Belfast Telegraph

Let's honour the working class heroes who built the great Titanic

By Lindy McDowell

It took the Belfast shipyard three years to build the Titanic. It's taken Belfast 100 years to build a tourist attraction to cash in on interest in her. And even then we aren't quite home and dry yet.

It will be next year before the Titanic Signature Building (as it's snappily called) will open to the public. In time for the 2012 anniversary of the great ship's maiden voyage, granted.

But a bit late in the day to capitalise on a worldwide century-long romance with a legend that was built here in Belfast.

Why has this city been so tardy in marking its great link with the Titanic? Why are some here still griping about why we should even bother commemorating it now?

The Titanic was a disaster, they say. Why bum about our role in building a ship that sank on its first outing?

It's an argument that misses the point by a large iceberg.

If the Titanic hadn't gone down, if she'd gone on to have a long and illustrious lifespan and had ended her days as a massive rust bucket in some Eastern scrapyard, yes, she'd still be remembered today.

By shipping, transport anoraks.

Instead she's remembered by millions and millions across the globe precisely because she sank.

Because she was more than just a great liner with luxurious fittings, nine decks and four funnels (one cosmetic).

She is remembered because she became a human story of towering proportions. A story of hubris and courage, of appalling tragedy and greed but also inspiring bravery and self-sacrifice.

It is a story that has spawned countless books and movies and - elsewhere throughout the world - countless visitor attractions talking up various, often tentative links to the liner.

One of the biggest is in land-locked Orlando, Florida which geographically, historically and emotionally has no connection whatsoever with the ship.

But it still manages to rake in a fortune, flogging the Titanic Experience - "the unforgettable sights, sounds, and emotions of one of the most poignant chapters in modern history" - to visitors.

Meanwhile, we have spent decades of dithering here about what to do (or even, whether to do anything) about a legend with which we have very real and very proud connection.

Should we forget the Titanic in Belfast because it ended badly?

Should Texans forget about the Alamo?

Exactly 100 years ago this week the Titanic slipped down the gangway in Queen's Island helped on her way with enormous quantities of grease and soap - this crude, basic mix a reminder of the sheer hard graft and human effort that was needed back in the days before technology lightened man's load.

She was built with the sweat and tears and, very often, the blood of thousands of working class men in this city. When she left here ("She was all right when she left Belfast" as we say) she was one of a trio (with her sister ships Olympic and Britannic) described as the largest, most luxurious ships ever to sail.

She was the greatest.

The outer core of the TSB (Titanic Signature Building) now glinting in the June sunshine at least looks as though it will reflect something of the pride we should have in our links with the most famous ship of all time.

But in a way it is also a bit of a memorial to this city's coy reluctance to promote so much that we have to shout about (as opposed to shout over.)

The long dead men who laboured on the great ship would want us to remember their skill and their sacrifice and achievement.

But those pragmatic working-class heroes would also, I believe, want us to benefit from her legacy.

Across the world others have capitalised handsomely from commemorating the Titanic.

Why not the great-grandsons and daughters of the men who built her?

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