Guest Author - Tony King
April 14th, 2012, will be the 100 year anniversary of the sinking of the great Ulster-built Ocean Liner THE TITANIC.
The passing years have not diminished the world-wide interest in the tragedy that befell the ship, that had publically be declared “unsinkable,“ not even by God Himself.
Generations of readers, film makers, scientists and historians have mused over the background , building and demise of this once mighty “travelling hotel,” and the city of Belfast in Northern Ireland still clings to the many memories and ties the liner has with its inhabitants.
Even today, there are probably few of the “old families“ who do not have some distant relative who was in some way associated with the proud ship that completed her ocean tests in and around Belfast Lough.
The myths, legends and the local, anecdotal stories of the Titanic began even before the ship went down.
Local and international newspapers tried to outdo each other in their use of only superlatives when describing the liner.
Shortly after the horrific news of the ship’s sinking was established, people who had been booked to travel and had changed their plans explained their change of mind as a premonition that the ship was doomed from the start.
Even the Belfast religious antagonisms were tied to the liner’s disastrous end. Catholics vowed that every nail and every rivet was applied with an additional curse against the Pope and the Papacy; Protestants were certain that the One, True, “Protestant” God was angry that Catholics had been allowed to work on “His” ship and therefore the sinking was God’s wrath against the Home Rule movement that was growing at that time.
A novel titled "The Wreck of the Titan", published in 1898, thirteen years before the disaster is often suggested as a literary message on the prediction of the ship's fate.
As always with legends, fact and fiction have become entangled with the ship’s sinking and a number of outlandish theories have been postulated about the ship's fate and many people came forward to recount terrifying premonitions of disaster, even though their names appear nowhere on the ship‘s registry.
The release of the Hollywood blockbuster film "Titanic" once again made the ship a worldwide news story.
The film incorporates a tear-jerking love story that crosses social, political and financial classes, with computer technology depicting the ship going down and the horrors and fears that occurred on board during the crisis.
The Titanic sailed from Queenstown, County Cork, on 11 April 1912 with many Irish emigrants closeted away in the third class passengers steerage areas, intent on embarking on a new life in America.
On 14 April 1912, the ship, being raced through dense fog and in dangerous waters just to “show off” its prowess and speed, collided with an iceberg and sank, with the loss of over 1000 lives.
As is often the case in disasters, the builders had “cut corners” on the number of lifeboats available, on the suitability of life jackets and on the proper procedures to be followed in the case of an emergency.
Passing ships which could have picked up survivors and thereby saved many more lives, decided that the distress signals were merely more “showing off” to the passengers by the arrogant and defiant leadership of the ship’s owners who were also on board.
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 prior to its launch on May 31st, 1911.
The city of Belfast was deeply attached to the Titanic. There were Irish passengers and crew on board the ship and when the first reports of the Titanic sinking was published in the Belfast daily newspapers, on 16 April 1912, they proudly indicated that no lives had been lost.
When the facts finally were known, Belfast mourned a personal loss and grieved for the ship and the many dead ---some of whom they knew and many who were total strangers.
A statue stands in the grounds of Belfast City Hall, commemorating the Titanic dead.
Perhaps the best epitaph that can be ascribed to the Titanic is the old, cliched saying:
“Man proposes. God disposes”.