon our return home.
In one of those details it turns out that Henry W. Herbert emigrated to the United States on a vessel named the SS Majestic. The Majestic was built by Harland and Wolf, the same company that built the Titanic. It was operated by the White Star line, the same company that operated the Titanic. At its time it was the largest Atlantic crossing ship ever built prior to the building of the Titanic. The SS Majestic was pulled out of service and replaced by the (you guessed it) Titanic. After the Titanic sank in 1912 the SS Majestic was placed back into service to handle the fares that had already been sold. The one thing that would be missing from the Majestic as it sailed later in 1912 though would be its captain of nine years, one Edward Smith. You see Edward Smith had gone on to take over that larger and quite famous vessel the Titanic and you all know how his story ended.
Within the vacation of a lifetime there are many stories to be told. This story and its link to our voyage and my family history to me is a story of Titanic proportion. Pun intended…