Collective shame about the Titanic’s sinking, accounts by survivors, Belfast shipyard Harland and Wolff’s role, and fears by some local politicians some decades later of a “Dublin-based developer” coming to “rape and pillage” are among themes explored in a documentary due to be broadcast on TG4 television next week.
Extensive archive footage and interviews with renowned Titanic experts form the basis for City of a Thousand Launches (italics), which was made five years ago and focuses on Northern Ireland’s links with one of the worst maritime disasters of the early 20th century – described as the “9/11” of 1912.
Over 1500 people died and over 700 were rescued when the Belfast-built passenger liner sank after hitting an iceberg off the Newfoundland coast on April 14th-15th, 1912, while en route from Southampton to New York.
British Queen Elizabeth, former US secretary of state Hillary Clinton and the diver who discovered the wreck of the ship, Dr Robert Ballard, number among over five million people from 145 countries who have visited the award-winning Titanic Belfast visitors’ centre. However, for decades, Belfast people did not talk about the ship, and it was James Cameron’s epic 1997 film which is said to have shifted attitudes.
“They thought that it was their fault,” Dr Ballard says, while Rev Chris Bennett, an avowed “Titanorack”, articulates the shame felt about the shipyard’s connection.
The documentary charts how after the Harland and Wolff shipyard, once employer of over 30,000, was sold for redevelopment and how there was a fear among some city councillors “ about a Dublin-based developer coming up to Belfast to…rape and pillage”.
US architect Eric Kuhne’s design for the “Titanic quarter” waterfront area, and the concept of a world class visitor centre, reflected the city’s changed attitude towards the ship, but the documentary explores the struggle to realise the vision and the risk taken by Donegal developer Pat Doherty to start building with no official contracts in place.
“ That was it, this sucker was getting built…and it was getting built with a vengeance!” Kuhne recalls.
Titanic Belfast - City of a Thousand Launches will be broadcast on TG4 on April 10th at 9.30pm.