A new book on Belfast City’s port reveals how Belfast’s collective memory was shrouded in shame after the Titanic disaster in 1912.
According to the book, “Titanic Port” by Alf McCreary, an entire generation did not talk about the Titanic.
However, the recent high prices paid for memorabilia and the eagerness of the public to commemorate the 100 year anniversary shows that the worldwide fascination with the ship is still going strong. A survivor’s account of the fateful night sold for $32,141 at an auction in Britain in early October. A poster illustrating the Titanic and its sister vessel RMS Olympic was sold at $110,883.
McCreary’s book is an account of the history of Belfast port and the role Belfast played in building the worlds most famous ship. It is his hope that the new book will shed a new light on the docks and ship building and the men and women who worked there.
"It's a missing link in the history of Belfast. The work of the Belfast Harbour Commissioners in digging out the channel helped create the city we know today," said Alf, while speaking to the Irish Independent.
"If they hadn't reclaimed the land, if they hadn't rebuilt the wharves and leased the land to Harland & Wolff, then the Titanic would never have been built, nor the Olympic nor the Canberra.
"They just decided to cut out the channel. In those days there were no environmental groups, no consultants. They were Victorians and they just did it. In many respects you have to remember that the Titanic was forgotten about for 80 years. When she went down in 1912, Belfast was the third biggest city in the Empire, bigger than Dublin.
"There are reasons why the Titanic wasn't really talked about in Belfast. These were turbulent times. In 1912 the Titanic went down, but just two years later, in 1914, the war began. In 1916 there was the Battle of the Somme and the Rebellion in Dublin, and then partition in 1921. Then there was the depression, and the Second World War began thereafter.
"There was an entire generation who knew nothing but disaster. They didn't talk about Titanic. It was like a death in the family. There was a sense that it was their fault -- which was most illogical because the Titanic's sister ship, Olympic, went on for 36 years."
Finally, however, the memory and pride that went with creating on of the world’s most famous ships was brought back into public consciousness.
He continued "There were two things that helped resurrect the memory of the Titanic. The first was the discovery of the wreck by Robert Ballard, and the second was James Cameron's film…All of a sudden there was a realization in the city that built the ship that the memory of the Titanic should be cherished, and that she was a symbol of the city's excellence in engineering and its can-do spirit."