Wednesday, February 29, 2012

One Hundred Years Ago

When a great historical event comes upon a milestone, what may have faded from the general consciousness comes alive again, sometimes on a day by day timetable as, say, a hundredth anniversary approaches.

The sinking of the Titanic is such an event, and while we won’t see moment by moment replays until the time the ship would have left Belfast, there was still much to do to keep a lot of people very busy. At this time one hundred years ago, the ship was in dry dock, being fitted out. The interior needed huge amounts of work, which would continue even during sea trials and all the way to Southampton to collect her passengers for the maiden voyage. The ship went down with washbasins still in crates in some second class cabins.

That day was April 15th, 1912, but one hundred years ago on February 29, men like Donal Gallagher were still working feverishly to complete the magnificent liner. Donal, a cabinetmaker, had dozens of washstands to construct, because this most modern vessel had running water in all cabins, and in first class, the water was even hot!




Donal’s lover Jimmy had done his work for the great ship much earlier; boilers must be installed into an otherwise bare hull. Too huge to do anything but build around, a marine boiler is a mundane and still amazing piece of craftsmanship, built to use high pressure steam. This powered the ship's engines and electrical plant, and by extension, all refrigeration, lighting, elevators, and a hundred other mechanicals mostly taken for granted, and incidentally supply the hot water for the washstands.

We’re used to hearing about the passengers, the Molly Browns and John Jacob Astors, the doomed third class emigrants, and even fictional passengers such as Jack and Rose. A few of the crew, such as Harold McBride and Wallace Hartley, have passed into the folklore of the ship.

But I have chosen to write of the men who made the ship, the unsung such as Donal and Jimmy, two of the twelve thousand who worked at the shipyard. And one of them sailed away.

There is a happy ending here.

Maroon: Donal agus Jimmy.

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