Belfast seeks funding for WWI ship

Arlene Foster.

Major additional funding is being sought to turn the Belfast-based First World War warship HMS Caroline into a spectacular new tourist attraction.

Just weeks after the announcement of a £1m (€1.22m) grant to save the light cruiser falling into disrepair, there is confirmation of an application being lodged with the Heritage Lottery Fund to finance a massive restoration programme.

The National Museum of the Royal Navy (NMRN) and the Northern Ireland’s Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment is seeking the money to secure the ship’s long-term future as another world-class floating museum in Belfast’s Titanic Quarter.

A decision is expected in April.

Built in Merseyside in 1914, HMS Caroline is the last survivor of the Battle of Jutland – the First World War’s longest and most strategically important sea battle – and the only time the full German and British navies engaged directly.

It also went into action during the Second World War as a key base for operations to protect the North Atlantic convoys from U-boat attack. Since 1945, it has been based in Belfast as a static drill ship before being decommissioned two years ago.

Professor Dominic Tweddle, director general of NMRN, said the initial £1.097m (€1.34m) grant was a vital first step in saving the ship.

But a successful second application for funding is essential to secure its future and provide a unique shared space in which its history will reflect that of the city and Northern Ireland and people from both sides of the community who fought and died in both world wars.

Restoration work, which is due to be completed in time for the centenary of the Battle of Jutland in 2016, will also involve building meeting and conference rooms.

He said: “It will be fully restored and transformed into a museum telling the story of life on board the ship throughout multiple periods of history, in times of war, peace and political upheaval in Northern Ireland. It will offer a unique visitor experience, revealing what life was like for the 300-strong crew – using real-life stories of the people who served on her over the last 100 years.”

Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster said a successful funding application would develop Caroline into a high-quality visitor attraction.

She said: “It is one of our most significant historic vessels and has huge potential.”

There will be state-of-the-art audio-visual facilities to give visitors a better understanding and interpretation of what happened during the two wars, especially the Battle of Jutland.

Captain John Rees, HMS Caroline’s project director, said: “Although detailed plans are still be to developed, the audio-visual experience will give visitors a feel of what the war at sea was really like a century ago.”

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