Northern Ireland Two // Belfast City Hall

While in Belfast we decided to visit a building that almost bankrupted the city. I can't remember whether it was Belfast City Hall or Stormont, or both of them, but it seemed like an interesting way to start this post.

Anyway, what I do remember is that the hall was to be a monument to the newly declared city of Belfast. Before this declaration in 1888, the town was a rapidly expanding town making significant advances in industry and shipbuilding. After the declaration, the city's population and industries continued growing, especially in terms of its world class shipbuilding facilities.

Construction of the hall began in 1898 and was completed in 1906 at just under £400,000. Much of this cost was spent on the marble interior and the large domes that are found throughout the hall. These are the two main features that stand out as you explore the hall, along with homages to the work of Belfast's shipbuilders.

The large town of Belfast was granted city status by Queen Victoria in 1888, and so she stands outside of it, ever watchful and not amused.

Victoria isn't the only one watching. This figure peers down from the balcony as you enter.

Note the marble pillars on either side of the sculpture above. The marble is from Italy and, though I cannot remember what it is called, it is both rare and expensive. The beauty of the marble is only outdone by the domes that dot the roof of the building. Large chandeliers hang down from their centre, while symmetrical patterns stretch out.

Craning your neck upwards you can take a good photo of these domes, but the contrast between the chandeliers and darker parts of the dome can be difficult to handle. It's also very hard to get everything central. I got some close to perfectly symmetrical, but there are still bits slightly off.

The largest dome in the hall. Love the colours and the patterns in this shot.

Another, smaller dome. A bit more of a close up too.

Belfast is very proud of their (obviously crucial) role in the Titanic story - "it was fine when it left here" - so you hear the ship mentioned most places that you go. You can't really see it in these photos, but much of the hall was built by the same men who worked on the Titanic. The way it worked was that, when the men of Belfast weren't working in the grand shipyards of the city, they were working elsewhere in town, including in the construction of the hall. In this way, the city could keep most of its population employed.

Much of the hall was built by the same men who worked on the Titanic.

One of the most evident parts of this employment policy can be found in the doors of the City Hall. Almost all of them have circular portholes akin to the ones you would find in a ship. There is also a wooden cabinet in the "Titanic Hall" that were supposed to be in the room of the famous ship's captain, except that they were too large to fit through the door. Little did they to know, but that was the least of their problems. Ah hindsight.

A mural depicting the reading of the city charter. The major industries of Belfast are also depicted, including linen, rope working and shipbuilding.

Hindsight also allows us to see that "the troubles" of the late 20th century achieved very little except death and destruction.

Northern Ireland has changed a lot since the Good Friday Agreement of 1998, but we saw the main hints at this darker past when we drove past murals promoting the readiness of groups such as the "East Belfast Division" and "Ulster Defence Association". Another hint at the past was how easy it was to spot the fortifications of police stations and even some schools - especially Catholic ones. We had also heard whispers of the past by locals - many people were curious whether Mum's family had left before or after "the troubles began" - but these were few and far between. Other than that, the subject was mostly avoided.

Other than that, the subject was mostly avoided.

Yet you can't avoid it completely, and on the City Hall tour there was some reference to the separation of Northern Ireland from Ireland. A fair viewpoint was given by the tour guide whereas the two countries had each made the right decisions for themselves. While some might have a tinge of regret that Ireland didn't stay completely within the United Kingdom, people have moved on and are working for better futures for their respective countries. Having not experienced any nationalistic tension myself, that was at least the interpretation I was getting.

Speaking of which, here's a covenant declaring "home rule" would not work for the province of Ulster, which is what makes up most of Northern Ireland.

The hand on the top left of the image above is the "Red Hand of Ulster", although it's shown here in black and white. Obviously they ran out of red ink that day. That hand has quite a lot of stories attached to it, but we'll leave that for another day. The hand makes up the centre part of the "Ulster Banner" (the flag of Ulster) which can be seen almost everywhere in Northern Ireland. The Union Jack also makes its appearance throughout the country, showing the national and provincial pride of the place.

But enough with my little knowledge about the United Kingdom and Ireland, here's some photos of the city hall.

The Mayor's hallway. We weren't allowed down it since it is to be used almost exclusively by the Mayor. And possibly the cleaner.

Edited with VSCO Film. I love how the colours came out with a bit of editing. (FYI Mum, editing photos isn't "cheating", it's "art").

One of the halls of Belfast City Hall. Possibly the great hall.

When exploring cool buildings and places, never forget to look behind yourself since you might just see a cool statue and staircase. See what I did there? "Cool" as in cool colours, get it? No? Okay, never mind.

That was our day out exploring the Belfast City Hall. It's definitely a tour that I would recommend taking if you're ever in Belfast.

On the tour I committed to a bit of an experiment, trying to cut back on my extensive photo taking (i.e. take less bad ones, make more good ones). This was something I tried to do throughout the whole of our holiday, but I still came home with well over three thousand photos. The challenge I gave myself in the hall was to stick to a of maximum thirty-six photos, like I was using a large roll of film. Being digital, I allowed myself to delete some straight after taking them, just as long as I left the building with less than the thirty-six.

The challenge while in city hall was to stick to a maximum of thirty-six photos, just like using a large roll of film.

Including the two shots of the building's exterior, and obligatory photos of family in three-thousand pound councillor robes, I am proud to announce I have thirty-seven photos of the City Hall. So pretty close.

Predictably, there was some good and bad stuff that came with limiting my photography in this way. The good stuff was probably similar to the things promoted by film photographers:

  • I could slow down more and concentrate on 'making' individual shots rather than 'taking' several shots of the one thing.
  • Rather than having to cull images from my laptop, I could get them right 'in camera'
  • Since there is only one image of each thing, their importance isn't diluted. They have become more important since their are fewer of them.
  • Although I was keeping an eye out for composition throughout the tour, I could participate in it much more than if I always had my eye to the viewfinder.

I'm sure there's a few other advantages to it, but that's what I could come up with just off the top of my head. There were, however, some disadvantages to this "roll of film" attitude:

  • Sharpness. Upon viewing my images on the computer, I discovered that some of them weren't sharp due to how dark it was inside (low lighting meant I had a slow shutter and therefore camera shake became a problem). If I had taken multiple shots perhaps one of them would have come out sharp.
  • There are a few things that I'm thinking about as I write this post that I don't have any photos of (e.g. the chair that the Queen used and the cabinet from the Titanic). So maybe I missed some opportunities.

So it was a bit of a win-lose with this experiment, but considering that nearly a third of the images I took made my blog, I think it worked pretty well. I also tried limiting my picture taking on our trips to Titanic Belfast and Storming, so keep an eye out for those posts coming shortly.

JR

Joel Gibson

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Perth, Western Australia

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