Shipyard, father & son...

Here’s a picture of my father as a very young man, on an outing from Diamond’s Sawmills in Coleraine to the great shipyard at Harland & Woolf, Queen’s Island, Belfast.

There were two or three such excursions – Diamond had occasional business with the yard. He says he can’t remember the exact reason for this trip, but here he is, lounging in the back of an old Austin van with Pat Hutchinson from Portglenone. Pat has now joined the legions of the long gone, but my father, of course, shines on.

I am not even a twinkle in my father’s eye at this point – we believe this picture may have been taken about 50 years ago. He remembers Harland & Woolf as an intimidating place, a world and a tribe all of its own, and as a young catholic from up the country, I’m sure he couldn’t wait to get on the road north again.

The picture has come into my possession just as I am about to take part in my own little piece of shipyard history in this year of All Things Titanic, next Sunday afternoon, April 1st. I’ll be participating (either walking or cycling) and then performing briefly at around 1.25pm as part of the Titanic Yardmen Cycle and Walk.

Organised by the Connswater Community Greenway Group, the event aims to re-stage this classic photograph (left) of 1,000 yardmen standing on the slipway at Harland & Woolf. The numbers for Sunday’s event were limited to 1,000, and I’m delighted to say they’ve made the target and the event is now officially sold out.

Everyone taking part will receive a ‘duncher’ – the flat caps worn by the shipyard workers – and a ‘piece’, a packed lunch, courtesy of sponsors Edwards & Co Solicitors and Fitzer’s Catering. The event has been organised with the intention of raising awareness of Bowel Cancer.

The event starts at the Billy Neill Centre in Dundonald (for the cyclists) at 12noon, and at Pitt Park on the Newtownards Road (for the walkers) at 12.45pm, and both parties converge on the slipway at Harland & Woolf, arriving by 1.15pm.

Compering the event at the slipway will be Dan Gordon, and I’ll be singing a couple of songs with Belfast references – Sailortown and You’re The One. Then after some speeches and the re-staging of the photograph, there will be some music from Belfast Community Gospel Choir – it should be a memorable afternoon.

If you’d like to know more, get in touch with the Connswater Community Greenway group on (028) 9046 7934, or visit the website: