The Unsinkable Replica Ship

Titanic, or part of it, is back in Belfast. This time it's staying put

Titanic is undoubtedly Belfast’s most famous export: the ‘unsinkable ship’ that carried 1500 people to their deaths in the cold Atlantic in the early hours of April 14, 1912. But it was hailed as a triumph to Edwardian engineering this June when a replica of the ship’s bow was unveiled at the Titanic Dock and Pump House.

The 30ft replica was built as part of a documentary series produced by Channel 4 and National Geographic, triumphantly entitled, We Built Titanic.

A replica of the ship’s anchor has already been constructed and there are plans to recreate first and third class passenger accommodation.

Spencer Kelly, a producer from Twenty Twenty Television, the company that built the replica, said: 'The programme is attempting to show the level of expertise of manufacturing in the Edwardian era and in particular here in Belfast within the shipbuilding industry. There is no doubt that at the time Titanic was a showcase for manufacturing skills and we wanted to try and recreate the fabrication techniques used at the time while also using modern techniques.'

The unveiling took place in front of an audience of 200, close to the Northern Ireland Science Park. Addressing the audience, engineer Brendan Walker said: 'We have been marveling at the physical strength, speed and technique of the people that built this ship. We all know the tragedy and loss of that night in April 1912 but we are here to leave a tribute to the people who built the Titanic - those fine engineers. And, as we all know, the ship was fine when it left Belfast.'

But to describe the infamous liner as ‘fine’ is undoubtedly an understatement. At the time of its construction, RMS Titanic was the world’s largest ship. It was an example of the latest in marine technology and was presented as the pinnacle of Edwardian innovation.

Although there was some initial uncertainty as to whether the replica would remain in the city, it was announced at the unveiling that the replica was 'a gift to Belfast' and so will be on display indefinitely at the dry docks on Queen's Island.

This can only be a boost to the tourist industry in Northern Ireland, which has been slow to realise the potential of the city’s geographical link to the infamous liner.

'Titanic is probably the most famous ship in the world, a worldwide brand known by millions of people yet relatively few know she was built in Belfast,' commented Una Reilly, chairperson and co-founder of the Belfast Titanic Society. 'The city of her birth has finally picked up the pride in the skills and craftsmanship that built the then biggest manmade moving object in the world.'

The acquisition of the bow is a positive contribution to the Titanic Signature Project, a £100 million development of the derelict docks in the Titanic Quarter. Plans for the area include a maritime museum, a themed banqueting suite and a memorial to those who died on the ship’s maiden voyage. It is hoped that the project will be completed to coincide with the ship's centenary in 2012.

As we move closer to that date, it is certainly time to embrace our proud maritime history and remember that, although the Titanic’s maiden voyage was a disaster, the ship itself was not.

Lisa Nelson