Sunday, 15 April 2012

The Titanic Memorial

The Titanic Memorial in Belfast was erected to commemorate the lives lost in the sinking of RMS Titanic on the 15th April, 1912.

It was produced by the distinguished sculptor, Sir Thomas Brock KCB RA.

It was funded by contributions from the public, shipyard workers and victims' families, and was dedicated in June, 1920. It is located on Donegall Square East in the grounds of the City Hall.

The memorial presents an allegorical representation of the disaster in the form of a female personification of Death or Fate holding a laurel wreath over the head of a drowned sailor raised above the waves by a pair of mermaids.

Together with the Titanic Memorial Garden, it is the only memorial in the world to commemorate all of the victims of the Titanic, passengers and crew alike.

On the 26th June, 1920, the dedication ceremony was held. It was unveiled on a hot sunny Saturday by Field Marshal His Excellency the Viscount French (later advanced to an earldom as 1st Earl of Ypres), the last Lord Lieutenant of Ireland.

The memorial consists of a group of four figures set on a plinth, standing a total of 22 feet high. The figures are carved from Carrara marble and stand 12 feet high.

At the centre of the design is a standing female figure, thought variously to symbolise either Fame or a female version of Thanatos, the ancient Greek personification of death.

She holds a black laurel wreath in her outstretched hand above the heads of the three figures below. They comprise two mermaids at her feet bearing a dead seaman above the waves, which emerge from the top of the plinth.

The plinth's front and back faces feature two small bronze water-fountains in the shape of the heads of gargoyle-like creatures with recessed eyes, stumpy noses and webbed antlers.

The plinth's front face bears the following inscription, focusing exclusively on the heroism of the local victims:

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 were saved, have left a record of calm fortitude and self-sacrifice which will ever remain an inspiring example to succeeding generations
'Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.'

On the sides of the plinth are inscribed the names of twenty-two men from Belfast who died in the disaster. They are listed in order of shipboard rank rather than alphabetical order, as was the practice at the time; thus Thomas Andrews, as a managing director of Harland and Wolff, is listed first, while the lowest-ranking crew members occupy the tail end of the list.

Nine of the Belfast victims were members of a Harland and Wolff "guarantee party" aboard Titanic to identify and fix problems spotted during her maiden voyage, while the rest were crew members mostly employed in engineering roles.

The Harland and Wolff staff and crew members are listed separately on two faces of the plinth.

The memorial was originally located in the middle of the road on Donegall Square North. However, this caused multiple accidents, as drivers travelling around the square often did not see it or could not change lanes in time and collided with it.

In 1959 Belfast City Council decided to relocate it and requested suggestions for an alternative location. Various sites around the city were suggested and a bid was even made by the County Down fishing of Portavogie, whose inhabitants suggested that their community would benefit from tourist traffic generated by relocating the memorial to their village.

In the end, though, it was decided to move the memorial only a few hundred yards, to a new site in the grounds of the City Hall at Donegall Square East. The relocation took place on 28 November 1959 and cost £1,200.

In 1994 the Consark Design Group was commissioned to restore and repair the memorial. The bronze water-fountains had disappeared during the 1959 relocation, so replacements were made to restore the memorial to its original appearance.

The memorial was renovated again in 2011–2 to clean the statue and to recarve and repaint the lettering so that it would be more legible. An annual service of commemoration for the Ulster victims of the Titanic's sinking is still held each on 15 April each year at the memorial.

The memorial garden (2012) is set on two levels around and above the existing Titanic Memorial. Its upper level includes five bronze plaques on a plinth 30 feet wide, naming all 1,512 victims of the disaster, passengers and crew, listed in alphabetical order.

It is the first memorial anywhere in the world to record all of the names of the victims on one monument.

The main area of the garden is planted with spring-time flowers such as magnolias, roses, forget-me-nots and rosemary, the colours being intended to evoke those of water and ice.

Two of those who died in the disaster are thought to have travelled under false names, and are recorded with an asterisk next to their pseudonyms as their real names are still unknown.

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