Belfast honours Titanic centenary

A minute's silence was held today as a memorial was opened in Belfast marking the centenary of the sinking of the Titanic.

A great, great nephew of the ship's doctor helped unveil bronze plaques listing more than 1,500 passengers, crew and musicians who died when the liner struck an iceberg and sank in the North Atlantic on April 15 1912.

The boat was built in a Belfast shipyard and relatives of workmen who made and crewed the vessel were present for today's ceremony.

Jack Martin, a 12-year-old descendant of Dr John Simpson, also laid a wreath and said: "I am proud that I am keeping the memory of my ancestor alive and it keeps memories fresh."

A letter penned on board the Titanic by the Belfast doctor to his mother is to be brought back to Belfast for exhibition.

The letter, from assistant ship surgeon Dr John Edward Simpson, was written on notepaper headed RMS Titanic and brought ashore at Cobh, Co Cork. From there it was posted to his mother, Elizabeth, who lived in south Belfast.

Dr Simpson was married and had one son when he took the commission on Titanic. He had previously worked on another White Star Line ship - the Olympic.

In the letter, Dr Simpson said he was settling into his cabin well and that the accommodation on board his new vessel was larger.

Jack's father John Martin today said it meant a lot to him that the note was to be on display in Belfast.

"It is the last tangible object that we have from John Simpson, everything else that he had was lost," he said.

"It is the last thing that we know he actually touched, that means a lot to the family."

The service, held beside the city hall, took less than an hour and featured solo pieces by singer Brian Kennedy and reflections from actor Dan Gordon and minister the Rev Ian Gilpin.

Belfast Lord Mayor Niall O`Donnghaile, Jack Martin and a representative of the Harland and Wolff shipyard, where the vessel was built, laid wreaths at the new memorial.

The names of the dead, from all classes on the doomed liner, are engraved in alphabetical order on five bronze plaques.

When the Titanic, with its three classes of passenger, sank, a disproportionate number of victims were in third class. This is the first time all, including crew, are recognised on one memorial.

The Rev Ian Gilpin reflected: "We behold the Titanic memorial, we remember all those who perished and whose names are herein inscribed - men, women and children who loved and we loved, their loss still poignantly felt by their descendants.

"In the permanence of granite, marble and stone may there be a permanence in our remembrance, in diversity, in the colour and fragrance of the flowers of the memorial, that the memorial be an acknowledgement of the diversity of humankind."

After the wreath-laying a minute's silence was held for private reflection then the hymn 'Nearer My God to Thee'.

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