Anti-Catholicism and the Titanic

An interesting observation on the centennial of the great ship’s sinking, from a paper in Ireland:

Divine intervention has long been a blamed by some for playing a role in the sinking of the Titanic during its maiden voyage in 1912.

Harland and Wolff, the East Belfast shipyard  where the ship was manufactured, was notorious for not hiring Catholics.In the 1900’s the workforce was entirely  Protestant and virulently anti -Catholic.

“At Harland and Wolff it was not unknown for workers to paint on the sides of ships under construction the words “NO POPE” in letters ten feet high or more,” writes naval historian David Allen Butler.

There were widespread stories that each rivet hammered into the Titanic was accompanied by a ‘f.. the pope epithet

Any Catholics who were hired were subject to blatant discrimination.Some had hammers dropped on them from above and the atmosphere against Catholics was described as “poisonous”

The  author and historian Daniel Allen Butler writes about a how anti-Catholic sentiment in Northern Ireland at the time of the ship’s construction was blamed by some  for the tragedy.

“Very active in Ulster politics at this time was one William James Pirrie, who became the Chairman of Harland and Wolff in 1895.  He instituted an unwritten but strictly enforced policy that the firm would never knowingly employ a Roman Catholic,” writes Butler about the era during which the Titanic was being crafted in Belfast.

Read more.


  1. naturgesetz says:

    What a worthless piece of worthlessness! And I say that with sincerity and charity.

  2. re: “There were widespread stories that each rivet hammered into the Titanic was accompanied by a ‘f.. the pope epithet” and “… Titanic faithful at the time the ship set sail proclaimed earnestly that “not even God himself could sink this ship. However an iceberg off the Canadian coast certainly did.”

    Seriously does nobody read the Old Testament?? Hello, does thousands of years of evidence as to what happens to those who do evil in the eyes of the Lord not resonate???

    I get it completely.

  3. I echo the sentiments of naturegestz: worthless. Additionally, there is an obvious contradiction as the article maintains that the workforce was “entirely Protestant” and then soon after states that Catholic employees were subject to “blantant discrimination”; so which is it? As for the rumour that every rivet was driven in accompanied by an insult to the pope, that has been disproved years ago – as has the common belief that anyone said something akin to “God Himself could not sink this ship” (hardly words that would venture from the mouth of any God-fearing Ulster Protestant in 1912).

    Finally, to even remotely insinuate that the Titanic was sunk by the Almighty, albeit indirectly, is blasphemous. Reading this article was a definite waste of time. An “interesting observation” as you indicate? I think not.

  4. One of the more recent “coffee-table” picture books featuring stills from the 1998 Titanic film described how the Mexico-based workers who built the set and mockups of the ship for filming had scattered personal shrines to Our Lady of Guadalupe throughout their soundstage and shops. Take that, Ian Paisley!

  5. I believe if the stories in the article were true and not false (I read the whole thing and some of the outraged comments), then of course God had a hand in the outcome.

  6. A LACK of God, that is.

  7. I can’t comment on whether divine intervention was at play – but I can comment that at that time and even to this day despite some fairly strict equal employment legislation – anti catholic sentiment was rife and absolutely accepted in the shipyards and other manufacturing sector companies.

    I would venture to say that every employee at H&W was Protestant because any Catholic ever hired was intimidated out of that job.

    I grew up in Northern Ireland and my family is from Belfast – where the shipyards are – believe me that even to this day you will see FTP etched and painted in many Loyalist (protestant) parts of the city. Just as you will see FTQ (equivalent slight to the British Queen – in Republican (largely Catholic) areas.

    I am relieved to say that moderate majority of citizens of Northern Ireland today do not support such abuse – it was a long and tragic road to that point though.

    I know this is a huge tangent – just adding some perspective. For what it’s worth – the City of Belfast is celebrating the Titanic – hugely proud of it – new generations of citizens are enjoying this history – no matter their creed – although you have to wonder at being proud of a ship that sank on its maiden voyage ;)

  8. Deacon Kandra:

    I’m sorry to see this article reprinted in your usually thoughtful and well written blog. Why do you find it interesting? Irish Catholics and Protestants have been at loggerheads for many many years and their emnity has spilled into far more than bad feeling throughout history. Even in recent memory Belfast has been a dangerous place to be a Catholic; far more so than it was in 1912 or is now.

    David Allan Butler is not the historian I would trust regarding the Titanic. Although a published author, his research leaves a lot to be desired and is often problematic, to say the least. Thomas Andrews, who worked for Harland and Wolf and designed of the Titanic was noted by his biographer to have been a fair employer and at least once demanded that anti-Catholic graffiti be removed, calling it “filth.”

    Catholics did work for Harland and Wolf at the time Titanic and her sister ships were being built. Of interest is this quote from the Independent: ” In fact, until the disastrous decision to give home rule to Northern Ireland, the workforce of the shipyard was pretty much divided on demographic lines. And far from the company being “unionist”, its chairman, William Pirrie, was a keen Home Ruler who acted as Winston Churchill’s host during a nationalist rally in Belfast; and for this, he was roundly hissed by unionists in the streets. Moreover, he shut the yard down when there was an attempt to eject Catholics, and warned it would remain closed until guarantees were given about the safety of the Catholic workforce. ” Kevin Myers:

    The story of Titanic is far more interesting than the anti-Catholic bigotry rampant throughout the English-speaking world of 1912. Did it exist? Yes. Did it “doom” the Titanic? Not so much.

  9. pagansister says:

    Think it was an ice burg causing a huge hole that sank the Titanic—not what might have happened in the building of it?

  10. pagansister says:

    OOPS—ice BERG, not burg

  11. My grandfather worked on the Titanic. He told my father that the workers actually wrote….”to hell with the pope” on the hull.

  12. Perhaps this can help give more thought to and prayer about anti catholics who are trying to sink the Barque of Peter…

  13. Mark Greta says:

    The sins of pride and greed seem to be running rampant on the Titanic and many have said that these factors caused her to be put in position speeding through the Atlantic with known ice problems which put her under. It would not surprise me to find that there was anti Catholic losers that built the ship.

    The Church founded by Jesus Christ will always be hated by those in love with sin.

  14. Certainly the arrogant attitude of their Engineers and crew played a part in it. They thought they were more powerful than God ( or nature, if you prefer). But the anti-Catholicism in Britain and Northern Ireland was extensive. Many English controlled professions barred Catholics or made it extremely difficult to get jobs. Glasgow Ranger soccer team, until very recently would not let Catholics play for them. The Royal family is still forbidden by law to marry a Catholic. Too often we turn the other cheek. But bigotry should be denounced in any form.

  15. Jack B. Nimble says:

    Deacon K., as a person of Irish and Scottish descent (of both Protestant and Catholic ancestors) I must take you to task for raising the old nationalist sectarianism and “woe is me” Irish self-pity. Are we not well past that now, given Ireland’s multitude of other problems? Yes, there were injustices, and the US of A had black folks in bondage so who is to point fingers? On that fateful night one hundred years ago valor and selfless love and devotion to duty crossed religious boundaries. The article on the Titanic priest you posted was far more inspiring. We’re all God’s children and we all confess Christ crucified and risen. Let’s not sow seeds of division. The atheists and religion haters will do that all too well.

  16. Somehow, I also remember stories of how the third-class Irish immigrants were kept from escaping in a timely manner, in oder to facilitate the rescue those of “higher” standing first. How sad if this be true, that Catholics, for centuries under the yoke of British Imperialism (remember Oliver Cromwell) would be treated as the “least” on that doomed voyage. Just goes to show how insideous bigotry can be, and how in the end, if we don’t take one anothers hand, we have already lost our humanity. Fr. Bayles-pray for us.

  17. FreeThinker says:

    It is unbelievable that the suffering and discrimination suffered by the Catholic Irish people is now being marginalized. The discriminant policies of HW is well known and was a great factor in choosing workers on the Titanic and their other ships. This is as much a part of the Titanic story than the gold faucets, locked doors to steerage and cowardice and heroism of the passengers.

  18. FreeThinker says:

    Good points all. Let us not deny history, however.

  19. well a recent best selling book internationally claims the ships were switched during
    repairs at the ship yard,and the name Titanic place on a ship that had already been damaged at sea earlier called “The Olumpus” otherwise the shipping company would go bust,the writer claims it was the biggest fincila marine scam in history,
    why is the media sharing this story??

  20. I came upon this article/thread by accident while doing some research. A slightly depressing experience. There’s a lot opinion (prejudice) and little researched historical detail.

    Paula: The steerage passengers were kept locked up in compliance with rules laid down by the American authorities as those passengers were emigrating to the States. Presumably this was so they could be processed more easily on arrival. These passengers were not exclusively Irish or Catholic. Oliver Cromwell was not invoked!

    As well as being inaccurate your comment (like the article itself) just feeds the fires of bigotory that still burn so intensely that people still kill each other in the North of Ireland.

    It is important that all past injustices in recent Irish
    history are accurately remembered and addressed. Dull headed bigotry however is just stupid and dangerous. If you care enough to comment you should put the effort into learning about the subject first.

  21. God doesn’t work that way. It was man’s arrogance that sunk the ship.

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