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Her Royal Highness The Princess Royal reopens HMS Caroline as tourists flock back to the ship

Date published 25/04/2023

Her Royal Highness The Princess Royal officially reopened HMS Caroline in Belfast on Tuesday 25 April. As Patron of the National Museum of the Royal Navy, owner of the ship, she viewed the extensive restoration and refurbishment works which have been undertaken on this remarkable First World War ship. 

The only floating survivor of the 1916 Battle of Jutland, HMS Caroline has been a star feature of Belfast’s historic waterfront since 1924. Having been in full commission as a training vessel until 2011 the ship underwent significant restoration eight years ago through funding from The National Lottery Heritage Fund and the Northern Ireland Department for the Economy. It is now an important asset of the National Museum of the Royal Navy, second in importance only to HMS Victory, the Royal Navy’s flagship.

“This is a must-see floating museum and one of Northern Ireland’s most historically important visitor attractions,” says Professor Dominic Tweddle, Director General of NMRN. “We are thrilled that our patron The Princess Royal’s visit marks the official re-opening of HMS Caroline after a lengthy period of closure due to the covid pandemic.” 

The ship was shortlisted in the finals of the 2019 Arts Fund Museum of the Year scheme. The quality of the visitor experience has given it a five-star rating on Tripadvisor and it is fast becoming a favourite venue for conferences, events and social gatherings.

The ship’s general manager Kerry Rooney says the ship has already hosted a number of social events since its reopening on 1 April this year.

“We are re-engaging with our communities through outreach programmes aimed at showing how HMS Caroline is a shared space whose history in Belfast reflects that of its people,” says Mr Rooney. “We are also aiming to establish a memorial to the 10,000 Irish lives lost at sea during the First World War and we are welcoming hundreds of visitors each week once again. We are looking forward to a very busy summer season.”  

HRH The Princess Royal meeting members of the National Museum of the Royal Navy

HRH The Princess Royal was shown how the vessel has been expertly restored to reflect what life was really like for the original crew members back in 1914. The ship’s living quarters, engine room, sick bay and mess deck have all been meticulously restored as part of the extensive restoration works. NMRN says more than 90% of the ship’s original structures and fittings have been saved and the visiting public are immersed in one of the most authentic historic naval environments in the world.

Built in 1914, HMS Caroline is the last surviving warship from the largest naval battle in history - 1916’s Battle of Jutland. Brought to Belfast in 1924 the ship has been here for almost 100 years during which time she served a vital role in the Second World War as headquarters of the North Atlantic Escort Fleet. During the Cold-War era HMS Caroline continued to serve, this time as a minesweeping school before finally being decommissioned in 2011 with the distinction of being the second longest serving ship in Navy history.  

Professor Dominic Tweddle said: “The last three years have been challenging for the museum sector as we have had to wrestle with the economic impact of the pandemic. The Princess Royal has been a remarkably supportive patron to us and kept in close touch during that period. She expressed a personal interest to meet with the team who have worked so hard behind the scenes to keep the ship safe and secure during its protracted closure. She has also met valued partners from The National Lottery Heritage Fund and the Department for the Economy, without whom we would not be so economically resilient.”

David Malcolm, Deputy Secretary, Management Services and Regulation Group, Department for Economy said “HMS Caroline further enhances our maritime heritage assets and adds to the tourism offer for both Belfast and Northern Ireland. Working alongside the National Museum of the Royal Navy, the Department for the Economy was delighted to secure the long-term future of HMS Caroline in Belfast, where it has been berthed for the last 98 years. The ship is a very important cultural and heritage visitor attraction”.

Stella Byrne, Northern Ireland Head of Investment at The National Lottery Heritage Fund welcomed the news: “We’re so pleased that this award-winning maritime heritage tourist attraction, which was meticulously restored thanks to #NationalLottery players, is once again welcoming visitors aboard. Over the last ten years, The National Lottery Heritage Fund has provided significant financial support to save and restore HMS Caroline and retain it on Belfast’s Maritime Mile for all to experience. We wish the National Museum of the Royal Navy every success for the reopening as they share the real life stories of the people who have served on HMS Caroline over the last hundred years during times of war and peace.”

Sir Philip Jones, Chair of the National Museum of the Royal Navy Main Board said, 'It is brilliant news that the National Museum of the Royal Navy is now able to re-open HMS Caroline to the public once more, for the first time in three years. It is also very fitting that our Royal Patron, HRH The Princess Royal, who is a wonderful supporter of all that we do, can be here to mark the occasion and meet some of the people who made it possible. I pay tribute to all of them today, and also to the important and generous enabling support of our partners at The National Lottery Heritage Fund and the Department for the Economy here in Northern Ireland. Do come and see this iconic and fabulously preserved veteran of the First World War for yourself.'

HMS Caroline tours are available from 10am to 5pm daily. Tickets are available to book now.