Historical Belfast

Titanic: Ship of Dreams with Gareth Russell

May 01, 2023 Jason Burke Episode 31
Historical Belfast
Titanic: Ship of Dreams with Gareth Russell
Show Notes

The biggest ship the world had ever seen, constructed by the world’s biggest shipbuilder Harland & Wolff; Titanic was (and still remains) something that Belfast is immensely proud of. 

Belfast bore no shame from the tragedy of the ship’s sinking, for it was the blood, sweat and tears of our own that built it. “She was alright when she left here” was our tongue-in-cheek way of saying “We did our bit”, and suffered in the process. Eight Belfast lads lost their lives during the two-year construction period; I avoid calling them ‘Belfast men’ because the youngest was just 15 years of age – Samuel Scott from Templemore Street in the East of the city – only a child. Samuel had been employed as a ‘catchboy’ – a junior member of a riveting squad. His cause of death was recorded as a fractured skull. In many ways Samuel Scott and his 7 mortally injured colleagues are the forgotten collateral damage that was necessary to make Titanic a reality. In stark contrast to the luxury on board the ship and the billions of pounds and dollars that have swirled around the Titanic brand to this day Samuel Scott lay in an unmarked grave in Belfast City Cemetery until 2011 when Feile an Phobail (the West Belfast Festival) provided a headstone to remember him. 

Titanic is arguably worth more to Belfast today than 111 years ago when she slipped out of Belfast like a palace on the sea. Our Titanic Belfast museum, which took longer to build than the ship itself, cost in excess of £100m and continues to attract millions of visitors who are keen to see and hear more about a tragic maritime tale that has been so often told. It’s said that well over 500 books have been written about Titanic in the English language alone – if you count assorted reprints and books in foreign languages the total number of Titanic texts is somewhere in the region of 1,000. You’d think, therefore, that not much else could be written which hadn’t been written before – and you’d be wrong, because my guest for this episode has managed to do exactly that and seemingly with great success.

Gareth Russell is a Belfast-based historian, novelist and playwright. In 2019 he published his account of the Titanic disaster titled The Ship of Dreams: The Sinking of the Titanic and the End of the Edwardian Era. It was named a ‘Book of the Year’ by The Times newspaper and a ‘Best History Book of 2019’ by The Daily Telegraph – no mean feat…

And so when thinking about the Titanic and Belfast’s connections to it I figured there would be no better person to speak to than Gareth. 

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