SAMSON AND GOLIATH – THESE GANTRY CRANES REALLY DO DOMINATE BELFAST CITY
These cranes appear in a large number of my photographs and at times I am surprised from where they can be seen.
Samson and Goliath are the twin shipbuilding gantry cranes situated at Queen’s Island, Belfast, Northern Ireland. The cranes, which were named after the Biblical figures Samson and Goliath are landmark structures of the city. Comparative newcomers to the city, I originally thought that they were at least a hundred years old, the cranes rapidly came to symbolise Belfast in a way that no building or monument had hitherto done.
At its height Harland & Wolff boasted 35,000 employees and a healthy order book, but in the years following the cranes’ construction the workforce and business declined. The last ship to be launched at the yard to date was a roll-on/roll-off ferry in March 2003. Since then the yard has restructured itself to focus less on shipbuilding and more on design and structural engineering, as well as ship repair, offshore construction projects and competing for other projects to do with metal engineering and construction.
Initially there was concern that the now largely redundant cranes would be demolished. However, they were scheduled as historic monuments under Article 3 of the Historic Monuments and Archaeological Objects (Northern Ireland) Order 1995.
Northern Ireland Office Minister of the time Angela Smith stated: “These cranes are an essential part of our city, our roots and our culture.”
The cranes are not, technically, ‘listed buildings’, but are recognised by the Northern Ireland Environment Agency as buildings of ‘architectural or historic interest’.
Shipbuilding has ceased in Belfast, but the cranes are to be retained as part of the existing dry dock facility within the restructured shipyard, situated adjacent to the Titanic Quarter, a business, light industrial, leisure and residential development on land now surplus to the heavy industrial requirements of the shipyard on Queen’s Island. They were still (2015) kept in working order and used for heavy lifting by Harland & Wolff in its other activities, however the company ceased trading in 2019.