Report by Sandra Millsopp
On the 15th October 2011 members of Bangor Historical Society visited Belfast City Hall. Our guide began by giving us some background information. Belfast grew up around the mouth of the Farset River and was granted a charter by James I in 1613. This created a corporation or council headed by a sovereign or mayor. By 1888 the town had grown so much that it was created a city and the city hall was subsequently built in a classical renaissance style.
We were shown the busts and statues of various people such as the Earl of Donegall and his mother, Edward Carson and Mary Ann McCracken, sister of the 1798 rebel Henry Joy McCracken. Lord and Lady Pirrie both received the freedom of the city and the caskets containing their scrolls are on display. Portraits of former Mayors hang in a corridor on the first floor. A painting of Sir James Johnston, Lord Mayor 1917 & 1918, still bears the scars it received in the blitz. One of the rooms on this floor is modelled on the Captainís room on the Titanic. Another painting shows the Battle of the Somme.
Next we saw the robing room where robes for councillors and others are displayed. The robes were remade 12 years ago when black velvet replaced white fur. The Lord Mayorís robes contain gold thread and are worth about £14,000. Also on display were the purple robes of the High Sheriff. There are also three maces: two from the seventeenth century and one from 1912 which was the gift of a jeweller. The sovereignís chair was a gift to the town in 1734 from the Earl of Donegall.
We then visited the council chamber where meetings are held once a month. Our guide explained that most of the work is done by sub-committees which meet more regularly.
The chamber also contains places for clerks, the chief executives and the press. Visitors sit in a special gallery. In 1921 the chamber was used for the first meeting of the Northern Ireland Parliament and the chairs used by King George V and Queen Mary are still there.
We also saw the table where the Ulster covenant was signed in 1912. There were so many people that the leaders sent to the shipyard and a table was hastily made of packing cases and covered in a union flag. The Great Hall is used on Friday and Saturday evenings for events such as dinners. It was rebuilt after being destroyed in the blitz. The stained glass had been taken out and stored in Downpatrick.
Our visit was very interesting as it enabled us to see the feature which Paul Larmour had discussed in his talk on the city hall: the marble, the dome, the chandelier and the John Luke painting and the various marbles.