Lost amid the hubbub surrounding the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic is the remarkable achievement the ship’s building represented.
A product of the Harland and Wolff shipyard in Belfast, Ireland, the Titanic’s creation represented a remarkable transformation for a country just a couple of generations removed from the Great Potato Famine that claimed more than 1 million lives and induced another 1 million-plus to emigrate.
But, as the Irish Times explains, Protestant Belfast was much different from the Ireland of the southern, Catholic portion of the island realm.
“It had grown at a phenomenal rate, surging past Dublin in 1891 to become Ireland’s largest city, and then growing by another 35 per cent in the last decade of the 19th century alone,” according to the publication.
Belfast had the world’s “largest rope works, tobacco factory, linen spinning mill, tea machinery works, dry dock and aerated water factory.”
There was no chance that southern Ireland, lacking the above globally significant industry, could have produced the Titanic.
The ship “belonged to an imperial and industrial world, not to an Ireland of romantic peasants,” according to the Irish Times. “And its creators were largely Protestant. Two thousand Catholics worked in the shipyard, but they were not part of its official story: the ship was universally hailed as a “great Anglo-Saxon triumph.”
Curiously, the ship’s demise in April 1912 foreshadowed an end to the centuries-long Protestant domination of Ireland, the publication adds.
Four days before the Titanic sank, the Third Home Rule Bill was introduced in the House of Commons in London.
It was not well received in the northern part of Ireland.
Within three months, all 2,000 Catholic workers had been forced out of their jobs at the Harland and Wolff shipyard, and by the fall nearly 500,000 Protestants had signed on to a declaration by which they would use “all means which may be found necessary to defeat the present conspiracy to set up a Home Rule Parliament in Ireland.”
By January 1913 the Ulster Unionist Council moved to organize 100,000 of the signatories into an Ulster Volunteer Force and to train them in the use of firearms, the Times added.
Ultimately, the Third Home Rule Bill was passed, but put on hold because of World War I.
Southern Ireland gained sovereignty as the Irish Free State in 1922 following the Irish War of Independence.
While the six northern counties of the Ireland remain part of the UK as Northern Ireland, the 400-plus-years of English-backed Protestant domination of the island were effectively checked.
Titanic’s creation, in effect, represented the zenith of Protestant Ireland.
(Above: The Titanic being launched on May 31, 1911, from the Harland & Wolff Shipyard in Belfast, Ireland. The ship was then moved dry dock to be fitted-out.)