Book Review: Harland and Wolff

Doug Criner

Published in 2013, Tom McCluskie's book, The Rise and Fall of Harland and Wolf, is a captivating read. It describes many events, including the Titanic sinking, from the standpoint of their impact upon H&W. There are interesting photos of the shipyard, old and new, including the current state of the yard, which is essentially abandoned with many buildings demolished. The primary things remaining are the Thompson Drydock and the two huge cranes that dominate the Belfast skyline.

It's remarkable to learn of the many crises that the yard endured, finally culminating in the demise of H&R. These include repeated boom-and-bust cycles, management turnover, and mismanagement by bean counters without shipbuilding experience. McCluskie recounts the bad blood between Lord Pirrie and Edward Wilding because Pirrie held Wilding partially responsible for defects in Titanic and the death of Tom Andrews, Pirrie's nephew.

The sectarian "troubles" in Northern Ireland spilled over into negative impacts on H&W; besides Titanic, there were other spectacular losses of ships; and there were several shipyard accidents resulting in multiple worker deaths. Even if none of these calamities had happened, of course an underlying problem was the inability of the yard to compete in the global shipbuilding industry.

Tom McCluskie served as a long-time employee of Harland and Wolf. I give this book a strong recommendation.

Adam Went

Good one, Doug. Thanks for that. Good to see Tom McCluskie still writing in this field as well, after some people were less than kind about "Anatomy Of The Titanic", which I felt was actually a really good insight. Shall have to check this one out as well.

Unfortunately, I see a serious problem with this book. No, I have not read it, but I looked at the Kindle sample and found problems with the research sufficient to deter me from buying, despite some attractive aspects. For instance McCluskie repeats the old tale that Pirie dismissed Edward Wilding soon after his testimony. It is to be expected that his relations with the difficult Pirie had their bad moments, but in fact it is well documented that he became head of the design department and finally left the yard only after Pirie's own death. It would have taken McCluskie only a bit of digging to find this out and the fact that he simply repeated the rumor without checking makes his whole book suspect in my eyes, except for the parts he tells from his own experience.

Doug Criner

McCluskie repeats the old tale that Pirie dismissed Edward Wilding soon after his testimony.

This from p. 40 of the (printed) book:

A common misconception is that Wilding was dismissed by Pirrie in a fit of pique caused by his grief over the death of his nephew Thomas. In fact, Wilding continued to work for Harland and Wolf for a number of years after the loss of Titanic, until his already fragile health eventually broke down and he could no longer continue his employment.

There is nothing in the book about your quote.