The Industrial Revolution passed most of Ireland by, but turned Belfast into a mighty manufacturing base – shirts, fags, napkins, ocean liners.
On May 31, 1911 the world’s largest passenger liner, all 46,000 tons of her, edged down the slipway of the Harland and Wolff Shipyards and settled into the dark waters of Belfast Lough.
There the Titanic was fitted out and scrubbed up before slipping anchor and heading out into the Irish Sea almost a year after her launch.
She first sailed to Southampton, then to Cherbourg, and finally to Cobh (then called Queenstown) before setting course for New York.
The tragedy that befell her 100 years ago on the night of April 15, 1912 could be described as a rigorous application of Sod’s Law. Everything that might have gone wrong did.
Had the helmsman steered straight for the iceberg and hit the iceberg head on it’s more than likely the ship would have survived. As it was a First Officer ordered him to reverse, the worst possible advice. This meant the ship had no way – no forward momentum – and lost all steering. The Titanic twisted in the ocean, and hit the iceberg calamitously side on, gouging a huge hall in the hull.
Previously a message from the steamer Amerika had warned that large icebergs lay in Titanic’s path, but as the wireless radio operators on board the Titanic were employed by Marconi to relay messages to and from the passengers, they were not focused on relaying “non-essential” messages to the bridge. Later that evening, another report of numerous large icebergs, this time from a nearby ship Mesaba, similarly failed to reach the bridge.
Meanwhile Mr Sod carried on his work aboard a nearby ship, The Californian. The lights of the Californian were visible from the Titanic, but alas, the ship’s radio operator went to bed before he could receive the stricken vessel’s distress signals.
When it became obvious that the ship was doomed, once again mayhem and farce ruled, with captain and officers mishandling the evacuation.
As dawn broke over the Atlantic, all that was left of the world’s greatest ocean liner were the lifeboats, some flotsam and jetsam, and an oil slick. The gigantic hull had sunk to the bottom of the ocean.
1,517 people had perished, 706 had survived.
Its fascination continues because the Titanic seemed to encompass a huge proportion of human emotions — hubris, nemesis, heroism, human frailty, luxury, romance, tragedy and disaster.