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Anne Hailes: The legend of the Titanic continues to enthral

First Class passengers take the air on deck between Cherbourg and Queenstown, photographed by Irish Jesuit Fr Francis Browne.

I was fortunate to catch up with Susie Millar last week before she boarded the Enterprise to Dublin. Not on a day trip but to meet up with 28 Americans for a two-week journey round Ireland visiting places of notable history and culture, the last four days in Northern Ireland spending compelling time hearing her talk of the RMS Titanic. And no better woman.

Susie followed in her family footsteps and became a journalist and reporter with BBC and for 20 years with Ulster Television, leaving in 2008 to follow a career in tourism - specifically telling a story which is very personal to her.

This story goes back three generations to her great grandfather, Tommy Millar from Carrickfergus, who worked at Harland and Wolff on the big liners of the day including the Titanic.

He planned to travel to America with his wife and two sons but sadly Jeannie died and he decided to carry out his plan, sail to the States, get established and return as soon as possible to bring his children to grow up in America.

"He signed up as a deck engineer on the ship he helped to build. As he said goodbye to his two little sons on the dock side, he gave them each a shiny new penny from his last pay packet and told them not to spend them until they saw him again," says Susie.

"That wasn't to be and the pennies dated 1912 remain in our family to this day."

FAMILY HISTORY CONTINUES

One of the boys was Ruddick, a journalist and playwright and Susie's grandfather. Like him, now around 100 years later, Susie too is documenting the history of the Titanic for future generations.

When she first began, the Titanic story was rather rough and ready. However, during the months leading up to the centenary she realised that she was sitting on an important story - the story of the pennies her great grandfather gave to his two sons.

Working with Tourism Ireland, Susie has taken her story all over the world - Australia, America, Europe, Britain and across Ireland - and the interest has been amazing. It's the legacy of the ship that left Belfast slipways on April 2 only to lose it's life on the 15th of that month to become a worldwide phenomenon, a ship under the controversial guidance of Captain Edward Smith, once surrounded by shame, became recognised as a feat of superb engineering and luxury. And as president of the Belfast Titanic Society she has ensured the story is treated with respect and her knowledge is second to none.

And now there are two new books to add to her huge library, many of the books and articles inherited from her father, journalist Rupert Millar. In the days when nobody talked about the Titanic disaster, he championed the family connections and was founder of the Belfast Titanic Society magazine, CQD, still available today through the Titanic Belfast Society.

UNIQUE RECORD INSIDE THE TITANIC

Travelling on Titanic with Father Browne is a book of unique pictures and the second is Rescuing Titanic, an illustrated story of the RMS Carpathia, the ship that went to the rescue of Titanic passengers.

Belfast-born Flora Delargy also has a special interest in the Titanic as, like Susie, her grandfather and great grandfather both worked at the shipyard on Queen's Island and the story is part of her growing up.

Flora has a Master's degree in children's book illustration and now her latest work has been shortlisted for the prestigious Klaus Flugge prize awarded to the most promising and exciting newcomer in children's picture book illustration; however, we will have to wait until September to see if she is successful.

Fr Francis Browne SJ was a Jesuit priest who is now recognised as one of the most important Irish photographers of the 20th century, with a reservoir of 42,000 photographs taken during his life.

He joined the ship in Southampton on April 10 1912 to sail on the maiden voyage to Cherbourg, France and on to Queenstown in Ireland. He was invited to continue the journey to New York but his Jesuit Superior ordered him to "get off that ship" when it berthed at Queenstown, renamed Cobh in 1920, and thankfully his photographic record has given the only insight into life on what was at that time the largest ship in the world.

The book, which has been compiled by Fr EE O'Donnell SJ, is filled with plans of the interior of the ship, staterooms, tickets, menus, letters and newspaper reports with his own handwritten comments - altogether a fascinating photographic record as the crew went about their work and passengers were excited, unaware of the disaster only hours away.

POIGNANT JOURNEY

Susie Millar has brought all these events together and she's passing them on to thousands every year with enthusiasm for her subject. She tells them of an emotional centenary cruise to New York.

"We passed the Statue of Liberty, the place where the Titanic would have been moored, and when I set foot on Manhattan soil, just as Tommy hoped to do, I felt I had finally completed his journey," she says.

Not quite the fulfilment to Susie's journey - there is still one ambition: "I would love to travel down to the remains of the ship on an underwater tour.

"But," she adds with a smile, "prices start at £50,000. Some day - maybe..."

::titanictours-belfast.co.uk.

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