Belfast salvages Titanic as symbol of revival

Fri Apr 13, 2012 12:59pm EDT
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By Conor Humphries

BELFAST (Reuters) - For much of the century since the Titanic sank, the story of the doomed liner has been a taboo subject in Belfast, an unwelcome reminder of industrial failure and bitter sectarian division in the city that built her.

Now Northern Ireland's power-sharing government, buoyed by 14 years of peace, aims to salvage the liner as a symbol of one-time industrial might, hoping the Hollywood glamour around its story can create an icon for a new, united city.

Cast as a monument to the 1998 deal that ended three decades of violence, a 97-million pound ($155 million) Titanic museum was opened by Catholic and Protestant leaders last month to mark the centenary of the ship's launch and fateful first voyage.

The museum's 38-meter-tall glass-and-aluminum facade redraws a skyline long dominated by the yellow cranes of Harland and Wolff, the Protestant-dominated shipyard that built the Titanic and the scene of some of the worst sectarian rioting before 1920 partition and beyond.

"For too long, perhaps more than anything because of a sense of profound sorrow, the Titanic has never been truly remembered at home, but all that has now changed," said Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness.

"These buildings... are being used to write a new history, to write a better history," he said.

McGuinness himself, long despised by Protestant shipyard workers for his role as a commander in the Irish Republican Army paramilitary group in the 1970s, recently discovered that one of his relatives had helped build the Titanic.


A general view of the dock in East Belfast where the Titanic was built. January 17, 2012. REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton