Descendants of Irish soldiers lost in the First World War will gather on Alexandra Docks in Belfast today for a commemorative ceremony to remember the those who served. This event also sees the opening of the newly refurbished HMS Caroline which has been refitted as a state of the art visitor centre.
The opening of the centre coincides with the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Jutland, one of the largest ever naval battles. HMS Caroline was one of only a few remaining survivors still floating when the battle had ended.
Battle of Jutland
The 31st of May 1916 saw the British Royal Navy’s Fleet clash with the Imperial German Navy’s High Seas Fleet in possibly the greatest ever naval battle. Some 250 ships met in the North Sea off the coast of Denmark’s Jutland peninsula and engaged in a grueling 36-hour sea battle. The death toll was enormous with British losses amounting to 6,784 men and 14 ships, and the Germans losing 3,058 men and 11 ships. The losses included more than 350 Irishmen serving in the Royal Navy.
Both sides suffered tremendously and an obvious victor was unclear but Britain has suffered more losses and Germany claimed the victory. After the battle, however, it was the British Fleet that grew stronger and continued to rule the seas. The Germans did not dare to challenge the British Grand Fleet again and instead they turned their efforts and resources to submarine warfare.
HMS Caroline was one of the few ships still afloat after the battle. She went on to be used in the Second World War as the Royal Navy’s headquarters in Belfast. After the war she served as a floating training establishment by the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve until 2009. She was finally decommissioned in 2011.
With help from Heritage Lottery Fund and Stormont’s Department of Trade and Investment (DETI), the HMS Caroline has been restored to her former glory and will be open to the public from tomorrow. The attraction will bring the history of the Caroline to life with state of the art special effects and hands-on interactive exhibits. Visitors can see what life was like onboard the ship and can visit the Captain’s Cabin, Royal Marine Mess, engine room, sick bay and galley kitchen and find out all about the importance of the Battle of Jutland.
The wreath laying commemoration will take place today to remember the 10,000 Irish soldiers who served in the Royal Navy and Mercantile Navy during the First World War. Descendants of the sailors will be coming from all over Ireland as well as Australia, America, Britain, Canada and Spain. The Royal Navy and the irish Naval Service will stand side by side and there will be representatives from the ports of Ireland as well as Irish Lights, maritime emergency services Senior political and military representatives alongside a German Naval Admiral.