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Celebration must yield to commemoration

This weekend will bring the main focus to the story of the RMS Titanic which sank 100 years ago tomorrow in the icy Atlantic, with the loss of over 1,500 lives. It was one of the most tragic episodes in maritime history and the people of Northern Ireland have had a problem coming to terms with the fate of the magnificent vessel which was not talked about locally for decades after her demise. The reasons for this were complex, but in recent years it has became respectable, and indeed urgent, to re-discover the magnificence of the Titanic and to pay due tribute to those who died.

However, in remembering the Titanic, everyone involved has had to walk a thin line between celebration and commemoration.

The world-class Titanic Belfast centre has opened just in time to tell the full story of the triumph, and the tragedy. As well, a large number of writers, musicians, actors and others have told the rounded story of the vessel.

This weekend, however, is the time for commemoration, and the planned events will reflect this sombre tone.

These will include the world premiere of Philip Hammond's Requiem for the Lost Souls of the Titanic, as well as services in Belfast's Protestant and Roman Catholic cathedrals, and many other churches.

The opening of the Memorial Garden at Belfast City Hall, and the recorded names of all those who died in the Titanic, will also place their remembrance permanently at the heart of our capital city.

There will be many other commemorations overseas to this enduring story of sacrifice. It is a story which will continue to echo through time, but it is a tragedy which Belfast has nothing to feel ashamed about.

Una Reilly, Chairperson of the Belfast Titanic Society, has said perceptively, "What happened to the Titanic was a disaster, but she was not."

The continued celebration of the Titanic is for the future, but this is a weekend, above all, for our personal reflections and for paying our quiet tribute to the memory of all those who died.

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