Thursday, April 12, 2012

A Titanic achievement

The sinking of the Titanic occurred a hundred  years ago. For some reason, there seems to be renewed interest in this ship. I suppose a lot of this is due to the recent movie. However, stories about the sinking have been ongoing over the years since the tragedy. The story has all the elements of drama, famous passengers, the huge iceberg and the doomed maiden voyage. My grandfather worked on the Titanic, my mother thought. She was a small girl then and lived near the shipyards. My grandfather was an engine mechanic for Harland and Wolff and other family members were fitters or had other trades.  In fact, I myself was born on Queen Victoria street, not far from the yard and I remember many times passing it on the bus going into downtown Belfast when we moved into a more suburban location. Huge flocks of starlings flew overhead in the evening to roost on the gantrys.  My father worked as a foreman in the Belfast Ropeworks which was near Harland and Wolff. They, of course, made ropes and cables for shipping. My mother's older sisters, going to America, told of seeing bodies in the water as their ship crossed shortly after Titanic's sinking. It is only now though, that I realize how terrible the loss of this ship was to the ship building community in Belfast. It was hardly mentioned there and this was the way it was dealt with. No doubt they felt that somehow they had failed and the loss of life was unimaginable.. Also there was some mention of divine retribution for the boast that the ship was "unsinkable." 
Now I understand that the area where Titanic was built is a tourist spot and there is a museum. At least something positive has come out of the tragedy in the sense that it is bringing people there and what they are concentrating on is what an achievement it was for the everyday workers and craftsmen.  For, after all, it wasn't the fault of the workers that the ship sank. If it hadn't, it could have been one of the wonders of the world, the pride of Harland and Wolff. This was not to be.  The sister ships of the Titanic, the Olympic and the Britannic experienced disasters also. Were they unlucky ships? Sailors in the old days were very superstitious and definitely worried about this kind of thing. Who can say now why these three ships had such a tragic history - when they were supposed to be the very opposite?

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