Titanic Yardmen

It’s been 100 years since the fateful maiden voyage of the Titanic. Belfast is making a big deal of it – not so much the fact that the ship sank, but that it was built in Belfast. Although the maiden voyage ended in disaster, the Titanic was the ship of dreams – the largest passenger ship afloat at the time of that journey and a ship whose story has captured the imagination of people through the years.

This morning saw the unveiling of a sculpture to commemorate the achievement of the ordinary working people of Belfast who built the ship a century ago. Ross Wilson, a brilliant Ulster artist, is the sculptor and he was present at the unveiling, along with Northern Ireland’s First Minister, Peter Robinson, Belfast’s Lord Mayor, Niall Ó Donnghaile and local MP, Naomi Long.

The sculptures are on the lower Newtownards Road in Belfast, set against the backdrop of the iconic crane at Harland and Wolff shipyard, where the Titanic was built.

The event was a celebration of history, but also an indicator of recent political progress in Northern Ireland, given the disparate political positions of the Lord Mayor (Sinn Fein) and the First Minister (DUP) and the fact that they were both present. Indeed, kudos to the Lord Mayor who is from an area close geographically, but far removed politically from the location of the sculpture, for his warm participation in the event. The speeches were held in the local Presbyterian Community Church. The Lord Mayor quipped that he was no doubt the first person from the (nationalist) Short Strand area to preach in the Presbyterian Church; to which the minister replied that indeed he was. In fact, he joked, if it had happened 20 years previously, there would have had to be an offering – to finance the rebuilding of the church!

Signs of forward movement as Belfast celebrates its past.

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