BELFAST - Descendants of some of the 1,517 people who died when the Titanic struck an iceberg and sank held a minute's silence on Tuesday at the spot where the liner was launched with huge fanfare a century ago.

A flare was set off and crowds cheered at precisely 12:13 p.m. to mark the anniversary of the fateful launch on May 31, 1911, of what was then the largest passenger steamship ever built.

After its Belfast launch, the ship left for Southampton to begin its fateful maiden journey to New York.

For years, Belfast shied away from acknowledging its links with the doomed liner, built by 15,000 workers at the Harland and Wolff shipyard, but it has since decided to embrace its role as the birthplace of the world's most famous ship.

"For the last 100 years Titanic hasn't been mentioned very often. It's been our shame, our secret," said priest Chris Bennett, who led the memorial service.

"But today we've been trying to rediscover our pride. As people here like to say: The Titanic was all right when she left us."

More than 7 billion pounds ($11.5 billion) has been invested in building offices, hotels and science parks on parts of the old shipyard site now known as the Titanic Quarter and a 97 million pound interactive visitor center based on the ship's story will open next year.

Tourist officials are hoping that worldwide interest in the Titanic will bring thousands of visitors to the city, generating millions of pounds for the economy.

A huge exhibition about the ship opened on Tuesday on the shores of Belfast Lough.

On display are more than 500 artifacts ranging from an original 16 foot long design plan for the ship to 35 exhibits which were eventually recovered from the wreckage and which are being seen in Northern Ireland for the first time.

(Writing by Conor Humphries; Editing by Steve Addison)

Copyright 2011  Reuters Life! Online Report