Belfast Telegraph

Titanic events are giving me that sinking feeling

By Frances Burscough

There's a series of events being planned by Belfast City Council that sounds like it's going to be a jolly jamboree of epic proportions!

The four-day family fun programme includes face painting, story-telling, model making, mask and fancy dress parades and a whole lot of arts-and-crafts activities for all ages. Plus, the fun continues with open-air music, fireworks displays, a pyrotechnic light show and doubtless all the usual stalls, fairground rides and bouncy castles to complete the carnival atmosphere of joy and jubilation. And it's all free!

Whoopee!

So, what have we done to deserve such a bounty of complimentary treats and jolly japes, you may well ask? What exactly are we celebrating with such unbridled glee?

The answer is almost too bizarre and surreal to be true.

The Belfast City Council family fun weekend and programme of events is celebrating — yes, celebrating — the centenary of the sinking of the Titanic. You know, that terrible, terrible nautical calamity where a supposedly unsinkable cruise liner actually did sink on its maiden voyage and more than 1,500 souls perished in the most unimaginably horrific circumstances? Yes, that Titanic.

Bouncy castles. Face-painting. Family fun. Seriously. I kid you not.

Call me a killjoy (and, frankly, I don't care who does) but I am flabbergasted by this. In fact, if I hadn't read the jubilant press release from City Hall, proclaiming its plans with such excitement and pride, with my own eyes, I would think it was a crass, tasteless joke.

And, before they try to justify it by saying “We're celebrating the launch of the greatest liner in history and the fact that it was built here in Belfast”, I would challenge that immediately for a number of reasons.

First, the Titanic was officially launched at the end of May, 1911 so if we were celebrating the launch it should have happened ten months ago. Indeed, the festival of fun has been specifically planned to coincide exactly with the stricken maiden voyage, culminating in a “spectacular and thrilling” show “accompanied by stunning visual effects” on April 14 — the exact date it struck the iceberg and the catastrophe began to unfold.

Secondly, you have to ask yourself would the Titanic have become so famous if it hadn't ended in such a shocking tragedy? Would we even be aware of its existence now, a century later, if it had faithfully clocked up thousands of miles across the sea over a number of decades and then quietly gone to the scrap heap when it finally ended its glorious career in the middle of the 20th century? I doubt it very much.

No one can deny the fact that this was a staggering achievement and a source of great pride (if only short-lived) for the port of Belfast and the thousands of workers who built it to such incredibly high standards.

But what about the sister ships, the Olympic and Brittanic, which were also built in Belfast by the same company, the same people, in the same period of history?

Do we remember them and mark them with such excitement? No. In fact, they're barely mentioned by anyone, apart from local historians and tour guides.

No, it's the tragedy we are being told to celebrate. A family fun day to mark when mothers and babies, parents and grandparents all died horribly in a frozen sea thanks to a catalogue of easily avoidable errors.

I personally don't wish to be part of this crass and tasteless display of insensitivity. The whole thing actually sickens me.

Would anyone in their right minds think of celebrating the anniversary of Chernobyl or the Kegworth air disaster or the Japanese tsunami? Certainly not.

So why is this different? Don't ask me, I'm just gobsmacked by this whole thing.

I've spoken to lots of people about this in the last week and I've yet to meet anyone who thinks these series of fun events are even remotely appropriate, right or justifiable.

But if you are and you do, then tickets are apparently now in circulation, on a first come-first served basis.

I'm just wondering, does that mean “Women and children first”?

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