THE First World War’s last surviving light cruiser has been given a £12m grant to be turned into a floating museum.
HMS Caroline was a Portsmouth-based warship until 1924, when she was moved to Belfast.
She will now become a visitor attraction in time for centenary commemorations of the 1916 Battle of Jutland off the coast of Denmark. She is the last survivor of that battle.
Caroline, which became a training vessel, had become dilapidated and faced being scrapped a couple of years ago.
At that time there was talk of her returning to Portsmouth to be berthed at the jetty opposite HMS Warrior in the historic dockyard. The decision lay in the hands of the city-based National Museum of the Royal Navy, which eventually decided to keep her in North Ireland.
The Heritage Lottery Fund has now awarded £11.5m to fund the work ahead of 2016.
The HLF had already pledged £845,000 as an initial commitment and a £1m grant had been secured from the National Heritage Memorial Fund for vital repair work.
The ship, which was built on Merseyside in 1914, came dangerously close to sinking during the big freeze of 2010 when pipes and radiators burst.
The National Museum of the Royal Navy is working with Stormont’s Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment (Deti) on the project. Deti is offering £2.7m towards the restoration.
Captain John Rees, the NMRN’s chief of staff and chairman of the HMS Caroline Project Board, said time was now of the essence to complete the work.
‘The support and help we have received from the Heritage Lottery Fund has been simply first rate and I am thrilled that the funding is now in place and that we can now get on and deliver a world- class attraction,’ he said.
The museum will complement maritime attractions in Belfast’s old shipyards, including the £97m Titanic Belfast visitor attraction.
Highlights of the new visitor attraction will be the ship’s bridge with its original compasses and telegraphs, the engine rooms with four Parson’s turbines still in position and many other aspects of the living quarters, which have remained unchanged in 100 years.
Professor Dominic Tweddle, director-general of the National Museum, said: ‘HMS Caroline is quite simply one of the world’s most significant historic fighting ships and pre-dates the partition of Ireland. To conserve the ship and open it to the public as a shared space, museum and cultural hub in Belfast is hugely significant to the people of all Ireland.’