Northern Ireland news

First World War Irish sailors' descendants to attend Battle of Jutland commemorations in Belfast

After a multi-million-pound overhaul HMS Caroline will be transformed into a floating interpretive centre of the conflict
Michael McHugh, Press Association

ABOUT 200 descendants of First World War Irish sailors are to take part in commemoration ceremonies in Belfast at the only surviving vessel of the Battle of Jutland.

HMS Caroline has undergone a multi-million-pound overhaul and will be transformed into a floating interpretive centre of the landmark conflict.

The light cruiser saw action during exchanges off the Danish coastline on May 31 1916. It is moored in Belfast's Titanic Quarter and will be a focus of international remembrance on the centenary next month.

The following day it will open its doors to the public, with tickets costing £12 per adult and £5 for a child.

Much of the ship's superstructure is still covered up as work continues.

The drill hall will be turned into an interpretive centre while visitors will be able to view the oil-powered engines, the areas in which the ordinary sailors slept in hammocks and the place below deck where seamen could control the vessel while coming under attack.

Commander John Gray, senior naval officer in Northern Ireland, said the Battle of Jutland was a titanic clash.

"It is the most significant maritime date for us on the island of Ireland. It gives us the opportunity to remember all those from the island of Ireland who served at sea," he said.

"Some 200 descendants of Irish [Royal Navy] sailors will gather to mark the memory of their ancestors."

HMS Caroline is the only ship remaining from the British Grand Fleet and and German High Seas Fleet of some 250 vessels.

It is moored at Alexandra Dock in Belfast's Queen's Island. The work was financed by a Heritage Lottery Fund £12.5 million grant and further investment from Northern Ireland's Department for Enterprise, Trade and Investment.

Repairs to the ship, which weighs 3,750 tonnes and is 400ft (122m) long, were completed last year and it is now watertight.

Endangered Latin American timber impounded by UK border authorities is being used to redeck the boat.

The refurbishment is being carried out by Belfast-based ship fitting specialists Blu-marine. It will be a museum, cross-community centre and meeting and conference venue.

National Museum of the Royal Navy chief of staff Captain John Rees, who has been leading the restoration programme, said: "HMS Caroline is a living legend.

"We are breathing new life into what is an internationally significant piece of world history."

The commemoration on May 31 will pay tribute to the memory of 10,000 Irish men who joined the Navy in the First World War.

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