Nicknamed the ‘Shipyard Church’ and with an eye-catching neon cross up on the stone building’s tower, Westbourne Presbyterian Community Church has been a place of worship at the bottom of the Newtownards Road in Belfast since 1880.
There’s a strong historic connection with Belfast shipbuilding. With the workforce at the yards peaking at over 30,000, many of the yardmen lived in the streets around Westbourne, worshipped in the local churches, and walked to work.
The yellow Harland and Wolff cranes fill the view as you go out the front doors of Westbourne church and I often wonder what the atmosphere must have been like the weekend after news of Titanic’s sinking reached Belfast. What kind of despair would have been felt by the riveters who had spent months fitting the three million rivets that held the boats steel plates together?
A few events are coming up in and around the church linked to the Titanic centenary.
On Sunday 1 April, there’s a Yardmen Service at 11am, which will be followed at 12.56pm by the Yardmen Walk from Pitt Park across to the new Titanic Belfast building. Dunchers (flat caps) will be provided, and participants are encouraged to wear black and white clothing to create the ‘yardman look’.
You can register to take part in the walk at Connswater Community Greenway website or Facebook page. There’s a small registration fee of £5 to raise funds for Bowel Cancer UK. (Cyclists can join in too, departing Billy Neill Centre in Dundonald at noon.)
No need to register for the church service! Just turn up and enjoy a cup of tea afterwards.
The night before on Saturday 31 March at 8pm, Westbourne is hosting an evening of music poetry and drama. Members of the New Irish Choir and Orchestra will be performing. Dan Gordon will bring the yardmen to life with a performance of a portion of his play The Boat Yard (which premièred in the church back in 2010).
This is the start of a larger plan to develop a community exhibition and performance space in the church. The hope is that Titanic People will tell the stories of the people of East Belfast. Stories of the men and women who worked in world class industries. Stories of individuals who became household names in the fields of sport, literature, music, politics and film. The stories of people from different communities in the area who fought side by side in the world wars, and also fought each other during the Troubles. Sharing stories of Titanic People.