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Full steam ahead as Titanic festival gets set to draw in huge crowds

Jamie McCook takes a look at the new Titanic model in Belfast's Titanic Quarter
Jamie McCook takes a look at the new Titanic model in Belfast's Titanic Quarter

By Lesley-Anne Henry

Titanic fever will grip Belfast this week with the launch of the annual Titanic Made in Belfast Festival.

Hundreds of Titanic and White Star Line artefacts and memorabilia including a postcards written by a passengers on board the doomed vessel, a man’s watch valued at £90,000, and the keys to a family treasure chest that went down with the stricken ship are due to go on display in Belfast today.

This year the eight-day festival is centred around a variety of events at Belfast City Hall, while special Titanic themed tours, on both land and water, will give visitors an opportunity to learn more about the famous liner's ill-fated maiden voyage to New York in 1912.

“The Titanic story is probably one of the most fascinating, amazing, poignant, thought-provoking and absorbing tales from the last century, if not the last millennium,” said Lord Mayor of Belfast, Naomi Long.

“For too long, Belfast’s part in the Titanic story, and the role of the people of Belfast in bringing Titanic to life, has been neglected.

“Over the past few years, the city that gave birth to the ship, and many others, finally and rightfully acknowledged her part in the tale, and Belfast City Council once again is proud to celebrate the achievement, commemorate the tragedy and educate the world about our city’s role in the Titanic story.”

John Andrews — a descendant of Titanic’s designer, Thomas Andrews, and president of the Belfast Titanic Society — is expected to officially open the festival this morning. And this year, for the first time, festival goers will be able to view a controversial new piece of public art at the Abercorn Residential Complex in the newly developed Titanic Quarter.

The £200,000 bronze sculpture, named ‘Kit’, which depicts recognisable Titanic elements on an outer frame has divided opinion among Titanic enthusiasts in Belfast.

The artwork which was created by Essex-based artist Tony Stallard stands at 13.5 metres tall and its blue and white lights are designed to emulate the seachlights of ships.

At an unveiling last autumn Mr Stallard said: “It is intended to symbolise Belfast as an industrial pioneer at the time of building the Titanic.

“It references the industrial heritage of the area and can be seen as a reverie of the past, to create nostalgia of what was once heroic,” he said.

“It is designed to act as a contemporary tribute to the shipbuilders.

The sculpture is ‘see through’ and transient, almost mythological.”

However, Susie Millar from the Belfast Titanic Society said: “Art is a very subjective thing but my problem is that it shows the Titanic at a vertical angle as if plunging into the sea which is not very sensitive.”

Ms Millar, the great-granddaughter of Thomas Millar, who worked in Harland and Wolff on the construction of Titanic and then sailed onboard her as an engineer, added: “I must admit though it has grown on me over the past six months but I was very shocked the first time I saw it.

“I do get what the artist is trying to do in making it looking like an Airfix model kit and I have got used to it now but I was fairly shocked when I first saw it.”

Titanic Made in Belfast highlights include:

‘Titanic — Past and Present’ exhibition at Belfast City Hall.

Auctioneers Henry Aldridge and Son display 250 Titanic and White Star Line artefacts at the City Hall banqueting hall.

'Tea and Tales’ storytelling sessions, badge making and face painting for children.

‘Titanic Talks’ by leading experts.

‘Titanic on Film’ includes a series of special screenings at City Hall.

The W5 centre hosts the ‘Titanic: Designed and Built in Belfast’ exhibition.

For more information contact the Belfast Welcome Centre on 028 9024 6609 or you can log on to www.belfastcity.gov.uk/titanic.

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