The most famous ship in the world was launched a century ago this year in Belfast. The Titanic sank on its maiden voyage the following April.
At the moment, the best way to appreciate
Belfast’s role in the story is to peer into a long, deep hole in the city’s
once thriving shipyards. The hole in question is the Thompson Graving Dock,
where the Titanic was fitted out. Back then, Belfast was a world leader in
shipbuilding, with 176 vessels launched in the first decade of the 20th Century
alone. For 70 years, the sinking of the Titanic was a source of shame for the
city – until it was proven that the fault was human, not mechanical. Now it’s a
part of Belfast’s history that people are keen to celebrate once more.
I stood on the dock by the original yellow
squat capstan – around which a cable was wound to drag the ship – and imagined
the vast vessel edging forward until it towered over my little head. Alongside
is the pump house, where I viewed a pump that emptied water out of the dock at
a rate so speedy that it was measured in swimming pools per minute.
A £97m Titanic Built in Belfast attraction
is scheduled to open near the dock in April 2012. Its design mimics the brow of
the ship, and it should prove to be a signature attraction in Belfast’s “Titanic quarter”.
Until recently, the city has tended not to
make much play of its role in the story – but, this year, several exhibitions
have commemorated the building of the ship. In 2012, Belfast can expect
anniversary interest to be fevered: a Titanic Memorial Cruise – taking
passengers across the Atlantic to pass over the wreck site on 15 April, 100
years to the day after the disaster – sold out months ago.
Musgrove is editor of BBC History
Magazine. His new book is 100
Places That Made Britain (BBC Books; £14.99).
This article was published in partnership with Lonely Planet Magazine.