Belfast City Hall and the Titanic

Watch video with tour guide Dianne Leeman, and discover the aesthetic similiarities between the great building and the great liner

In the centenary year of the Titanic’s fateful encounter with the iceberg, it would be impossible to miss Belfast’s claim on the ship. There is a Titanic festival, Titanic tours and Titanic plays and Titanic memorials. There is, however, one link between Belfast and Harland and Wolff’s most well-known ship that is a bit more obscure.

The Lord Mayor’s dressing room in Belfast City Hall.

Dianne Leeman, Tour Service Operator in the City Hall, explains, ‘Viscount William Pirrie was Lord Mayor of the city as well as being director of Harland and Wolff for many years, including those when the Titanic was built. So he utilised his craftsmen down at the shipyards to work on the two big projects, the City Hall and the Titanic.’

Most of the woodwork in the City Hall, in fact, was hand-carved by men who could also well have worked on the Titanic. Interesting, but in and of itself a fairly tenuous link. The Lord Mayor’s dressing room is different. It was definitely created by men who also worked on the Titanic, since they copied the room on the ship.

‘It became a section of the captain’s quarters on the Titanic,’ Leeman notes.

These days the room isn’t an exact copy. A Lord Mayor can hardly be expected to deal with 100 year old plumbing after all. There are still enough original elements left, however, to give an idea of the luxury of the original.

The wood-panelled walls are mahogany, unlike the oak used elsewhere in the building, and the toilet is cordoned off in a discreet wooden cubicle. In a presumable nod to the room’s sea-faring future, there are even a few small portholes incorporated into the design.

The Titanic dressing room isn’t on Leeman’s usual tours of City Hall, since it is in use as a room by the Lord Mayor. However, there are other Titanic-linked things to see.

‘The Banqueting Hall theme is the Titanic. There are three portraits in there. A very large portrait of Sir Edward Harland himself, and portraits of both Viscount Pirrie and his wife.’

The Viscountess, who was also Titanic designer Alexander Carlisle’s sister, was the one who broke the news about the Titanic to Pirrie. Both had planned to be on the Titanic for her maiden voyage, but Pirrie’s illness forced them to cancel. For a few days, that must have seemed unfortunate.

Also in the Banquet Room is a scale model of the Titanic and an ornate sideboard that had been destined for the captain’s quarters. Preserved by its tardy completion, the sideboard has toured the city for decades. The last few years it has spent on permanent loan to City Hall.

Finally Leeman points out a brass plaque, and recounts the story behind it, ‘In 2007 BBC reported Mike McKimm went out to the wreck of the Titanic and brought two brass plaques. The idea was that one he left aboard the wreck and presented to the people of the city. We have it out on public view here, for all of our visitor to see.’

Tours of City Hall can be booked on the Belfast City Council website.