OK, I’m assuming you weren’t listening to BBC Radio Ulster/Raidio Uladh’s Nolan Show this morning. Now answer me this: what do you think of if I mention ‘the old ship Caroline’? If you’re as old as me, you’ll have thought of the good ship Radio Caroline and listening to it, or maybe you’ll remember that slightly daft film made about it a few years ago. But that’s not the Caroline ship that was discussed this morning. Apparently somewhere in Belfast, there’s a disused British battleship called Caroline. It was built in Birkenhead, was involved in the Battle of Jutland where over 8,000 men lost their lives, and commentator Fionola Meredith wants to bring unionists and nationalists together by using public money to restore it.
Eh? A British battleship that helped kill people in the course of a futile imperial war will help bring people here together? Pull the other one, Fionnola.
Besides, wasn’t there a ship called the Titanic on which millions of public money have been sent? And more millions on refurbishing some boat or other that brought people to the Titanic? And now Fionnola wants us to spend money on a THIRD ship, because it’ll bring more tourists? Well I suppose it might work for tourists who confine their interests solely to things maritime. They’d have a whale of a time trekking from the Titanic building to the boat that brought passengers to it to the warship. On the other hand if their interests extend beyond boats and ships, they might think one ship was enough and doesn’t this town have anything else to see?
But maybe I’m wrong. Maybe the warship Caroline will bring lots of tourists. If so, hooray. But the idea that we, who’ve slowly and painfully emerged from a period of bloody conflict, could be brought together by honouring the memory of a warship that helped in the mass slaughter that was the First World War, kinda takes the breath away. In our discussion, Fionnola called for more imagination (I think she was talking about me). I’d say anyone who thinks a British battleship will bring us all closer together needs to turn down the temperature on that over-heated imagination before they lose the run of themselves entirely.