“The Brave Queen's Island Boys”


"Belfast may boast ... of its far-famed ships." "May the name of Harland and Wolff still stand At the top of the ship-building trade" "The Island Boys are marvels .... With their 'White Star Liner'" If a "Greyhound" is needed Belfast gets the contract.


Leyden: "The song dates from the 1880s." Dargan's Island, renamed Queen's Island "after Queen Victoria's visit to the town in 1849," in the River Lagan, was part of the world-famous Belfast ship-building industry. "This reputation was largely due to the efforts of the Harland and Wolff company which formed in 1861.... In 1870 Harland and Wolff signed a contract to build ships for the Oceanic Steam Navigation Company, better known as the White Star Line." [The _Titanic_ was built in Belfast for the White Star Line.] - BS

According to David Allen Butler, _"Unsinkable": The Full Story of RMS_ Titanic, Stackpole, 1998, p. 4, "The origins of Harland and Wolff dated back to the 1840, when dredging of a deep-water passage in the of section of the River Lagan known as the Victoria Channel created Queen's Island in the middle of the channel. Robert Hickson built a shipyard on the new island and began construction of iron ships there in 1853. Edward J. Harland came to the yard, which was known as Hickson and Company, as a manager in 1854 and bought it outright from Hickson in 1859. Gustav Wolff was a silent partner when he first joined Harland in 1861, but by 1862 the yard was known as Harland and Wolff."

It was a line which produced many innovations, mostly at the instigation of Edward Harland, eliminating most of the equipment of sailing ships from the steamers of the White Star and other lines (Butler, p. 5). It also managed to build what we would now call a "vertical monopoly": It designed the ships, built them, and even built the primary components such as boilers and propellers.At its peak, the shipyard employed 14,000 men. It was a Harland and Wolff ship, the _Oceanic_, which created the luxury liner concept and put White Star at the forefront of the transatlantic trade. The two ended up with an arrangement that was satisfactory to both: Harland and Wolff produced the ships for White Star, and billed the line for its actual costs plus a fixed percentage of profit.

After Harland's death in 1894, William James Pirrie (who had started with the firm as an apprentice in 1862 at the age of 15) succeeded him; he became Lord Pirrie in 1895 (Butler, p. 6). He was still in charge at the time the _Titanic_ and her sisters were ordered, though Thomas Andrews handled most of the detail work.

According to Wyn Craig Wade, _The_ Titanic: _End of a Dream_, revised edition, Penguin, 1986, p. 13, "Harland and Wolff were considered the highest-priced and most painstaking shipbuilders in Europe."

Not even the _Titanic_ could change that. Irish partition and a series of economic downturns could. The Belfast shipping industry went into recession. Eventually Harland and Wolff was sold to a Norwegian company. Not even that could save the shipyards. And that company in 2003 sold the land of Harland and Wolff's old shipyard to a property developer. It may become a _Titanic_ memorial. It almost certainly won't be used to build ships (see Stephanie Barczewski, _The Titanic: A Night Remembered_, Hambledon Continuum, 2004, pp. 244-245.

The reference to a "greyhound" is ironic. If the song really does come from the 1880s, it predates the time of the most extreme transatlantic competition, when German and British companies were constantly building bigger, faster ships. At last two ships were built that were called "greyhounds," and for nearly a quarter century, no one tried to build faster ships. The two ships were the _Lusitania_ and _Mauretania_ -- but they were built for Cunard, not White Star, and Harland and Wolff was not involved in the design. They were built in Britain, not Ireland. - RBW


  1. Leyden 37, "The Brave Queen's Island Boys" (1 text)
  2. BI, Leyd037


Author: unknown
Earliest date: c.1890-1918 (J Nicholson ballad sheet, according to Leyden)