HE TITANIC sank a hundred years ago but it has continued to interest and fascinate generations of readers, film makers, scientists and historians. The myth of the Titanic began even before the ship went down: newspapers columns used only superlatives when describing the liner. Shortly after the ship sank, people who had been booked to travel and had changed their plans, explained their change of mind as a premonition that the ship was ill-fated. A novel, "The Wreck of the Titan", published in 1898 is often touted as a literary prediction of the ship's fate. Fact and fiction have become entangled and created outlandish theories about the ship's fate and recounted terrifying premonitions of disaster. As with all good legends, the Titanic's legacy is a curse.
The release of the Hollywood film "Titanic" has made the ship a news story once again. The film is a plangent affair, with computer technology depicting the ship going down and a grafted on love story which crosses the social classes.
The Titanic sailed from Queenstown, County Cork, on 11 April 1912 with many Irish emigrants as third class passengers intent on embarking on a new life in America. On 14 April 1912, the ship collided with an iceberg and sank, with the loss of over 1000 lives. The building and launch of the luxury ship had already made world headlines with the Titanic heralded as unsinkable and the largest, the fastest, the finest and the most luxurious liner in the world.
The Titanic was built in the Belfast shipyard, Harland & Wolff, alongside her sister ship, the Olympic. Newspapers in Belfast during 1911 carried reports on the progress of the ship's construction, including the arrival of the largest anchor in the world at the shipyard for installation in the Titanic. Newspaper notices in May 1911 invited the public to view the finished liner before the launch. The ship was launched from Belfast on 31 May 1911 and successfully completed sea trials in Belfast Lough during 1912. Hundreds of men in Belfast had worked on the construction of the luxury liner, fitting the essential engineering components, rudimentary steerage facilities for third class travellers and luxurious interiors for first and second class passengers. The city was deeply attached to the Titanic. There were Irish passengers and crew on board the ship. The first report of the Titanic sinking was published the three Belfast daily newspapers, on 16 April 1912. Early reports indicated that no lives had been lost. When the facts were known, Belfast mourned a personal loss and grieved for the dead they knew and the dead they had never known.
The city's attachment to the ship has never diminished. A statue stands in the grounds of Belfast City Hall, commemorating the Titanic dead. Today there are several Titanic societies with many members who have personal and family connections with the ship's victims and survivors. The shipyard remains in Belfast, and recently Harland & Wolff released for sale copies of the Titanic construction plans.
Irelandseye.com presents a series of archive newspaper cuttings from the Belfast Newsletter which report the Titanic tragedy. There is also a glimpse back to Belfast at that time, with a selection of photographs of street scenes. Compare Edwardian Belfast with the city in the late twentieth century. Belfast was a flourishing industrial city with a rapidly expanding population. There is an opportunity to check out employment prospects in 1912 and to read about the Irish political climate which was divided over the prospect of Home Rule.
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