Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Bits of Belfast - Part 4 - Belfast City Hall

Belfast City Hall Oct 20th 2009The shortening daylight hours are quickly becoming a lot more noticeable and if Usain Bolt has found himself trying to beat the progression of the seasons to a finishing temperature, he best get a move on because it isn’t hanging around. With the leave’s falling off the trees, the first of this year’s Christmas decorations were being placed on Belfast City Hall over the last two days. It’s external redecoration co-in siding with it it’s reopening to the public after almost 2 years of refurbishment.

Part of the refurbishment is a cafe open to the public. The council ran a public vote to see what it should be named and of the choice of name put forward (all of which were related to the industrial/economic development of the city) it was the apt name of ‘Bobbin’ which won out and so this new coffee shop called the Bobbin Coffee Shop is now open and for the passerby to 'bob in' and have a warming brew. I have to admit; I’ve not made it in myself yet but have heard good things from those who have. Besides the improved functionality and intended use of the City Hall here is the councils run down on the refurbishment works.

So the Bobbin seems to be a name we might hear a lot in the future as Belfast City Hall does have a habit, for many of us who live and work in or around the city, as being a place we pass by an awful lot because it is seemingly the heart of Belfast. All roads might lead somewhere new but seemingly more so to this location than any other, roads in Belfast lead to City Hall. However you end up there, it’s probably only going to be a place to grab a bite to eat during lunch, the opening hours leave something to be desired. Monday – Friday, 9am - 4.30pm only (after the initial reopening celebrations).

The names popular in the vote for the coffee shop of ‘Bobbin’ and ‘White Linen’ seem very suitable because by all accounts, City Hall is where it is due to Belfast’s economically bright yet humanly gloomy industrial history. My curiosity of the history of Belfast got the better of me and I’ve recently been reading a book called Belfast – The Making of the City by J.C. Beckett et al. This book contains many photos and pictures from the past but most interesting to me was a map of Belfast of 187 years ago. On this map the River Lagan’s path is almost unrecognisable to today’s channel; the centre of town is dominated by High Street and the White Linen Hall, on the site of which that big impressive City Hall now sits, is on the edge of town to the South. The map depicted in the book shows the layout of the streets less than half a century after the completion of the White Linen Hall and within another ¾’s of a century the White Linen Hall, as a sign of the times and Belfast becoming a city, was being replaced by today’s City Hall. The location became a focal point through its importance to trade and is now the proud centre, however its development to a vibrant city.

Fittingly, this spectacle of a focal point, if only in passing, to so many of our days, is taking on the next stage of its civic role with a good dose of the past woven into its fabric. The start of a double dose of re-openings... soon to follow, the Ulster Museum on the 22nd of October.

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