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Visiting the City Hall at Belfast, Northern Ireland: domed magnificence

Updated on June 29, 2012
Flag used in the Police Service of Northern Ireland's logo
Flag used in the Police Service of Northern Ireland's logo | Source
City Hall, Belfast
City Hall, Belfast | Source
The 'RMS TITANIC' before its launch in 1911, at the Harland and Wolff shipyard, Belfast
The 'RMS TITANIC' before its launch in 1911, at the Harland and Wolff shipyard, Belfast | Source
Map location of Belfast
Map location of Belfast | Source

Hard to miss

Belfast's massive, domed City Hall, in Donegall Square, is virtually obligatory on the itinerary of any visitor to Northern Ireland's chief city.

In any case, it's hard to miss. Its monumental form in Portland stone, described as Baroque Revival in style, has loomed over the city centre since 1906. The dome is 53 metres high and is made of copper. The architect was Sir Alfred Brumwell Thomas .

Victoria and Titanic memorials

The ground of the City Hall contain many interesting memorials. The most well known is one to Queen Victoria .

The Titanic Memorial, too, is often visited: this was the work of Sir Thomas Brock , who also designed the Victoria Memorial; it is intended both to honour the victims of the RMS Titanic 's sinking on its maiden voyage, and also to note the fact that the ship was built in Belfast's Harland and Wolff shipyard, and launched in 1911. (Sir Edward Harland , former head of the shipyard, is also honoured by a monument.)

American Expeditionary Force Memorial

A granite column is dedicated to the memory of the American Expeditionary Force in World War Two. Many American soldiers were stationed in Northern Ireland, prior to the Normandy Landings of 1944.

This monument was rededicated in 1995 during the visit of US President Bill Clinton .

There are also other civilian and military memorials in the grounds of the City Hall.

Linen Hall Library on Donegall Square

Also on Donegall Square is the Linen Hall Library, founded in 1788. This facility has particular strengths in local history, and is known officially as the Belfast Society for Promoting Knowledge.

The current building has been refurbished in recent years; originally the institution stood at a location on which the City Hall now stands.

The Donegall Square name

The Donegall Square name in the City Hall's address may be thought by visitors to refer to the Irish County Donegal.

In a sense, this may be indirectly true.

However, it is interesting that the name of the Square is written with two letters 'l' at the end of the word: 'Donegall'. In actual fact, the name is supposed to refer directly to the Earldom of Donegall in the Peerage of Ireland. Or, even more precisely, it is supposed to denote the Marquessate of Donegall, again, in the Peerage of Ireland, seeing that marquessates have protocolar precedence over earldoms in the titular scheme of things. These titles (as well as other British, as opposed to Irish, titles) were held, from 1647 and 1791, respectively, by the local Chichester family.

So I suppose it's a case of, take your pick.

Also worth visiting

Belfast has numerous sights for the visitor, which are too many to list here adequately, but these include:

The Albert Memorial Clock (distance from the City Hall: 1 kilometre) is a fine structure in Gothic style, built between 1865 and 1869 and designed by W.J.Barre.

The Belfast Botanic Gardens (distance: 1.5 kilometres) contain the historic 19th century Palm House.

Belfast Castle (distance: 5.7 kilometres) is a 19th century structure in Scottish Baronial style, which replaced a 12th century Norman structure, destroyed in the 18th century; since 1934, this building has been owned by the City.

Queen's University (distance: 1.4 kilometres) has a noted 1849 Gothic Revival facade designed by Sir Charles Lanyon.

Outside Belfast:

Lisburn (distance: 14 kilometres) has the often visited Irish Linen Centre and Lisburn Museum, housed in the Lisburn Market House.

Carrickfergus (distance: 19 kilometres), on the northern shore of the Belfast Lough ; its well preserved and monumental, 12th century castle was erected by Normans.

A note on symbols

In the contentions of Northern Ireland's history, historical recollections and symbols have often been the subject of controversy. Because Belfast's City Hall was for many decades presided over by Lord Mayors from Unionist parties only, the domed profile of the City Hall came to be regarded by some people as inherently a symbol of Unionism; however, particularly since the service as Lord Mayor by members of the mainly nationalist SDLP and subsequently Sinn Féin parties, this is not necessarily the case. In the places in many jurisdictions that this series of hubpages describes, I have tried to include a local flag in each. It may be noted also that St Patrick's Saltire, which has been included here, is employed in the logo of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, which was founded with a substantial measure of support from both the unionist and nationalist communities. While there is a sense in which the depth of contention which there has been in Northern Ireland may render any symbolic and historic references unsatisfactory from at least someone's perspective, I would wish simply to be on record, as a Canada-based writer, that these brief references are not given with any desire to be controversial. In any case, history in Northern Ireland is hard to miss. (Like the domed City Hall of Belfast...)


How to get there: Continental Airlines flies from New York Newark to Belfast International Airport, at Aldergrove, where car rental is available. Please note that facilities mentioned may be withdrawn, without notice. Please check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information.

MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.

For your visit, these items may be of interest


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