Belfast’s offering as a maritime heritage destination has been given a major boost today as two iconic attractions – the Great Light and Titanic Walkway – officially opened to the public in Titanic Quarter.
The opening event was also selected to launch The European Year of Cultural Heritage 2018 in Northern Ireland.
The Great Light gave Mew Island Lighthouse on the Copeland Islands its traditional revolving light and guided mariners to and from Belfast Lough until 2014. It is the world’s first and largest hyper-radial Fresnel lighthouse lens, installed in Tory Island Lighthouse in 1887 then reconfigured and moved to Mew Island in 1928.
The optic was removed from Mew Island in 2014 as the lighthouse was modernised and converted to solar power.
The Great Light project from Titanic Foundation, the charity committed to preserving Belfast’s maritime and industrial heritage, in partnership with the Commissioners of Irish Lights, will see the optic given a new role bringing to life the story of lighthouses, their technological developments, their light-keepers and their role in the maritime and industrial history of Belfast and beyond.
From Friday, 9 March, visitors will be able to walk the new 500 metre Titanic Walkway on Victoria Wharf, which connects the Titanic Slipways to HMS Caroline and the Thompson Dock, learning about the maritime and industrial heritage of the area on their way to the Great Light. This iconic waterfront walkway has been delivered by Titanic Quarter Limited.
The projects have been funded by Tourism NI, the Heritage Lottery Fund, Belfast City Council, Ulster Garden Villages and the Commissioners of Irish Lights.
Kerrie Sweeney, Chief Executive of Titanic Foundation, said: “At around 130 years old, weighing 10 tonnes and standing seven meters tall, the Great Light is a unique heritage object of national and international importance with links to our maritime and industrial past. We are delighted to have played a role in saving this fantastic artefact and preserving it in Titanic Quarter for everyone to enjoy.”
James Eyre, Commercial Director of Titanic Quarter, said: “We are delighted to see the completion of the Titanic Walkway and the Great Light. They both add new and exciting aspects to our world class public realm to be enjoyed by those that live, work and visit Titanic Quarter. The Titanic Walkway now provides a seamless connection between our maritime heritage assets from the heart of the city centre to HMS Caroline and the Thompson Dock. We are very grateful for the support and dedication from all of our partners, delivering these magnificent projects.”
Belfast Lord Mayor, Councillor Nuala McAllister, said: “We’re delighted that support from our Local Investment Fund is allowing people to enjoy the Great Light. The theme for my year of office is ‘Global Belfast’ and important projects like this one are illuminating the very special visitor experience we offer to people, the world over. We made a commitment in The Belfast Agenda to protecting and enhancing our environment and built heritage, and as well as helping to deliver on that objective, this project will also enhance our ever growing visitor offer.”
Anna Carragher, Chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund Northern Ireland, said: “Thanks to National Lottery players, the Great Light has been conserved and given new meaning as the beacon which connects the wealth of maritime and industrial heritage attractions on offer in Titanic Quarter. National Lottery funding has been crucial in transforming this area – HMS Caroline, the Nomadic and Titanic Hotel Belfast amongst those to have benefited –which now attracts both local and international visitors to learn about the former shipyard, its workers and the wider industrial development of the city.
“Today also marks the launch of the European Year of Cultural Heritage in Northern Ireland. The slogan for the year is Our Heritage: Where the past meets the future, and nowhere is this more fitting than here in Titanic Quarter. We are working with the Department for Communities Historic Environment Division, Tourism Northern Ireland, the Arts Council and the British Council to help leverage the potential of our cultural heritage in new and interesting ways.”
The Chairman of Ulster Garden Villages, Dr Tony Hopkins CBE said: “We were pleased to be able to fund this project and to help to save this important piece of maritime history. Lighthouses are among the most visible and interesting icons of our coastline. The “Great Light” located at Titanic Quarter will give citizens and tourists the opportunity to see the workings of a lighthouse up close and to learn about their history and importance as a navigational aid and a warning to shipping.”
Yvonne Shields, Chief Executive of the Commissioners of Irish Lights, the body which delivers an essential navigation service around the island of Ireland said: “Irish Lights has been serving the mariner around the island of Ireland, north and south, for over 200 years. Throughout the generations our engineers and lighthouse keepers have been at the forefront of continuous change and technological innovation. The Great Light is a fantastic example of the ingenuity and talent of past and current members of our staff.
“We are delighted to have had this opportunity to team up with designers, architects, historians and tourism interests to develop this amazing landmark project which brings the heritage and story of lighthouses right into the heart of Belfast, a community that has contributed so much to our maritime economy past and present. We are also delighted that today the Great Light not only becomes a stand-out attraction in its own right but also becomes part of the Great Lighthouses of Ireland network, promoting lighthouse tourism, north and south.”