I revisited Belfast recently and took a stroll down Newtownards Road, a staunchly working class area in that increasingly affluent city, to admire and photograph some of the amazing murals that adorn the gable-ends of many of the buildings.
The area is adjacent to Harland and Wolff shipyard, the birthplace of the Titanic, surely the most well-known vessel in maritime history.
Titanic Belfast, named the world’s leading tourist attraction at the
prestigious World Travel Awards in 2016, is a state-of-the-art visitor centre that tells the story of the great ship, from her
conception in Belfast in the early 1900s, through her construction and
launch, to her maiden voyage and subsequent place in history.
The good people of Northern Ireland are justifiably proud of their association with the famous liner and, when the occasional puzzled visitor enquires why they celebrate a ship that had such a brief and ill-starred existence, will generally reply: Sure, she was fine when she left here!
Stiff-collared and stiff-upper-lipped,
they bade their womenfolk go first,
with children, into lifeboats
that were only there for show,
then, ramrod-straight on tilting decks,
they braved the icy, ill-starred night
or went below to congregate
with other men, pale, poker-faced,
in state-rooms loud with jokes and boasts,
to camouflage their growing fear,
as cocktails, spilled, or scattered cards
made nonsense of forlorn attempts
In that dark realm of bitter cold,
of signal-flares and glacial stars,
where massively impassive bergs
moved sure and silently as gods;
where all around, like tombstones, ranged,
squat ice-flows gleamed a ghostly white,
snow fell, in feathered silence, then
on black waves breaking endlessly
on lifeboats, where survivors prayed,
their upturned faces, pinched and wan,
for fathers, lovers, husbands, sons;
but when such supplication failed,
prayed only for salvation.
Here's a piece of music from Stewart Love's acclaimed play, Titanic Serenade, performed by Banbridge Musical Society.
This poem appears in my most recent collection, Stone Witness, available from Blue Ormer Publishing.