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Belfast Titanic Memorial- Titanic Memorial at Belfast City Hall

CityHallMemorial2.jpgThe gardens of Belfast City Hall are dotted with statues of the great and the good who have influenced the development of the city. However on the Eastern corner of the gardens stands something quite different, a sculpture rather than a statue, dedicated to the Belfast men who were lost on board RMS Titanic.

The Titanic Memorial is now 91 years old and is starting to show signs of wear and tear. In the lead-up to the centenary, Belfast City Council has decided to create a memorial garden around the sculpture and to make some improvements to the structure itself.

Many of Belfast’s citizens walk past the memorial on a daily basis without realising what it represents. It is only when Belfast Titanic Society holds its 15 April commemoration ceremony at the site that busy office workers on their lunch breaks stop to wonder why the Greek goddess of death has become the object of attention.

The sculpture and its unveiling

The sculpture by Sir Thomas Brock depicts the goddess of death, variously called Thane or Fortuna, receiving the body of a seaman from two mermaids. He is being given a crown of olive leaves to welcome him into the afterlife. The theme was obviously meant to tie in with the derivation of the names of White Star’s liners, Olympic and Titanic.

It was first unveiled in 1920 in the middle of the roadway in front of City Hall. Film footage exists of a Lord Mayor’s parade from the 1950s in which the floats and participants are seen dodging around the memorial on its traffic island. In 1959 it was decided that the Titanic Memorial was becoming a hazard to the increasing volume of traffic in Donegall Square and a decision was taken to move the structure into the grounds of the City Hall. It was a process which took around six months and during which pieces of the two water fountains were lost, never to be retrieved.

The memorial is made up of a base of grey Cornish granite, topped with marble. Since it was moved in 1959, some alarming cracks have appeared in the granite. People have also remarked that the names engraved on the plinth are hard to read. They are written in gold lettering which does not stand out against the grey granite. One of the ideas being discussed is to rework the lettering in a gun-metal grey colour.

Future plans for the memorial

In the middle of 2010, the president and chairman of the Belfast Titanic Society, along with family members of some of the men remembered on the memorial, were invited by the city council and  a firm of landscape architects appointed to the project to view the plans for the site. The idea was to soften the area around the memorial with planting and small hedges, to make sure it was illuminated at night and to provide more information about the Titanic story. The ideas were well received, especially the idea of using flowers in green and blue colours to represent the sea. The marble statue will also receive a much overdue cleaning.

What remains undecided is whether there will be time to add five more names of crew members who were lost on Titanic which have come to light since 1920, due to the researches of the Belfast Titanic Society. The list of names is divided into two sections. On the left hand side are the men from Harland and Wolff who were sent with the ship as the Guarantee Group. On the right are the White Star Line crew members who came from the North of Ireland. It is here that names have been omitted, possibly because the people involved came from towns and villages some distance from Belfast, such as Ballycastle and Jonesborough.

A special commemoration

On 15 April 2012, the memorial will form the centrepiece of Belfast’s commemoration of the ship’s sinking. A non-denominational service will be held there at 10am and the Eastern side of the square will be closed off to allow spectator seating to be erected. All this is in stark contrast to the scene four years ago when the Belfast Eye, a big wheel attraction was put up directly behind the Titanic Memorial. Although it was only meant to be there for three months, the wheel proved to be so popular that it ended up staying for over two years. Belfast Titanic Society appealed to the city council, the operators of the wheel and the minister for the environment to have the attraction moved to another location and finally after Easter, 2010 the operators decided it was time to move on.

The plans to create a memorial garden around the Titanic Memorial have been warmly welcomed by the Belfast Titanic Society, as a further sign that the city is now embracing its Titanic heritage after so many years of shying away from its Titanic links.

Erected to the imperishable memory of those gallant Belfastmen whose names are here inscribed and who lost their lives on the 15th April 1912, by the foundering of the Belfast-built R.M.S Titanic, through collision with an iceberg, on her maiden voyage from Southampton to New York.  Their devotion to duty and heroic conduct, through which the lives of many of those on board, have left a record of calm fortitude and self-sacrifice which will ever remain an inspiring example to succeeding generations.

- Inscription on the Titanic Memorial, situated in the grounds of Belfast City Hall

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