Harland and Wolff ‘auld hands’ leave palm prints in concrete
Workers old and new lined up to place their hands in trays of setting concrete as the battle to save the business continues.
Former workers at a closure-threatened Belfast shipyard have returned to leave their handprints for posterity as the battle to save the business goes on.
Queues of retired ship builders, known as “auld hands”, lined up at Harland and Wolff on Sunday to place their palms in trays of setting concrete.
Famed for building the Titanic, the shipyard went into administration last week after its troubled Norwegian parent company, Dolphin Drilling, failed to find a buyer.
Workers who have occupied the site round the clock for almost two weeks as part of a high-profile campaign to save the yard organised the handprint event on Sunday.
Such was the turnout that extra concrete had to be poured to accommodate all those wishing to leave their mark. Old and young took part, with some former ship builders aged in their 90s joining members of the current workforce in the lines.
The gathering of the generations of workers came as administrators continue to explore a number of potential bids for the company.
BDO Northern Ireland has agreed to a “temporary” unpaid lay-off of the workforce until Friday to enable those commercial opportunities to be explored.
While the workers are no longer getting paid, the move means their contracts of employment remain unbroken.
Ex-foreman Samuel Tumelty, who worked for the shipyard for 30 years, was helped from his wheelchair to place his palm in the concrete.
“It would be hard to see if it does go, my heart is still in this company,” he said.
“I hope it can be saved. The men need their livelihoods and to throw them out in the street is unbelievable. The amount of ships they built and the quality of the ships, they were top notch. It would be very sad to see it going.”
Former steelworker Herbie Stewart from Lisburn, who lost a finger in his time working in the yard, said he felt it was important to come down.
“It’s a landmark, at the end of the day it’s something that’s been here for years and years,” he said.
“Most of my family worked here years ago and I would have been the last.”
Jackie Hosick, from west Belfast, spent most of his working life in the yard.
“I’m here just to support the rest of the fellas that work in the yard here and hope they do well out of this,” he said.
“The men who worked down here were all characters, it was brilliant.
“It’s terrible – a lot of the auld fellas would turn in their grave to see what’s happening.”
Steelworker and GMU shop steward Barry Reid said he was surprised by the turnout.
“This is the auld hands – a lot of the communities in Belfast had a connection with Harland and Wolff so this is our way of saying to the community come down and put your handprint down for posterity,” he said.
Mr Reid said if the yard ultimately closed he hoped the concrete casts would end up in a museum.
“If we do stay open and we do get a buyer we are hoping that the buyer will let us put them down around the entrance,” he added.
“At the end of the day this is part of the history of the company.
Susan Fitzgerald from the Unite union said she remained optimistic that a solution could be found. She said some of the potential offers for the company were “credible”.
“We have had an incredible day where hundreds of auld hands and their families have turned out to have their hands cast in concrete to show the role they have played and more fundamentally the role they are playing to preserve this yard into the future,” she said.
“They have turned out today to show full support and solidarity for the workers who have taken a stand to defend jobs and defend the shipyard.
“We are hopeful of getting a resolution here that does save the jobs, that does save the yard.
“There’s a lot going on every day, virtually around the clock, there is work being done to try to create a situation where we can be victorious and save the jobs and the future of the shipyard.
“So long as we stand here and we declare that we are willing to fight and defend this place to the end, there’s hope.”