Titanic return for 105-year-old Cyril
A 105-year-old man who watched the Titanic's launch more than century ago has returned to the same place to witness the opening of the world's largest tourist attraction dedicated to the doomed liner.
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TITANIC RETURN FOR CYRIL, 105
By David Young, Press Association
Cyril Quigley joined Northern Ireland's political leaders and other dignitaries in the old Harland and Wolff shipyard where the famous ship was built as Titanic Belfast welcomed its first paying visitors.
Part of a £100 million regeneration project of the derelict yards, the eye-catching, dockside centre opened just weeks before the 100th anniversary of the ship's sinking.
"My father and mother took me to Workman and Clark shipyard which is on the opposite side (of Belfast Lough) to watch the launch," recalled Mr Quigley.
"That was better than all the people in Harland and Wolff watching it because of the crowds.
"I just saw a mass of metal in the gantries that they built for it and all I saw was this big thing sliding out into the water. I was only four and half."
Retired accountant Mr Quigley, who still lives in east Belfast, said the new attraction was fantastic.
"It's wonderful, it really is," he said.
"I often thought they would make another plastic ship here and have it as a restaurant or something but this is fantastic.
"It's like our Sydney Opera House."
The six-storey centre, which it is hoped will attract more than 400,000 visitors in its first year, tells the story of the Titanic through nine galleries, each devoted to a different aspect of the tragedy.
Around 100,000 people have already bought tickets.
The attraction, whose design is based on the bow of the Titanic, capitalises on its unique location, built right beside the slipway where the liner was floated in 1911.
During the official opening ceremony, Stormont First Minister Peter Robinson said the centre was just one reason why people should visit peace process-era Northern Ireland.
"While many people will come to see the visitor attraction I believe they will be captivated and fall in love with the people of Northern Ireland," said the Democratic Unionist leader.
"This is a new era in this province and I believe that we want to bring people to Northern Ireland not just to see what a generation 100 years ago were able to achieve, but what this generation can achieve in this new era of peace and stability.
"We have so much to offer, this is just the beginning."
Sinn Fein Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said the building was testament to what political powersharing in the region had achieved.
"This building is a fantastic achievement," he said.
"It's here because of the peace process, it's here because people like Peter Robinson and myself and others have pushed forward decisively in leadership to make a bold statement, as bold a statement as this building makes, that we need to stand together - that united we are strong, divided we are very, very weak."
Mindful of the more than 1,500 lives lost in the maritime disaster, the ceremony was understated and simple, with Mr Robinson and Mr McGuinness cutting a huge blue ribbon to mark the opening.
Lord Mayor of Belfast Niall O'Donnghaile said the human tragedy of Titanic had made a deep impact on Belfast.
"But certainly we take great pride in the ability that we have taken from that story and that tragedy to realise opportunities for us in the here and in the now," he added.
"The Titanic belongs to Belfast but this spectacle - Titanic Belfast - belongs to the world."
Tourism Minister Arlene Foster said it was a proud day for Belfast and Northern Ireland.
"The story of the Titanic is known around the world and it is this unique history which will leave a deep impression upon visitors to the wonderful new building," she said.
"Located beside the slipway where the Titanic was built, Titanic Belfast has an authenticity which will bring the ship's legend to life."
Pat Doherty, chairman of Titanic Belfast, said he had been working on the regeneration of the shipyards for a decade.
"At the heart of that redevelopment I always envisioned a stunning building which would reflect Belfast's former industrial glories and act as a catalyst for not just the city's tourist trade, but its wider transformation," he said.
"In Titanic Belfast we have such a building."
A memorial garden has been planted at the slipway, with different-sized strips of grass and wood representing the proportion of lives lost and saved among the crew and first, second and third class passengers when the ship sank after striking an iceberg on its maiden voyage.
The opening of the facility will be followed by a Titanic Festival which will run until April 22.
Highlights among the 120 events include Titanic Sounds, an open-air MTV concert on the slipway, one of the world's largest light shows to be projected on to Titanic Belfast and the opening of a memorial garden at Belfast City Hall.