Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 28 August 2014

Money couldn't buy two pennies worth of these Titanic memories

The RMS Titanic pictured in 1912
The Titanic signature project currently under construction
The Titanic Signature building in Belfast is due to be completed in March next year

Almost 100 years on, the Titanic disaster still tugs at the heartstrings and this year's centenary events will introduce a new generation to the "unsinkable" liner built in Belfast.

A series of events in Northern Ireland are planned to remember the ill-fated ship, but the tragic story's universal appeal means it will be commemorated far beyond these shores.

A penny piece handed to a boy by his father before he sailed will tell visitors to a US exhibition the poignant tale of how one Ulster family was changed forever.

Pressing a penny piece into the hands of his two sons, Thomas Millar told them not to spend the money until he came home to them after his sea voyage on the Titanic was over.

But Belfast youngsters William (5) and Thomas (11) were destined never to see their father, a Harland & Wolff assistant deck engineer, again.

One of the pennies is now on display in a museum in Tennessee, thousands of miles from Northern Ireland.

Millar (33) was to go down with the ship and the penny given to William was kept in the family before being donated to the Titanic museum at Pigeon Forge in Tennessee.

On the night of the 100th anniversary of the sinking, Millar's great-granddaughter Susie Millar (44) will be aboard the cruise ship Balmoral for a memorial service at the spot in the Atlantic where the ship sank.

The Balmoral will sail from Southampton on April 8 and will retrace the Titanic's route.

Ms Millar, who runs a tour company specialising in Titanic sites in Belfast, said two things finally shook the city out of its slough of despondency. The first was the pioneering expedition that located the Titanic wreck, and the second was James Cameron's Oscar-laden film Titanic in 1997. She said: "They were the catalyst. They caused Belfast to have a rethink about the Titanic. Here was a ship that, suddenly, everyone was talking about except us.

"It has taken the city a long time to feel proud about the Titanic again."

One of the many Titanic exhibitions in 2012 will open just two days before the 100th anniversary of the disaster.

At the Mystic Aquarium in Mystic, Connecticut, visitors will be given the chance to see what it was like to sail on the Titanic and to see the wreck thousands of feet down in the Atlantic Ocean.

Knowledge gained by marine explorer Dr Robert Ballard - whose expedition found the Titanic in 1985 - and work by Tim Delaney, formerly a Walt Disney image man, are being combined to present the exhibition entitled Titanic: 12,450 Feet Below.

What now?

The £97m Titanic Signature Building in east Belfast's docks opens on March 31. It tells the story of Titanic, from conception to maiden voyage and subsequent place in history. The Fred Olsen Cruise Lines vessel Balmoral will sail from Southampton to where the vessel sank on April 14, 1912. A century later Balmoral will be joined by cruise ship Azamara Journey sailing from New York. A commemorative service will be held at Belfast City Hall that night.

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