I’m in Belfast for the centenary – 31 May, 2011 – of the launch of the most famous passenger liner in the world. The Titanic is remembered more these days for its tragic fate than for its spectacular creation, but of course back in 1911 it was an engineering marvel, opulent beyond compare and built using the very latest in maritime technology. Its launch was an achievement that Belfast’s Harland and Wolff shipyard was justly proud of, and it is this achievement that is now being celebrated.

Exactly 100 years ago, at 12.13pm, the 883-foot Titanic slipped majestically down a launching ramp greased with 20 tonnes of tallow and grease, and into the water. The whole movement took just 62 seconds.

Today, that launch was recreated in the imagination of the crowd assembled at the very same spot, with 62 seconds-worth of cheers from onlookers, horns honking from boats, and a rocket flare to mark the exact moment. Then there was a moment of silence to acknowledge the deaths of the 1,517 people who died on the ship’s catastrophic maiden voyage.

The mood, though, was essentially one of celebration, with the Lord Mayor of Belfast marvelling in his speech at the sheer size and scale of the ship, with its ribs described by an eyewitness during its construction as “like the naves of a dozen cathedrals laid end to end.”

Hymns traditionally sung at ship launches, and here sung by the Harlandic Male Voice Choir, completed the ceremony. For Belfast, though, there is much more to come after this. A number of exhibitions bringing the Titanic alive are in the works – from the restoration of the tender SS Nomadic to the immersive visitor experience currently under construction at the Titanic Belfast building.

Click here for the second part of my Titanic blog