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Collective amnesia on shipyard history should not consign us to living in past

By Staff Reporter

In a major report from Belfast this week to mark the centenary of the sinking of the Titanic, the New York Times suggested the citizens of Belfast were suffering from “collective amnesia” regarding the exclusion of Catholics from the Belfast shipyards of old.

The Times has a point: in the Titanic Belfast visitor centre, there is no reference to the fact that, as the Times put it, Catholics would have been lucky to get even “menial jobs” at the yards.

And in much of the official hoopla, the role of the yards in promoting unionism, right up to the time of their closure, is airbrushed over.

Similarly, you will search long and hard in the tourist literature for any reference to the 20s’ pogrom which saw 3,000 Catholics expelled from the yards in one day.

Indeed, in these pages we have argued for an authentic retelling of history. Such is now considered best practice in cultural tourism, not least because tourist attractions which don’t enjoy the support and loyalty of the locals usually fail.

That’s as true of Ayers Rock in Australia (that Continent’s most famous landmark), now known as Uluru and overseen by a council of aborigine people, as it is of the Guggenheim in Bilbao which only really soared when it dropped its opposition to the use of the Basque language.

But putting the case for an accurate accounting of the past shouldn’t be confused with wishing to live in the past.

Far from it. In fact, the most important statement made over the entire circuit of events relating to the Titanic centenary was that of Martin McGuinness, deputy First Minister, at the opening of that grand building, when he said he was interested in “creating a new history” with unionists.

Amen to that say we. Which is why our focus will remain on the future, but ever mindful of the fact that if you don’t know where you’ve been you will never know where you’re going.

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