I spent some of the best years of my teaching career at Rathmore Grammar School in Belfast, still have strong ties with the school, and have lifelong friendships with my old teaching colleagues, so when the school decided to have a Gala ball for its Alumni and Friends, I was straight on a diet to fit into My Sister’s dress. I booked my magician cousin at the International Hairport Benburb for an updo – no-one can tame my hair like she does, and I was ready to go!
The Gall Ball was in the Titanic Centre, and I seized upon the opportunity to coerce My Husband into staying at the nearby Titanic Hotel.
Since we only live an hour’s drive from Belfast, and we both had lived in Belfast for a couple of decades around the turn of the millennium, (oh my goodness, how old does that make me sound?) it feels strange to book into a hotel in Belfast. We were living abroad when Belfast underwent its revival, so the once familiar stomping ground feels really different to us… I feel like a time traveller when I visit Belfast now, with all the new buildings and the vibrant atmosphere. I loved Belfast from the moment I moved there in 1987, despite its challenges in those dark days. Belfast was like a teenager, troubled but full of heart. Now, the city feels like a carefree thirty-something that has figured out its mood swings and understands that it is a unique and precious entity with much to offer.
Suffice it to say we both battle with a weird sense of nostalgia and pride for this city when we visit.
Happily, I can report that we did stay at the Titanic Hotel, Belfast, and it far exceeded our expectations. We knew the hotel would be nice. Our friends had stayed and they had loved it, but what I hadn’t expected was the way it felt like we were staying in a museum of the shipyards in Belfast (in all the best ways.) Now, I have often scoffed at Belfast’s proclivity at boasting about building the biggest ship that ever sank, but what the hotel captured was more than just that. It encapsulated the essence of the shipbuilding era in the docks of Belfast. Perhaps not a profession that my ancestors could avail of due to the sectarian divisions of the time, but still an element in the foundation of all of our shared cultural heritage – because we do share both the good and the bad from the past.
The Titanic Hotel’s decor was outstanding, and as you wander through the building there are lots of photos on the walls and posters of old tickets and luggage tags, with carefully restored furniture on display. You turn a corner and there are lots of different rooms, old offices, lobbies, and nooks and crannies to explore. The bar is beautifully sited in a conservatory-style room with an amazing glass ceiling.
The matching room on the other side of reception was being used as an art gallery to display the work of a local artist, and I enjoyed a wander around that. The rooms have an unusual decor, but it all works together. The black and white bathrooms, the metal panelling in the elevators, the painted floors in the hallways – it all gives this sense of taking you back in time, yet the rooms are cosy, warm and clean with all the modern amenities, so you feel like you have the best of both worlds.
From the moment you arrive, you feel special. The staff are amazing. After check-in, the reception staff escorted us to the elevators and told us to feel free to explore the hotel. We did and found our bearings pretty quickly despite the maze of hallways and beautifully ornate staircases. Everything is well signposted and so we enjoyed exploring without stressing about getting lost.
While we were there Storm Ciara arrived. So we were happy to stay inside and as I’ve already said, there was plenty to explore for the afternoon. Despite the crazy weather outside, the rooms were cosy and so quiet. It’s great to stay somewhere and have silence at night.
Breakfast was delicious. Full Ulster fry with eggs done to perfection… not easy to accomplish in a buffet. The black pudding was really good. There’s also a fine selection of juices, cereals and pastries. The croissants were lovely.
One really nice touch, I noticed, was the lack of single-use plastics. We had glass bottles of water in the room. At breakfast, the ketchup and brown sauce were available in petite mason jars that could be washed and refilled. Linen napkins, as opposed to disposable ones, were provided with meals (even with bar snacks.) Top marks for environmental awareness!
The staff were friendly, helpful and nothing was too much bother for them. We felt so cared for. All in all, it was a perfect stay and it made me proud to have a hotel/tourist attraction like this in Belfast. Well done Titanic Hotel – I’d turn the dial to 11 for this hotel!
As for the Rathmore Gala Ball – it was brilliant. I met people I hadn’t seen in decades, chatted to past pupils who have grown up into the wonderful people I knew they would and a deep sense of community, of connection, of belonging to something important, filled my heart. I hope it becomes an annual event, not least because My Sister has many beautiful dresses for me to wear – if I can stay off the chocolate to fit into them!