An Icy Thaw for Belfast

By Daisy Carrington, Contributor
June / July 2005

In the town of Belfast, the word “Titanic” is still met with downcast eyes and a grimace. The Titanic was the world’s largest moving manmade object. It was the grandest and most advanced mechanism of its time, and was, rightly, viewed with pride by the inhabitants of the then-booming industrial city of Belfast. When the ship, built in the city’s Harland and Wolff shipyard, sank after hitting an iceberg in April 1912, dragging 1,500 passengers with it into the depths of the sea, Belfast was as heartbroken as a mourning parent. Though in reality there is no correlation between the tragedy and the period of political upheaval that descended on the city in subsequent years, many Belfast residents can’t help but view one as a direct consequence of the other. Needless to say, the community regards icebergs with the utmost suspicion.

It is in the form of an iceberg, however, that Northern Ireland’s leading artist, Rita Duffy, wants to give the city her own form of shock therapy. Currently, Ms. Duffy is working on carting an iceberg from Norway to the Belfast shipyard — a move she believes will have a cathartic effect on Belfast’s wounded psyche.

“Maybe it’s time to come out of denial and confront what has sunk us,” the artist said in an interview last month with London’s Guardian.

Rita’s father, who works for the shipyard and hence has an ingrained understanding of the power of the iceberg’s symbolism, believes in the merit of the project.

“Ice is the alchemic opposite of the fire of hatred and sectarianism, mistrust and dislike, that has burned her,” he says.

Ms. Duffy is in the process of fundraising for the project, which she hopes will correspond with the opening of the city’s “Titanic Quarter” in 2008, and has already received funding from the International Fund for Ireland and the Irish consulate in New York. She is also working to secure backing from the Arts Council in Northern Ireland.

While the project has garnered support, there are some, understandably, who are not so keen on Ms. Duffy’s idea. Una Reilly, co-founder of the Belfast Titanic Society, feels not enough time has elapsed, and that more healing needs to be done before the town can face the icy demon.

“I can understand why Rita wants to develop the symbolism of an iceberg,” Ms. Reilly said, “but to bring the cause of the disaster into Belfast is not the message Belfast wants to send out to the rest of the world in relation to the Titanic.” ♦

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