City Hall is a place you should definitely try and visit while in Belfast, this impressive building was created to mark Belfast becoming a city, an accolade which was given by Queen Victoria in 1888. This status was in recognition of the contribution Belfast made to the Victorian Empire through its linen, rope, engineering and maritime industries.
The classical renaissance styled building was designed by the architect Sir Brunwell Thompson and construction began in 1896, it was completed in 1906 at a cost of £369,000. The building is rectangular in shape with an inner quadrangular courtyard all constructed from Portland stone. The 173 feet high central dome and whispering gallery where inspired by St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. The dome is capped in copper in keeping with other Victorian buildings that surround the City Hall. Brunwell Thompson also designed the Cenotaph and Memorial Garden which you can find at the side of the building, this was unveiled on Armistice Day in 1929.
The interior foyer is stunning in its opulence, the grand stairway and view up through the first floor landing to the dome above is very impressive. The interior was built from a selections of the finest Italian marble: Cararra, Pavonazza and Brescia complimented by colonnades of Greek marble. The interior is enhanced with paintings, wonderful stained glass windows and sculptures. The upper landing, directly below the ornate dome ceiling has a surrounding mural by the Belfast artist John Luke (1906 - 1975).
The building is grand in style which reflected the position of Belfast on the world stage in the late 1800s, it is set in one and a half acres of ground consisting of lawns, pathways and seating interspersed with many sculptures and memorials. The pediment sculptures were created by F. W. Pomeroy, a was a leading Victorian artist whose work includes 'Justice' on the top of the Old Bailey in London and the sculpture of W. E. Gladstone in the Houses of Parliament. Local sculptor Edgar Winter assisted with the pediment which is featured on the back of Northern Bank £10, £20, £50 and £100 notes.
Pomeroy also created the exceptional memorial to Lord Dufferin, facing the Scottish Provident Building at the side of City Hall. This has three figures, one of Lord Dufferin standing in full regalia with two guardian figures representing his posts, one a Turbaned Warrior (India) and the other a Trapper/Hunter (Canada). The impressive sculpture of Queen Victoria in the front of the building was created by Sir Thomas Brock RA to celebrate her jubilee. Carved from Sicilian marble the eleven foot sculpture depicts the Queen as the regal ruler of the Empire, around the lower facade are three exceptional bronze figures which represent shipbuilding, the linen industries and education. The sculpture was unveiled by King Edward VII in July,1903.
Thomas Brock was another leading Victorian sculptural master who created the Victoria Memorial outside Buckingham Palace. He was also commissioned to created the ‘Thane’ Memorial to the sinking of Titanic, this is situated at the side of City Hall. It is a magnificent and haunting sculpture which was unveiled in 1920. The ‘Thane’ depicts a servant or female 'mercy' figure who stands holding a laurel wreath overlooking two sea nymphs lifting a drowned seaman from the ocean. It combines detail and fluid motion, it was The last piece of work created by the sculptor who died in 1922. In his will he entrusted the completion of unfinished works to Frank Arnold Wright.
The sculpture symbolically faces towards the shipyard where Titanic was built and is inscribed with the names of 22 men who lost their lives in the tragedy, each one significant to the Titanic’s legacy. Originally the sculpture was at the top of Royal Avenue where it meets Donegal Square, but it became a traffic hazard and was moved to its present location in 1960. In 2012, the centenary of the tragedy, a memorial garden was created behind the sculpture which contains the names of all those who lost their lives on the Titanic.
Walking around the grounds you will find other sculptures in both stone and bronze including the fabulous memorial to the Boer War with its beautiful miniature bronze figures on the four corners of a plinth carrying the figure of a Boer soldier. Other sculptures commemorate Sir Edward Harland - founder of Harland & Wolff, James Horner Haslett - Mayor of Belfast and Conservative politician, Sir Daniel Dixon - Mayor of Belfast and Unionist politician, William Pirrie - Mayor of Belfast and Chairman of of Harland & Wolff and Robert James McMordie - Mayor of Belfast and Barrister who helped form the Young Citizen Volunteers of Ireland in 1912.
There is also a memorial to the American Expeditionary Force who were the first American troops to arrive in Europe in 1942. Another marks the bravery of James Magennis VC who took part in a successful and daring raid by a midget submarine to sink Japanese battleships at Singapore during the Second World War. A recent addition was the Korean War 'Imjin River' Memorial which was moved here in 2008 after the army barracks in Ballymena closed. It was originally in Korea as a memorial to those who were killed in the conflict and is the only memorial in Ireland to those lost in the Korean War.
The City Hall is open to the public every day and admission is free, there is a small café inside and guided tours can be arranged at the reception desk. Highly recommended.