Belfast City Hall
Ireland Luxury Tours are based in Belfast. From this base we undertake tours of Ireland and Belfast tours. We are particularly busy in the “cruise ship season” as we take discerning passengers on tours beyond Belfast.
Belfast City Hall is prominent in a lot of our tours and its history and features are very interesting.
For many centuries, Belfast was a small settlement.
Everything changed in 1613, when a Royal charter gave Belfast town status. It expanded rapidly, becoming an important port and manufacturing centre.By the end of the 19th century, Belfast had outgrown its status as a town and was a major industrial powerhouse, known for its shipbuilding, ropemaking, engineering, tobacco and textile industries.
In 1888, Queen Victoria gave Belfast the title of city and it was generally agreed that a new city hall was needed to reflect this change in status.
Negotiations to acquire the one and a half acre White Linen Hall site, located in Donegall Square, began in 1896 and a price of £30,000 was agreed.
The new hall was built by local firm H+J Martin, following a design from Alfred Brumwell Thomas, who won a public competition with his classical Renaissance design.Funding for the new building was raised from the profits of Belfast Gasworks for which Belfast Corporation (now Belfast City Council) was responsible.
The first stone was laid in 1898 and building work was completed eight years later.
In total, Belfast City Hall cost less than £500,000 to build.
Belfast City Hall opened its doors on 1 August 1906 during a great time of prosperity for the city.
Today, the magnificent building is a lasting memorial to Belfast’s success and a great source of civic pride.
Belfast City Hall has reopened after a massive £11 million refurbishment project. The iconic building had been temporarily closed from October 2007 to October 2009.
Free public tours of City Hall are available Monday – Saturday.
Led by an experienced guide, they last around one hour and uncover the history of Belfast City Hall, while exploring some of its finest features.
Public tours are available at the following times:
- Monday to Friday – 11am, 2pm and 3pm
- Saturday – 2pm and 3pm.
They are available on a first-come, first-served basis (no booking needed) and leave from the reception area inside Belfast City Hall.
There are no tours on Sundays, bank holidays or public holidays.
Visitors to Belfast City Hall are welcomed into the building through an impressive stone porte-cochere and marble-lined vestibule.
Directly ahead is the Grand Staircase which, like the main entrance hall and landings, uses four types of marble, three from Italy and one from Greece.There is also a memorial showing the last Earl of Belfast, Frederick Richard Chichester, being mourned by his mother.
The Earl died from scarlet fever in 1853, aged 26.
This magnificent Grand staircase is made from Carrara, Pavonazzo and Brescia marbles and links the entrance hall with the building’s landings.
The large stained glass windows which wind up the staircase record important municipal events, from the granting of the original Charter by King James I in 1613 to the redefining of Belfast as a Country Borough in 1899.On the first floor is a bronze statue of the last Earl of Belfast, Frederick Richard Chichester.
Renowned for his efforts to promote the arts in Belfast, he is depicted with books in his left hand.
Along the corridor, beside the council chamber, is a gallery of Lord Mayors’ portraits.
The only exception is the portrait of Sir James Johnston, Lord Mayor of the city from 1917 to 1918.
His painting, by Henrietta Rae, was damaged when Belfast City Hall was struck by a bomb during the German air raids of 1941.
The principle dome rises to a height of approximately 53 metres (173 feet), terminating in a stone lantern.
The Whispering Gallery, similar to that in St Paul’s Cathedral in London, circles the interior of the dome.It gets its name from a quirk in its construction, which makes a whisper against its walls, audible on the opposite side.
Above the gallery is a ring of stained glass windows illustrating the signs of the zodiac.
They alternate with the ship and bell symbols, taken from the Belfast Coat of Arms.
Looking higher still, above the eye of the main dome, you can also see a miniature dome rising on a circular colonnade.
The main landing or Rotunda on the first floor is filled with classical influences.
There are four main arches supporting the dome and a circular viewing gallery looking down to the main entrance hall.There is also a mural by famous Belfast artist John Luke, which was commissioned by the council for the Encouragement of the Arts to mark the 1951 Festival of Britain.
The 51 members of the council sit in the Council Chamber on the first working day of each month.
Similar to the House of Commons in Westminster, the room’s seating faces inward towards a central gangway which leads to a dais at the top of the chamber.The elaborately hand-carved and pierced oak screen in the dais forms an impressive backdrop for the Lord Mayor’s chair which is flanked by those of the Deputy Lord Mayor and Chief Executive.
The chamber has many notable portraits, including King Edward VII by Harold Speed, the Earl of Shaftesbury by Sir John Lavery and Sir Edward Harland by Sir Thomas Jones.
The Reception Hall is the smallest of Belfast City Hall’s three function rooms.
The entire ceiling is covered with elaborate plasterwork and three stained glass windows show the Belfast Coat of Arms, the Royal Arms and those of the Chichester family, one of Belfast’s most famous families.A special case displays the Royal Charter granted to Belfast in 1613 and the 1888 Charter from Queen Victoria, which elevated the town to city status.
The adjourning Banqueting Hall features a vaulted dome which is 11 metres high.
The walls are panelled in carved oak and a series of stained glass windows show the Royal Arms and those of Lord Donegall and Lord Shaftesbury.
Looking at the magnificent Grand Hall, it’s hard to believe that this room was almost totally destroyed by a German air raid on 4 May, 1941.
At the outbreak of war in 1939, the hall’s seven stained glass windows were removed for safekeeping. Once the room was rebuilt, they were reinstated.
They feature portraits of the monarchs who visited Belfast before 1906 – King William III, Queen Victoria and King Edward VI.
The remaining windows shows the Coats of Arms of the four provinces of Ireland, Ulster, Munster, Connacht and Leinster.
In 2000, the post-war cathode lighting was replaced by replicas of the original chandeliers, using the original designs.
By 1952, the hall had been rebuilt and, over the years, it has been restored to its former glory.