Thursday 23 November 2017

Kevin Myers: Belfast is making a fuss about the Titanic but for decades there was no memorial to the greatest peacetime maritime disaster

The centenary of the sinking of the Titanic is rounding the bend: already the cliches and the fictions are being trotted out as if they were actual truths, which is always the mark of a real myth. Belfast Catholics and Protestants do not have many legends in common, but one they share is that the all-Protestant workforce in the die-hard unionist shipbuilders that was Harland and Wolff created a numerical code to put on the bows of the Titanic, which when translated read "No Pope Here".

That none of this is true is irrelevant. Catholics cherish the myth that they weren't allowed to work in the shipyards, and Protestants cherish the myth that they were a dynamic, innovative and hard-working people, unlike the lazy feckless Fenians.

In fact, until the disastrous decision to give home rule to Northern Ireland, the workforce of the shipyard was pretty much divided on demographic lines. And far from the company being "unionist", its chairman, William Pirrie, was a keen Home Ruler who acted as Winston Churchill's host during a nationalist rally in Belfast; and for this, he was roundly hissed by unionists in the streets. Moreover, he shut the yard down when there was an attempt to eject Catholics, and warned it would remain closed until guarantees were given about the safety of the Catholic workforce.

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