100th Anniversary Titanic Commemoration Service

20120415 Titanic Commemoration Service

When I arrived in Belfast in 1994, one matter that struck me as peculiar was the near neglected Titanic Memorial statue on the east lawn of Belfast City Hall. The situation became blasphemous when the Big Wheel was erected practically right on top of it a few years ago.

If I remain circumspect of some of the celebratory activities taking place in Belfast throughout this centenary, the 100th Anniversary  Titanic Commemoration Service, organised by Belfast City Council and the Belfast Titanic Society, was one that I would not miss.

Noel Thompson served as emcee, and welcomed all with the fact that while the Titanic Memorial statue has been here at Belfast City Hall since 1920, it listed the names of only those from the city were listed. Today’s new memorial will contain the names of all 1,512 who perished:

The first hymn of the service was Eternal Father Strong to Save, performed by Harlandic Male Voice Choir and Queen’s Island Male Voice Choir, and accompanied by City of Belfast Youth Orchestra Brass Section:

The Lord Mayor of Belfast, Councillor Niall O Donnghaile, gave an address. To give a partial answer to my initial observation, the Lord Mayor described how Belfast’s rightful place in the Titanic story was barely recognised by its people — “quietly set aside, the memory too painful, the loss too personal”.

He also explained two matters that needed to be satisfied in the run up to the Titanic centenary: (1) to celebrate the building of the Titanic as an incredible feat of human endeavour; and (2) to commemorate those who lost their lives.

“I think we have got that balance right,” he continued, with reference to the recent launch of the Titanic Signature Project and today’s commemoration event and unveiling of the Titanic Memorial Garden.

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The Lord Mayor, Councillor Niall O Donnghaile

Dan Gordon read memoirs of the late John Parkinson, President of the Belfast Titanic Society. Afterwards, Mr Gordon paid tribute to those who built the Titanic, and that 1,700 other ships were built in the city.

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Dan Gordon

Brian Kennedy performed his song, Life, Love and Happiness. It is a fine song, but it jarred with me for the occasion. Probably doesn’t help that I’m not a big fan.

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Brian Kennedy

This was followed by what for me was the highlight, Una Reilly’s description of the significance of the new memorial garden: “Titanic has finally come home … We have picked up the pride, again, with the men who built it … There was never shame; it was shock.” As head of the Belfast Titanic Society, Ms Reilly said that Titanic is a fascinating story, and even after all this time, she is never bored of it nor will she be for the next 20 years.

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Una Reilly

The joint male choirs preformed their second item, Calm Is The Sea. Mr Thompson provided the background to both choirs. The Harlandic Choir was formed in 1944, on the back of men “singing lusty” at their work. The conductor now is John Lyttle. The Queen’s Island Choir takes its name from the land where the shipyard stood. It was formed in 1974 and maintains a busy engagement calendar. It current conductor is Alister McCory.

Brian Kennedy’s second performance, You Raise Me Up, was more convincing:

The Reverend Ian Gilpin, from the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church, led the reflection and prayer. He spoke eloquently:

“We come together to remember this day in history, the foundering of RMS Titanic, with such tragic loss of life. The loss of more than 1,500 men, women and children, of diverse nationalities and backgrounds. Today, we too, of diverse nationalities and backgrounds, come together, united in a single, common purpose — that of solemn remembrance.”

“In the diversity in the fragrance and colour of the flowers of the memorial garden, may there be an acknowledgement of the diversity of humankind.”

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While invited guests were welcomed to go up to the yet to be unveiled memorial, the City of Belfast Youth Orchestra performed A Little Prayer:

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City of Belfast Youth Orchestra

The official opening of the new Titanic Memorial Garden was performed by the Lord Mayor and Jack B. W. Martin, a boy who is great-great nephew of Dr Simpson. Mr Thompson gave some detail of the new memorial. The continuous plaque is made up of pieces of bronze, on five sections of grey granite, each weighing five tons. On the plinth of the plaques are the names of all the names of all the victims of the Titanic, listed in alphabetical order, not by class or creed, “simply all the names of all the people from many nations who were on that maiden voyage”.

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The Lord Mayor and Jack B. W. Martin

The service ended with the performance of Nearer My God To Thee, the legendary last tune to be played by the band as the Titanic dived to the depths:

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I continued to take photographs as people went to inspect the new as well as old Titanic memorials: http://www.flickr.com//photos/mrulster/sets/72157629467075420/show/

At long last, one hundred years after the tragic event, justice has been done to commemorate the souls who lost their lives that fateful day.

[Original posting including audio: http://mrulster.org/100th-anniversary-titanic-commemoration-service/]


  • Good post.
    I also have reservations about the Disney-esque commercialisation and uncritical coverage. But if we are going to have (another) memorial, then this is fitting (if overblown). Certainly impossible to hear “Nearer My God To Thee” without feeling emotional.
    The Mayor is simply wrong.
    “quietly set aside, the memory too painful, the loss too personal”.
    He was reading from a script…thats the narrative we are supposed to buy into. It is simply untrue. I was born in the same year as the 40th anniversary of the Titanic. I cant actually recall anybody mentioning it much. It was a ship. It sank.
    I dont think that there is THAT much connexion after any ship is built. The passengers were not from Belfast. Neither was the bulk of the crew.
    The line that the Titanic has “come home” is simply nonsense.

    The Titanic…if spoken about at all was spoken of as a joke…..or a metaphor.
    Somewhere up in my loft, there is a Harry Chapin album “The Dance Band on the Titanic”. We talk about “re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic”.
    We sell (or used to sell) Tshirts that said “built by Irishmen…….sailed by Englishmen” “Built in Belfast…..it was ok when it left here” and “Titanic Swim Team 1912”.

    Possibly off the market now…..but as recently as last year that was the narrative. Maybe wearing a Tshirt like that would get a person lynched in Belfast today because it does not sit right with the new narrative.
    But that new momorial is not that far from where Rev Joseph Parker used to stand, adding a new cross as our death toll got higher. But easier to officially commemorate the Titanic dead from many nations than commemorate our own.

  • Home Rule for England

    built by Irishmen…….sailed by Englishmen” “Built in Belfast…..it was ok when it left here”

    I’m not sure about that fitzjameshorse1745. According to this article in the New York Times in wasn’t OK when it left Belfast! Sub standard materials were used and this led to the Titanic sinking more quickly than it should have done!


    I’m from Southampton and we lost a lot of people in the disaster, mainly crew! 600 in fact!


  • I am referring to the Tshirts…….not the disaster itself.
    The same stores selling dignified Tshirts in 2012 happily sold these “tacky” Tshirts for years.
    All I know is that the new narrative obliges us to treat the Titanic tragedy as some kind of unifying factor among the people of Belfast and Norn Iron but as soon as it left Belfast Lough it had nothing to do with the city. And in many parts of this city, certainly right up to the 1970s a lot of people felt absolutely no connexion to “The Yard” other than to ironically say that the Pope would be devasted by the latest round of redundancy.

    Commemorations are as much to do with the year in which the commemoration occurs as they have to do with the year in which it happened. So the Titanic is about 2012 NOT 1912.
    As to our own Troubles we could never agree on all the names on a memorial. Or even who was the prime cause of their deaths.
    The Titanic memorial has no such difficulty.
    Everyone was a victim.
    And its easier to blame an Iceberg than it is to blame People.

  • FJH. The coverage by BBC especially was, as Andrew Marr rightly said tasteless and art certain points obscene, [an MTV rock concert? how is that rcommemoration?
    Also the ni media coverage was wilfully dishonest and selective in what it choose to avoid saying about the yard where the failed vessel was made.

  • Scáth Shéamais

    On the plinth of the plaques are the names of all the names of all the victims of the Titanic, listed in alphabetical order, not by class or creed

    It may have been more apt to do it that way. There should be some recognition of the fact that 3rd class travellers and members of the crew died in much greater numbers than those in 1st and 2nd class.

  • Nice post, indeed.

    I would find it difficult in the extreme to find anything new or half-original say about the original event, and therefore of its celebration.

    One thought did cross my mind: the White Star Line and Belfast gave the English language a cliché unrivalled in its application (for cartoonists and political deck-chair arrangers especially) — and also one of its more potent adjectives.

    As far as I can see, before 1912 “titanic” was universally a literary and poetic usage. Byron uses it the once in Childe Harold, almost prophetically:

    Rome — Rome imperial, bows her to the storm,
    In the same dust and blackness, and we pass
    The skeleton of her Titanic form,
    Wrecks of another world, whose ashes still are warm.

    Yet there the implication is close to the conceit behind the three ship-names: Olympic, Titanic and the Gigantic (which ended up as the hospital-ship Britannic) — the three divine races of Greek myth.

    Thomas Carlyle, working up to his account of Friedrich II, is a bit closer to the modern sense, but with the same Classical association:

    It must be owned the figure of Napoleon was titanic; especially to the generation that looked on him, and that waited shuddering to be devoured by him.

    I’d see there a nod to Goya’s nightmare of Saturn devouring his son in the Prado.

    Only when the word “titanic” becomes exclusively related to “the largest moving object in the world” does it have its modern application.

  • tacapall

    Was it also true that the crew when they returned had to sign a pledge under the ‘Official Secrets Act’, promising to keep secret forever, the actual events of the night of 14th / 15th April.

  • Dec

    ‘There should be some recognition of the fact that 3rd class travellers and members of the crew died in much greater numbers than those in 1st and 2nd class.’

    Percentage-wise, the highest casualty figure by categorization was 2nd Class males – almost 92%.

  • tacapall @ 10:24 am:

    As far as I can see, the source for that is a Frank Finch, in a letter (31 July 1996) to the Australian Northern Star newspaper. Finch’s son, Dennis, had served on the Kooliga in 1971, and recalled a conversation with a James “Paddy” Fenton.

    Fenton confided in Dennis Finch his belief that the Olympic had been swapped with the Titanic and deliberately sunk for the insurance. Frank Finch’s version continues:

    When the surviving crew got to port they were all taken aside and met by two men, one n a high positioning the Government. The Government man read the crew the “Official Secrets Act” explaining that if they told of the real reason for the sinking, or the rumours of an insurance scam, they would serve a minimum of 20 years in jail and would never get a job when they got out.

    That is on pages 25-6 of Bruce Beveridge and Steve Hall: Olympic and Titanic :the Truth behind the Conspiracy, where (in the light of the presumption made in the book’s title) the “facts” are teased out accordingly.

    It seems true that the surviving crew were met at Plymouth by a couple of White Star directors and by the official Receiver of Wrecks. Almost certainly they would have been warned not to have loose tongues in advance of the Public Enquiry.

  • The conspiracy theory was effectively debunked in a documentary some years ago. Was Tony Robinson the presenter?
    One of the leading conspiracy theorists was shown information, from wreck sites or wherever and he kinda accepted the evidence.
    Everybody is entitled to one conspiracy theory.

  • tacapall

    No Malcolm getting that from Robin Gardner’s book, ‘Titanic, the Ship that Never Sank?‘

    “Of the 102 witnesses called to the British Inquiry, only two were passengers. None of the witnesses (crew or passengers) were allowed to offer first-hand evidence of any kind and were strictly restricted to the simple answering of questions without elaboration.”

  • carlota martinez

    As a Belfast native I confess I never felt any close connection with the Titanic or the industry that its sinking has generated.

    Some years ago whilst in a New York bar the demise of the Titanic came up in conversation. An African/American friend, whose family is steeped in the lore of New York Port, commented that when he was growing up the sinking was only ever mentioned (wryly, one presumes) in the context of their having been not a single black person lost. His family had told him that the White Star Line had insisted on an absolute colour bar; there were no “people of colour” allowed on board, whether crew or passangers.

    Is this so?

  • tacapall @ 12:01 pm:

    Well, I’m looking at the 36 days of the Wreck Inquiry (which is what I assume you may mean by the “British Inquiry”). There I see 47 witnesses identified as members of the crew, from H.J.Pitman (Third Officer) via menials such as “greaser”, “trimmers”, stewards and stewardesses, not forgetting Paul Mauge, “Secretary to the Chef”.

    The two passenger witnesses were Sir Cosmo and Lady Lucille Duff-Gordon. She, in passing, had something of a “reputation”, and was the sister of Elinor Glyn, the “racy” novelist (as in Would you care to sin,/ With Elinor Glyn,/ On a tiger skin?/ Or would you prefer,/ To err,/ With her/ On some other fur? — totally irrelevant, but fun. Which is what, in part, we’re here for.)

    Duff Gordon (silver medallist in the 1906 Olympics) is alleged to have bribed his way into a lifeboat. In fact, once ashore he drew personal cheques to each of the seven crewmen of the lifeboat (£5 apiece, no small sum at 1912 prices) who were, at that moment, penniless.

    Now try the US Senate hearings. I count 37 members of the crew with depositions.

  • Scáth Shéamais

    Percentage-wise, the highest casualty figure by categorization was 2nd Class males – almost 92%.

    123 1st class passengers died out of 325 (37.8%) – 119 men (of 175, 68%) and 4 women (of 144, 2.8%). There were 6 children, none died.

    167 2nd class passengers died out of 285 (58.6%) – 154 men (of 168, 92%) and 13 women (of 93, 14%). There were 24 children, none died.

    528 3rd class passengers died out of 706 (74.8%) – 387 men (of 462, 84%), 89 women (of 165, 54%) and 52 children (of 79, 66%).

    696 crew members died out of 908 (76.7%) – 693 men (of 885, 74%) and 3 women (of 23, 13%).

    There must have been a fair amount of chivalry among the men aboard the Titanic because clearly men were the vast majority to die. The class factor in the death toll is unavoidable also.

  • Scath… according to sources from yeasterday’s sunday times, this ‘chivalry’ was an illusion and that the compliance of the men deferring, was at the point of the captain’s gun and his threat to shoot them if they left the ship first.

  • carlota martinez @ 12:52 pm:

    Follow that one through, and you should end up with It Was Sad When That Great Ship Went Down. There’s also a take on it here.

    (I’ve run out of my ration of two hot-links, so you’ll have to trust me from here.)

    One version I came across was that the White Star Line had refused to accept Jack Johnson (the first Afro-American heavyweight boxing champion) as a passenger on the Titanic. He wasn’t: he was in Chicago at the time, and so the wrong side of the Atlantic. However, Hudie (“Leadbelly”) Leadbetter’s version has it:

    Jack Johnson wanna get on board,
    Captain said I ain’t hauling no coal.
    Fare thee, Titanic, fare thee well.
    When Jack Johnson heard that mighty shock,
    Mighta seen the man do the Eagle rock.
    Fare thee, Titanic, fare thee well.

    Johnson was, at that time, being victimised because his first wife, Etta Terry Duryea, was white and had shot herself in late 1912, and he had prompted remarried Lucille Cameron, also white: he was arrested and imprisoned under the Mann Act for transporting women across state lines for immoral purposes.

    Johnson didn’t get his posthumous pardon until 2009.

  • HeinzGuderian

    FJH. The coverage by BBC especially was, as Andrew Marr rightly said tasteless and art certain points obscene, [an MTV rock concert? how is that rcommemoration?
    Also the ni media coverage was wilfully dishonest and selective in what it choose to avoid saying about the yard where the failed vessel was made.

    Must be terrible having only 4 channels ?

    I mean,why watch it all if it bores you so much ?

    Must be something in the desperate need to be offended ?

  • Neil


    Ardmajel you mean. He’s right it is tasteless, it’s not taking offence to suggest that, for instance, Kennedy’s upbeat ‘hit’ as an example of the celebratory coverage fits awkwardly with people, children especially, freezing to death or drowning in large numbers. I don’t have to watch it to know that this city I live in is in some collective psychosis where the majority of people have decided to celebrate thousands of deaths on a boat couldn’t even successfully deliver one journey. It’s bizarre. And to boot, having cost a couple of quid you can be rest assured our ‘attraction’ will soon run out of Titanoraks and Leo Di’Caprio fans sooner than forecast.

  • Red Lion

    Not sure about your cynicism FitzJH.

    I grew up in East Belfast the part of Belfast that grew up on the back of the shipyard and amongst an older generation it was remembered pretty seriously. I also remeber learning about it and doing a project about it in primary school and that was taken pretty seriously too. I think theres a respect and a conection to Titanic in Belfast, and particularly East Belfast, that has endured over the century

  • HeinzGuderian

    If you don’t like the coverage,switch over,or better still,switch off.
    Ard seems to be salivating over every single Titanic pronouncement,then gurning about it ?
    (the FJH was part of Ards quote)

    N,it’s not so much a celebration as a commemoration.
    You know,like 1916. A failed journey like holding up a post office,while the rest of the world was at war ?
    ‘I can be rest assured’,RMS Titanic will be remembered long after you locate the ‘off’ button on the remote. 😉

  • Neil The overkill coverage is a product of the two channels having little to put in their local halfhour news so they could hardly believe their luck with this centenary and planned it for months regardless of the likely saturation point. No judgement or critical faculty was applied as there was clearly no adult supervision.

  • Don’t OD on the Titanic, chaps.

    We’ll be doing the same thing in two years with the Lusitania.

    Just different conspiracy theories.