There could not be a more fitting place for Larne woman Eleanor Thompson to celebrate her 100th birthday this weekend than Titanic Belfast.
Her father, Ambrose Willis, was chief interior draughtsman on the White Star liner and sailed aboard the ill-fated vessel as part of the Guarantee Group from Belfast to Southampton.
Mr Willis was the man behind Titanic’s beautiful carved wooden fireplaces and panelling, and also worked on the iconic staircase.
He features in one of the world’s largest Titanic visitor experience’s artefacts – a paybook of Harland and Wolff employees, which helps tell the story of not only Titanic but the city and people that built her.
The artefact with her father’s signature will take pride of place at Eleanor’s birthday party at the weekend, which will see visitors travel from as far as Australia to take part in the milestone celebration.
Eleanor recalled: “There is no doubt that my father loved his job and was very proud of the work he did.
“All the furniture for RMS Titanic was built in what we called ‘The Yard’ here in Belfast and that’s what my father oversaw.
“When I watch James Cameron’s Titanic or visit Titanic Belfast – I look out for the woodwork, including the famous staircase, fireplaces and panelling as I know that’s what my father worked on. He used to come home smelling of varnish and paint.
“He even travelled on board Titanic to South Hampton but had to return to Belfast as Olympic, her sister ship was on the stocks.
“He was fortunate he had to return – or otherwise I may not have been born in 1916 and wouldn’t be celebrating my 100th birthday at Titanic Belfast.”
Eleanor’s eldest son Peter, who travelled from Australia to be part of the celebrations, added: “ It only seems fitting to celebrate my mother’s milestone birthday at Titanic Belfast, Northern Ireland’s most iconic building, given our family’s connection to RMS Titanic and Harland and Wolff.
“With the paybook artefact set to be on display at the party – it is a great honour that we are able to showcase this to my mother’s guests with the help of team at Titanic Belfast.”
Chief executive of Titanic Belfast, Tim Husbands MBE said: “Belfast, being the home of Titanic, were it was built, designed and launched, has such a strong personal connection to the ship.
“This is epitomised in Eleanor’s story and her memories of her father. It is a very special occasion to have 100th birthday party here at Titanic Belfast, but this is especially true for Eleanor as the daughter of Chief Interior Draftsman who travelled on board the ship.
“At Titanic Belfast, we have welcomed guests including Her Majesty the Queen but our staff equally loved having Eleanor visit and hearing her stories about her father and the Yard at Harland and Wolff.”
Titanic Belfast has now welcomed over 2.8 million visitors since it opened its doors in 2012.