Belfast Telegraph

Single flare shot in the air marks anniversary of a Titanic moment

Ship number 401 is remembered exactly 100 years to the minute after its launch from a slipway in Belfast

By Patrice Dougan

As the sun shone through the cloud-scattered sky, a single flare shot up into the air. With a loud crack it exploded in a shower of sparks. It was exactly 12.13pm and an anniversary 100 years in the waiting was marked.

At the same time in 1911, 150,000 people had lined the sides of the Victoria Channel in east Belfast to watch the Titanic being launched into the sea for the first time.

Back then the event was the culmination of more than two years of hard work. Tickets were sold to members of the public, bandstands were erected and the world’s Press was there to watch the largest man-made moving object make it first journey.

As ship number 401 was released from its supports a loud cheer went up from the gathered crowds, who watched with excitement as it made its 62-second journey into the water.

Gathered in the Titanic slipway yesterday, where the ship itself would have been 100 years before, groups of schoolchildren, choristers, invited guests and media cheered and applauded once more for 62 seconds to mark the centenary of that launch.

Dressed in period costume and waving flags from around the world, primary school children taking part in the Titanic Schools Project sent up the loudest cheer.

Five boats stationed around the slipway — filled with guests from towns and cities with links to the Titanic, including Liverpool, Southampton, Cherbourg and Cobh — sounded their horns.

The bunting and flags fluttered in the breeze as the deep horns sounded out across the docks.

Just minutes before the large crowd of guests and world media had gathered in the shadow of the new Titanic Belfast building, on the former Harland and Wolff shipyard, to take part in a recreation of the launch ceremony.

As the aluminium shards of the new building glinted in the sunshine, singers from the combined Harlandic and Queen’s Island Victoria male voice choirs sang Eternal Father Strong to Save.

The haunting words “for those in peril on the sea” lingered in the mind as thoughts turned to those 1,500 lives lost on the Titanic after it struck an iceberg on April 1912 on its maiden voyage .

The Reverend Chris Bennett, chaplain of Titanic Quarter, read a passage from an eyewitness account of the launch of the ship and spoke about the centenary.

He said: “The reason we are gathered here is to celebrate the Titanic. We know what happened to it was a tragedy but the Titanic herself was not. It was a beautiful ship, well built by skilled Belfast craftsmen, right here on this slipway.”

He asked everybody to imagine they were part of the original crowd, gathered on the same spot 100 years ago “to see this wonder of the world gliding into the sea”.

The ceremony finished with a prayer to remember those who built the ship, those who sailed on it and those who lost their lives on it. Among those there to mark the anniversary were relatives of those shipyard workers who toiled for more than three years on the ship, including the nine men of the Guarantee Group who lost their lives when the ship went down.

Charles Payne, the grandson of Harland and Wolff’s managing director at the time of Titanic’s launch, also called Charles Payne, said he was honoured to be invited to the 100th anniversary of the launch. “Not many people know about my grandfather, that’s really why I’m here — to give him a bit of an honour,” he said.

While not as well known as Titanic designer Thomas Andrews, Mr Payne’s grandfather was in an equal position to him in the company, and was the man who launched the ship into Belfast lough 100 years ago.

He gave the signal at 12.13pm — two minutes early — to release the ship from its supports, before it slid into the sea.

Newly elected mayor of the city, Niall O’Donnaghaile, said Belfast has “finally and rightfully acknowledged her part in the tale” of the world’s most famous ship. “Today we are proud to celebrate the achievement, epitomised by this historic moment, and educate the world about our city’s role in the Titanic story,” he said.

Centenary celebrations

  • A major new exhibition, Titanica, has opened at the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum at Cultra. It aims to provide a |living history experience, with historic streets, replica homes and more than 500 original artefacts. Visitors can discover life on board the vessel, as well as compose their own Morse code message in the post office and watch footage in the picture house.
  • Titanic Irish Whiskey has been produced by the recently-formed Belfast Distillery Company, and comes in a five-year and 10-year vintage.

The world’s media flies in to see a changed city

The celebration of the Titanic centenary was a truly international affair. Joining journalists from the Republic, Scotland and England at the Titanic slipway where the famous liner slipped into the water for the first time were 46 members of the international media.

As well as yesterday’s launch, the film crews and reporters will get a tour of the new Titanic Belfast building currently under construction, take part in Titanic walking and boat tours, and sit down to a luxury nine-course meal based on the menu for the 1st class restaurant on board the ship.

There are television crews from Spain, the US, France, China and South Korea while journalists from Australia, India and Japan are also in town, along with reporters from newspapers in New York, Germany and the Netherlands.

Susan James, a travel writer with the Los Angeles Times and Epoch Times International, said there is “a lot of interest” in the Titanic in the US.

“But I’m also here to inform the readers of the development of Belfast from a city that a decade or two ago you would have avoided like the plague, to now a new tourist hotspot which people should put on their hit list,” she said. “I’m impressed with all the development in Belfast and I think living here would be exciting to witness the evolution of what it was into what it’s going to be.”

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