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Harland & Wolff Return -

Harland & Wolff was formed in 1861 by Edward James Harland and Hamburg-born Gustav Wilhelm Wolff. It is most famous for having built the Titanic in 1912. In 1969 and 1974 the shipyard built two gantry cranes that became known among the locals as Samson and Goliath. These two giants have remained an iconic sight among the Belfast skyline for decades now. The shipyard has been a vital part of Belfast’s economy and job employment over the years but has unfortunately suffered setbacks in recent times which now looks set to change.

In August 2019 the company announced that it would cease trading and entered formal administration after having been put up for sale in 2018. A few months later on 1 October 2019, a London-based energy firm, bought the famous shipyard for £6 million.

Now over three years later the shipyard is set to launch into a new era of activity which will create 900 jobs. On a visit to the shipyard, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace and Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris confirmed a £1.6bn contract to build three support ships for the Royal Navy in partnership with Spain’s state-owned Navantia. The trio will be the first ships built by Harland and Wolff in Belfast since MV Anvil Point was launched in 2002.

The UK MoD awarded the shipyard, located in Queen's Island, the contract as part of the Team Resolute consortium to deliver the Fleet Solid Support programme (FSS) of three vessels for the Royal Fleet Auxiliary. The consortium comprises Harland and Wolff, BMT and Navantia UK.

It will no doubt be a welcome economic boost to the locals, albeit at the expense of knowing they will be contributing to the British war machine.

At times in its history the shipyard had a notorious sectarian attitude towards its employment policy. It was the case in the 1950s and the 1960s, although they were biassed in favour of protestant workers, there were a small number of Catholics working in the shipyard. One such man was the father of Margaret, from Belfast, who recalled memories of her Catholic father working there. She spoke of her admiration for her father’s work ethic and how he would head off in the early hours of the morning with his packed lunch to the famous shipyard, a lunch which he ate while sitting in a separate area to the protestants. That, according to Margaret, was one of the milder examples of how the divisions played out. In a number of cases the divisions escalated to abuse and violence.

The dividing lines between protestants and Catholics in many cases had little to do with religion and more to do with national identity. It just so happened that the majority of loyalists were protestant while the majority of republicans were Catholic. Given that today most Irish “Catholics” protest against God and His Church possibly even more than their protestant counterparts it could be argued that those dividing lines now have even less to do with religion, but one wonders how the locals will react to having British warships built in their city once again when there remain some dividing lines around national identity.


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