New City Hall exhibition to tell definitive Belfast story
A £1m exhibition showcasing Belfast City Hall's hidden treasures officially opens today after almost five years of painstaking planning to agree how to present the city's past.
Six themed zones and 30,000 artefacts spread over 16 rooms tell the story of the city's transformation from a centre of industry with a population of 3,000, through the Troubles, to a vibrant post-industrial hub that is home to 300,000 people.
A council spokesman admitted that there had been controversy among councillors - but perhaps in an unexpected area.
"There was more disagreement over the sporting heroes, because there were so many to choose from," he said.
The idea for the Past and Present exhibition first came about after an assessment was carried out on memorabilia that had been gathering dust in City Hall over the last 100 years.
Director of property and projects, Gerry Millar, said: "We brought in consultants to sit down and work out how best to present the artefacts and came up with six main themes.
"The Troubles had to be included and this was well debated for a long time as to what would go in. We eventually agreed to install a reflection space with unattributed quotes from Lost Lives (the Book listing Troubles dead) and provide a space for people to think."
Mr Millar does not believe the project was compromised as a result of ongoing, detailed discussions since 2012.
"It's a measure of the growing maturity here at City Hall that no one has fallen out over it. Yes, there were disagreements and a lot of brokering over many years, but we got there," he said.
Among the relics on display is the wooden table on which Edward Carson famously signed the Ulster Covenant on September 28, 1912.
A touch-screen tablet allows visitors to check if their ancestors were among the 500,000 to sign the oath in protest at the introduction of Home Rule.
An interactive section attempts to make sense of colourful local phrases such as 'your head is full of sweetie mice' and 'losing the bap', by translating them into eight languages.
Visitors can even be snapped wearing the Lord Mayor's ceremonial robes.
The permanent exhibition will launch today with singing, dancing and street games at City Hall.
It will open to the public tomorrow.