Grannies on Safari: the Grannies in Ireland – Part 2

Sat 8 September 2012

Today we left the lovely castle of Lough Eske in Donegal & it took us around 3 hours to get back to Belfast.

the Grannies in IrelandOur first port of call was the St Georges Victorian covered market on the Lagan waterfront. We expected it to be a craft market but that’s on Sunday, Saturday was the farmers market but there were plenty of arts & crafts for sale, along with fresh fish, homemade pies & exotic cakes. A singer in the middle of the market seems strange but added a novel ambience to shopping.

Our big event of the day was the Titanic Experience – the new museum & exhibition centre that opened in March 2012. Already nearly half a million visitors have passed through the doors. It took several years & cost £97 million pounds to build & it’s located at the original Harland & Wolff shipyard where the Titanic was built.

The Titanic Experience museumThe building overlooks the slipway where it was launched & it’s a glistening structure designed to reflect elements of the ship, the sea & that fateful iceberg. In its day (1912) the Titanic was the largest moving man-made object & the building captures the essence of its vastness with steel ships plates & a labyrinth of escalators that mimic gangways zigzaging through the cavenous atrium.

It’s much more than a static exhibition, it’s an interactive & experiential museum, on an epic scale – like the ship. An engine room experience has huge video walls of gigantic pistons that are hissing & thumping as they power the ship.

Different sections have physical & CGI reconstructions, life in the cabins, old black & white footage, memorabilia, the original distress calls & voices of survivors. Then there’s the full story of exactly what happened, how it sank & finally the 21st century discovery & exploration of the wreck – two & half miles down on the North Atlantic seabed.

the Grannies at Titanic Experience museumThere is also a section exploring various myths & fictional accounts of the sinking of the Titanic, along with a host of films. There was also a sister ship called the Olympic which after being recalled & refitted sailed regularly until 1935.

Even though the twentieth has seen horrors & disasters on a scale that dwarfs that tragic night of 14/4/1912 when the Titanic sunk – nevertheless this tragedy continues to fascinate people to an extraordinary extent.

Sun 9 September

This is a whistle stop look around Ireland with the Grannies. Pat Johnson has been several times because her son lives here, but for Regina Fraser it’s her first visit. Regina has been bowled over by the history, the friendliness of the people & the beauty of the landscape.

Ros tapestryToday we raced from Belfast to New Ross in County Wexford, it took 4 hours, not a sensible plan but one forced on us by circumstances. We were here to film at the Ros Tapestry ( which I visited a couple of years ago and wanted to see how this monumental tapestry project was progressing.

This series of 15 huge tapestries is the largest in Europe & they tell the little known story of the Norman invasion of Ireland, which happened a few years after their invasion of England.

The tapestries have been 14 years in the making – hundreds of embroiderers, thousands of hours and millions of individual stitches; all done by local Wexford women (& a few men) in community centres & private homes.

Each piece is a marvel of art, craft & skill but in addition each tapestry there is also a visual history that tells a story about a key event in Irish-Norman history. The Grannies spent hours talking to embroiderers as they worked on the last tapestry & were especially interested in the depiction of ancestors of four future US presidents.

Exploring steerage on the DunbrodyThe Norman’s were a relatively small band of European mercenaries led by Richard de Clare (aka Strongbow), invited into Ireland by the deposed & disaffected King of Leinster – Dermot McMurrough. The huge Norman war horses, superior weaponry & military tactics overwhelmed Irish defenders who preferred to fight in small bands.

The impact of the Norman’s changed Irish life forever & was the beginning of the English obsession with Ireland & all the tragedy that was to follow.

Just across the road from the Ros Tapestry Centre is the three masted sailing ship – The Dunbrody, sometimes refered to as one of the famine ships.

Filming on the DunbrodyThe Dunbrody is an authentic reproduction of its 1840 namesake that foundered off the coast of Canada. The ship shows the appalling conditions that steerage passengers endured on the 5-6 week crossing of the Atlantic. Actors describe the circumstances that typically prompted the arduous journey & what life was like on board ship.

Cholera & typhus were rife onboard ship & on average 20% of passengers died during the crossing. This gave the ships their other name of ‘coffin ships.’

The Grannies interacted with the actors playing passengers & were amazed to discover that JFK’s ancestors crossed to America as lowly steerage passengers & so really did live the American dream of rags to riches.

Photographs by Peter Lynch

•  Read Part 1 – the Grannies in Ireland
•  Read Part 3 – the Grannies in Ireland

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Peter Lynch

Journalist, rail and wildlife specialist & contributor to Great Train Journeys of the World

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