A BELFAST man who has just celebrated his 105th birthday may be the last surviving person to have witnessed the launch of the Titanic in 1911.
Cyril Quigley – born on February 5, 1907 – recalls his parents taking him to see the launch of the iconic liner’s hull from the Harland and Wolff docks.
This week, at his home in east Belfast, Mr Quigley – believed to be the oldest man in Northern Ireland – reflected on a remarkable life in which he has also witnessed two world wars and the accession to the throne of Queen Elizabeth.
“Eat plenty of chocolate,” he laughed when asked for the recipe to his longevity,
He also enjoys whiskey and used to be known as “Mr Black Bush”.
“I don’t know how I came to be 105.
“The years passed me by. One thing annoys me – all the friends I made, the accomplices, they’re all gone.”
Although Mr Quigley suffers from deafness, he was still able to attend his local church – Knock Presbyterian – on Sunday, where he was given a rapturous applause for reaching the 105 milestone.
To mark the occasion he received a birthday card from the Queen.
His daughter Barbara said she was unaware that her father had seen the Titanic launch until she took him to see the Hollywood blockbuster starring Kate Winslet and Leonardo Di Caprio.
“He never mentioned it before until that night I took him to the cinema.
“When we were coming back he said that his mother and father brought him to see the launch of a great ship, which was the Titanic of course.
“He would have been about four years old. I know that he has seen many things during his lifetime but I never realised that he had actually seen the Titanic.”
Thought to be the oldest man in Northern Ireland, Cyril is the son of Andrew Quigley, a former senator in the Northern Ireland government in the 1930s.
Although he remembers his visit to the launch of the Titanic, he has no recollection of the devastating news in Belfast of the sinking of the liner in April 1912.
Cyril’s future father-in-law, James Arnold, of Delhi Street, Belfast, was a plater in Harland and Wolff and likely contributed to the construction of the ship. After attending RBAI college in Belfast, Cyril went on to achieve first place in Ireland in chartered accountancy in 1928 and later became a fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in Ireland.
He married Margaret in 1941 and the couple had two children, Andrew and Barbara. Margaret died in 1983, aged 72.
Mr Quigley was appointed financial director of the Ormeau Bakery, where he worked until 1972.
A huge fan of rugby and tennis, Cyril has also been a leading member of the Freemasons for the last 72 years.
He resigned as District Grand King in 1991 due to his deafness.
Cyril was honoured with the Honorary Past Grand Senior Deacon in 2007 to celebrate his 100th birthday, and the Chapter Room was renamed the Quigley Room in the Freemasons’ Hall in Arthur Square, Belfast.
He served with the Ormeau Bakery Home Guard during the Second World War, holding the position of lieutenant. His responsibilities were to guard the Ormeau Bridge and, of course, the bakery.
During the Blitz his sister was a Malta Nurse in the Bridge End hospital which, Cyril remembers, dealt with many of the more serious casualties.
In 1955 he became president of CIYMS rugby club.
“My daughter thought I used to be a rugby linesman but I wasn’t. I just ran up and down the sides of the pitch shouting at the players,” Cyril added.
While he has no overriding memories of the Queen’s accession in 1952, he says “she’s been a wonderful Queen all these years”.
l If you know anyone else who has memories of the Titanic’s launch or sinking, get in touch with the News Letter – tel 028 3839 5577 or email email@example.com