Sunday, 26 January 2014

Colonel Dick

Lieutenant-Colonel Richard "Dick" Strawbridge MBE, a former Army engineer-turned-environmentalist, has come a very long way since his time in the Army in 2001.

I know there are Strawbridges in County Londonderry; however Dick Strawbridge was born in Bangor, County Down.

The former army engineer knows a thing or two about incredible feats of construction, reports BBC Northern Ireland.

When he was asked about where Belfast Harbour ranks in terms of ingenuity, there was no hesitation:- 
"People talk about the efforts that went into building for the 2012 Olympics or the Channel Tunnel? Pah! They're just not on the same scale as Belfast Harbour. It really is amazing."
The feat of engineering is made clear in the documentary Belfast City: Mud, Sweat and 400 Years, made for BBC television.

Colonel Strawbridge has had a fascination with the harbour for over four decades:
"I can remember travelling up from Bangor to Belfast when I was a child. I was fascinated by the sheer size of the place and all the activity. It's been in my consciousness ever since."
Mud, Sweat and 400 Years allowed him to dive into the murky depths of time to explore why the harbour came to exist and how its success drove Belfast on to become one of the UK's most important cities.

Created after Belfast was granted a Royal Charter in 1613, the port was originally a tiny operation on the banks of the River Farset, which ran along what is now High Street.

It was dwarfed by the larger, more important harbour at Carrickfergus, County Antrim.

However, the ambitious, emerging merchant classes decided a larger port was needed, setting in motion events that brought about the huge commercial facility that endures today.

Belfast was completely ill-suited to a large harbour, Strawbridge said:
"The most amazing thing to understand is Belfast was not the right place for a port this size. It makes no sense. It's an amazing engineering achievement. Remember, too, workers dug up land everyday but the tide would fill it with water again. These guys were fighting one of the most powerful natural phenomena in the world. Imagine Belfast is still a sandy estuary today. And someone said: 'We'll build a huge port.' There would be an incredible gnashing of teeth. "People wouldn't believe it could be done and it would cost billions. But back then they said: 'Let's go and do it because we need the resources.' I just love that attitude."
The programme also allowed Strawbridge to throw himself into modern day harbour life, from clambering into the tunnels underneath Belfast's High Street to climbing the dizzying heights of Harland & Wolff's huge cranes.

However, he said his favourite moment was meeting retired dockers in Belfast's historic Sailortown area.

Strawbridge says the story of Belfast Port is a great example of remarkable determination,
"It's an encouraging, positive story. I hope the programme communicates the sheer work that went into this port. I started off in a position of some knowledge about the port and with a real interest. However, now I have added respect that has come from understanding fully what this harbour required from people. It doesn't half make you think. Along with respect, comes pride. There's a lot here for Northern Ireland to be proud of."
Belfast City: Mud, Sweat and 400 Years will be broadcast on BBC One Northern Ireland, Monday 27 January at 22.35 GMT.

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