Belfast’s Deep Sea Dockers have launched a series of events to tell the forgotten story of how the city’s Dockers helped build Belfast. The launch at Belfast Harbour Office, which was attended by DRD Minister, Conor Murphy and supported by Belfast Harbour Commissioners, marks the start of celebrations to mark the centenary of the founding of the Irish Transport & General Workers Union (ITGWU).
At one stage there were two thousand working in Belfast’s docks handling trade coming in and out of the Port as the city grew into a major industrial centre. Although the history of local Dockers is best remembered for the 1907 strike and lockout which led to the creation of the ITGWU, the organizers of today’s launch want to highlight other aspects of their history including the fact that Belfast used to be the fastest cargo discharging Port in the world.
Liam McBrinn, Chairman of the Shared Heritage Interpretive Project (SHIP), which organized the event, said:
“Ours is a city steeped in maritime tradition and the role that workers played – whether as shipbuilders, sailors, harbour employees or Dockers – should be remembered with pride. Dockers made a huge contribution to the social and economic history of Belfast; without them the city wouldn’t have become the international trading centre it became during the Industrial Revolution.
“Although technology has replaced the need for large numbers of Dockers, we want to make sure that their stories are preserved for posterity, both the harshness and dangers of the working conditions and the amazing camaraderie which existed in districts such as Sailortown.”
Speaking at the launch, Conor Murphy, the Regional Development Minister, who has responsibility for Northern Ireland’s ports, said:
“It’s only in recent years that Belfast has started to fully appreciate its maritime heritage and while much of the attention has quite rightly focused on the achievements of the city’s shipyards, the story of the Dockers is just as compelling.
“SHIP, the ITGWU / SIPTU and Belfast Harbour Commissioners are to be commended for their efforts to raise the profile of this integral but often forgotten part of Belfast’s maritime story.”
Roy Adair, CEO of the Port of Belfast, added:
“Belfast wouldn’t have become one of the leading ports in these islands if it wasn’t for the hard work of deep sea dockers. It was a physically demanding job, hours were long, conditions were tough and the availability of work could be piecemeal. Without them, however, the Port wouldn’t have been able to operate, grow and accumulate the funds needed to develop the dry docks which attracted shipbuilding to Belfast in the first place.”
As part of the celebrations, SHIP is assembling a photographic exhibition and history of Belfast’s Dockers and they’re asking former Dockers and their relatives to come forward with memorabilia. Brian McCann, SHIP’s Secretary added:
“We’d be very grateful if people would consider lending artifacts which may be of interest to the project. Our aim is to index them, publish a pictorial catalogue and put together an exhibition that captures a real snapshot of this important strand of Belfast’s history over the past two centuries.”
Anyone who wants to lend items for the exhibition should bring them to the Docker’s Club on Belfast’s Pilot Street. Other events planned include a number of book launches detailing the Dockers’ history and a civic reception at the Lord Mayor’s parlour later on in the year.