Last week 90 intrepid P7 kids (10/11-year-old) were treated to a superb trip to the Thompson Dry Dock, a Belfast City Sightseeing Tour and tour of Parliament Buildings at Stormont Estate.
Our guide at the Thompson Dry Dock was the self-proclaimed “Titanorak” Colin. Colin knows the Dry Dock inside out and he was fantastic at explaining the history of the place with the aid of his photograph folder which shows actual copies of pictures taken at the time of the Titanic.
He certainly knew his facts about the place. Did you know that the Pump House pumped out 168 million pints of Sea Water in 100 minutes or that when the Titanic was launched, it took 62 seconds and 22 tonnes of grease? What about the three different hats the workers of H&W wore (Duncher, bowler and Top) or that the Dry Dock door was called a Caisson and was 1000 tonnes in weight, 8 foot thick and took 6 minutes to close!!!
Colin explained how the Titanic structure was built on the Slipway (in the Arroll Gantry), launched on the 30th May 1911, fitted out in the Dry Dock with 29 boilers, 4 chimney stacks (3 worked, 4th was for ventilation) and all its fixtures and fittings. It was then officially launched on 2nd April 1912 from Belfast and then Southampton on the 10th April before hitting the iceberg on the 14th and sinking on the 15th. 2224 people were on board, only 710 survived.
We were taken down the steps to the bottom of the dock, some 50 foot below sea level and walked the length of the 850-foot dock, marveling at the 320 plus, 4-tonne, keel blocks on which the spine of the Titanic rested. It was very eerie to be down there and amazing to think of the water being let in through the 2 culverts and pumped out by the pump house. Amazing feats of engineering.
After our tour of the dock, Richard joined us and took us on a compact city tour. He told us about how our Ice Hockey team, The Belfast Giants was named after Gulliver from Gullivers Travels, how three times more workers worked in the linen industry than the ships, he showed us the Beacon of Hope, the Markets area, City Hall, (and its 7 £1 million stained glass windows), Assembly Rooms, Opera House, Europa, Crown Bar before heading to Shaftesbury Square.
From here it was into the University quarter before passing through the Loyalist Sandy Row and into the Nationalist Falls area where we saw the murals. The murals or graffiti art are excellent examples of controlled urban art and tell stories of oppression and the journey to peace. Next was a look at the Peace Wall, then the Shankill area before seeing the Crumlin Road Jail, Courthouse, Mater and Indian Community Centre.
After this, we traveled over the Lagan and back East to Stormont Estate to visit Parliament Buildings.
The Parliament Building is an excellent and iconic Belfast Landmark. It was opened in 1932 by King Edward and served as the seat of government for NI from 1932 until 1972 , when it shut. In 1998 it was reopened. It was also used, as the RAF HQ during WW2 (when it was camouflaged with manure and black tar!!).
Our guide here was Ann-Marie and she showed us the main chamber (blue) which is the debating chamber and seat of government for the Executive. The kids got to debate a motion and then vote on it. We were very lucky to have our MLA speak to the group and she encouraged more girls to enter politics.
After this, we went to an education room to learn about the levels of government. These are local councillors, MLA (Member of Legislative Assembly) and MP (Member of Parliament) viz pictures. Until 31st January this would have also included MEP (Member of European Parliament).
From here we were shown the Senate Chamber (red). This would have been the equivalent of The House of Lords (in NI we had Senators). Senators sat here until 1972 and from 1998 there were none. The chamber is used on Wednesday and Thursday for Committee work. The Senate Room was the RAF HQ in WW2.
There are tours of Parliament Building at 11 am and 14.00 daily and more frequent during summer months. They are free and there is also a free car park. The grounds (400 acres plus) are beautifully kept and a great place for a run or a walk. Needless to say, the P7 kids (and helpers!!) thoroughly had a packed day and really enjoyed the experience.