When the White Star Line chose to build Titanic in the Harland and Wolff shipyard, Belfast blushed with pride. Titanic would be the grandest ship the world had ever seen. Its build meant economic stability for 3,000 Belfast families. It put the city on the industrial map.
It made Belfast big.
In March 1909 the ship’s keel was laid. Over the next two years the mammoth structure grew and grew, creeping its way into Belfast’s skyline. On April 2 Titanic set out confidently from the Harland and Wolff docks on her maiden voyage.
We know the rest of the story – the iceberg, the tragic loss of life, the heroes and the villains. Before Titanic set sail, Belfast had basked in its reputation as THE shipbuilding city. Now, though, its crowning glory had sunk in the most dramatic fashion imaginable. The people of Belfast fell silent when the news struck. Titanic was no longer something to be proud of.
“There was a period of time after the sinking of Titanic that Belfast kept its head low and pushed away any associations,” Mayor Niall O’Donnghaile told a news conference in March 2012.
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Susie Millar, who is a direct relative of an assistant deck engineer who perished when the ship went down and who runs Titanic Tours Belfast, concurs: “When Titanic was being constructed, there was a definite sense of pride. But when the Titanic disaster happened, Belfast clammed up and it was hardly spoken about.
“The slipway where Titanic was built was used as a car park in the Seventies and Eighties – that’s a good indication of the level of interest there was back then.”
Pride in our history
The phrase time is a healer rings true for modern Belfast. The city has learned to be proud of Titanic again. In Susie Millar’s words, “We are now at a place where we can celebrate the engineering and innovative achievement of Titanic while remembering those who were lost.”
Over one hundred years after the tragedy, Belfast is back at the heart of the Titanic story. A new, strong sense of pride has washed over the city with the opening of the world’s largest Titanic experience – Titanic Belfast, built on the slipways where the ship itself was constructed.
Inside are six floors of multimedia wizardry, which guide you through the Titanic tale from construction to tragedy, as well as a full-scale replica of the original Grand Staircase. It’s an experience most visitors don’t forget in a hurry, as the Huffington Post said: “Simply awe-inspiring at every step.”
The ship of dreams has captured our imagination. Again.