Titanic attraction opens at ship’s birthplace

Eric Kuhne, who designed the attraction, at yesterday's official opening in Belfast. Picture: AP/Peter Morrison
Eric Kuhne, who designed the attraction, at yesterday's official opening in Belfast. Picture: AP/Peter Morrison
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A 105-YEAR-OLD man who watched the Titanic’s launch more than century ago returned to the same place yesterday to witness the opening of the world’s largest tourist attraction dedicated to the doomed liner.

Cyril Quigley joined Northern Ireland’s political leaders and other dignitaries in the old Harland and Wolff shipyard where the famous ship was built as Titanic Belfast welcomed its first paying visitors.

Part of a £100 million regeneration project of the derelict yards, the eye-catching, dockside centre opened just weeks before the 100th anniversary of the ship’s sinking.

“My father and mother took me to Workman and Clark shipyard which is on the opposite side [of Belfast Lough] to watch the launch,” recalled Quigley. “That was better than all the people in Harland and Wolff watching it because of the crowds.

“I just saw a mass of metal in the gantries that they built for it and all I saw was this big thing sliding out into the water. I was only four and half.”

A retired accountant, Quigley, who still lives in east Belfast, said the new attraction was fantastic. “It’s wonderful, it really is,” he said.

“I often thought they would make another plastic ship here and have it as a restaurant or something but this is fantastic. It’s like our Sydney Opera House.”

The six-storey centre, designed by US-born architect Eric Kuhne, tells the story of the Titanic through nine galleries, each devoted to a different aspect of the tragedy.

Around 100,000 people have already bought tickets.

The attraction, whose design is based on the bow of the Titanic, capitalises on its unique location, built right beside the slipway where the liner was floated in 1911.

During the official opening ceremony, Stormont First Minister Peter Robinson said the centre was just one reason why people should visit peace process-era Northern Ireland. “While many people will come to see the visitor attraction I believe they will be captivated and fall in love with the people of Northern Ireland,” said the Democratic Unionist leader.

“This is a new era in this province and I believe that we want to bring people to Northern Ireland, not just to see what a generation 100 years ago was able to achieve, but what this generation can achieve in this new era of peace and stability.

“We have so much to offer, this is just the beginning.”

Sinn Fein Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said the building was testament to what political powersharing in the region had achieved.

“This building is a fantastic achievement,” he said.

“It’s here because of the peace process, it’s here because people like Peter Robinson and myself and others have pushed forward decisively in leadership to make a bold statement, as bold a statement as this building makes, that we need to stand together – that united we are strong, divided we are very, very weak.”

Lord Mayor of Belfast Niall O’Donnghaile said the human tragedy of Titanic had made a deep impact on Belfast.

“But certainly we take great pride in the ability that we have taken from that story and that tragedy to realise opportunities for us in the here and in the now.”