Divine intervention has long been blamed by some for playing a role in the sinking of the Titanic during its maiden voyage in 1912.
Harland and Wolff, the East Belfast shipyard where the ship was manufactured, was notorious for not hiring Catholics. In the 1900s the workforce was entirely Protestant and virulently anti-Catholic.
“At Harland and Wolff it was not unknown for workers to paint on the sides of ships under construction the words “NO POPE” in letters ten feet high or more,” writes naval historian David Allen Butler.
There were widespread stories that each rivet hammered into the Titanic was accompanied by a ‘f.. the pope' epithet.
Any Catholics who were hired were subject to blatant discrimination. Some had hammers dropped on them from above and the atmosphere against Catholics was described as “poisonous”
The author and historian Daniel Allen Butler writes about how anti-Catholic sentiment in Northern Ireland at the time of the ship’s construction was blamed by some for the tragedy.
“Very active in Ulster politics at this time was one William James Pirrie, who became the Chairman of Harland and Wolff in 1895. He instituted an unwritten but strictly enforced policy that the firm would never knowingly employ a Roman Catholic,” writes Butler about the era during which the Titanic was being crafted in Belfast.
Butler goes on to write how rumor has it that “a cryptic anti-Catholic message was hidden in her [the Titanic’s] hull number, the one given to the Titanic by her builder, Harland and Wolff. That mysterious number was 3909-04: when written out and viewed in a mirror, the number spells out the words NO POPE–providing a certain bit of leeway is allowed with the 4.”
“There’s more than enough blame to go around in this story,” writes Butler, “and nobody’s hands are clean.”
Love Irish history? Share your favorite stories with other history buffs in the IrishCentral History Facebook group.
While there are differing reports as to whether or not the hull bore the number that could be read as an anti-Catholic cryptic message, Titanic faithful at the time the ship set sail proclaimed earnestly that “not even God himself could sink this ship.”
However, an iceberg off the Canadian coast certainly did.
*Originally published in 2012. Updated in April 2023.