Belfast: Ship Building

The recorded history of shipbuilding in Belfast begins in 1636 with the building of the Eagle's Wing by a number of clergymen. The boat set off for America with a Presbyterian congregation but had to turn back because of storms.

In 1791, William Ritchie arrived from Saltcoats in Ayrshire, bringing with him ten men and enough materials to found the first boat yard in Belfast. The yard was situated roughly where Corporation Street is today.

The first boat built and launched was the Hibernia, a vessel of 200 tons that entered the water on July 7, 1792. This was the beginning of an industry that was to shape the destiny and culture of the city for the next 200 years.

The Golden Age

Between 1841 and 1846, Queen's Island was built on land reclaimed from a major river straightening project. This site, on the Co Down bank of the River Lagan, was to become the home of Harland and Wolff and their first major rivals, McIlwaine and Coll.

Harland and Wolff was founded in 1853 by Robert Hickson, an ironmonger, and sold to his shipyard manager, Edward Harland, in 1855. Harland was financed by GC Schwabe of Liverpool, whose nephew Gustav Wolff joined the firm as Harland's assistant.

The first ship to be launched from the shipyard was the Venetian, followed by innovatory transoceanic liners for the White Star Line such as the Oceanic, the Britannic, the Olympic, and of course the Titanic. Harland and Wolff quickly established a reputation as the world's leading liner constructor.

In 1880, the firm of Workman and Clark was established on the opposing bank of the River Lagan in Co Antrim. Known as the 'wee yard', they took over McIlwaine and Coll within three years and pioneered refrigerated shipping utilised by the booming transoceanic trade routes.

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