Ever since it sank on April 15, 1912, with the loss of some 1,500 lives, the ill-fated RMS Titanic has remained an unsinkable global obsession.
A visit to Titanic Belfast on a miserably wet mid-week day proves the point as the world-class visitor centre is packed with hordes of camera-wielding tourists.
And in a few weeks time so-called ‘Titanoracks’ and those simply keen to enjoy a luxury hotel experience, will be in for a treat as just next door to the centre, in the former Harland & Wolff headquarters and historic Drawing Offices, the new £28 million Titanic Hotel Belfast will open its illustrious doors.
As the most authentic hotel to honour the work of Harland & Wolff and the majesty of Titanic, rooms for opening week are almost sold out with visitors from all around the world flocking to immerse themselves in the legacy of Queen’s Island.
Described as ‘part museum’, the hotel is currently a flurry of activity as men in hard hats paint wall panelling, lay parquet floors and get the place spic and span for its grand opening.
The building is being restored and operated by the Harcourt Developments team with a £5m investment from the Heritage Lottery Fund secured by the Titanic Foundation towards the preservation of the Drawing Offices.
More than 230 people were employed during the construction and the opening will bring 75 new jobs to the city.
The luxury hotel will boast 119 rooms, including seven suites, all with spectacular views of Belfast’s rich shipbuilding history from the Harland & Wolff cranes to the east to Titanic Belfast and the slipways to the west.
The aim of the hotel is to offer not only top notch accommodation and dining, but also a respectful commemoration of that dreadful event over a century ago.
John Doherty of Harcourt Developments said: “History and heritage helped build this hotel, and it can be seen in every aspect of the finish, from the carpet to the cornices.
“The hotel will also tell the story of the people who made the industry here in a way that no other destination could. Over the past five years the Titanic Foundation has welcomed over 50,000 people to the Drawing Offices from the local community who have personal links to the heritage of the ship and headquarters. We could not have told this story without them.’’
The distinctive arching Drawing Offices have been kept completely intact, with the original moulding restored, which was crafted by the same men who built Titanic.
Reclamation is at every corner, from floor tiles to wall tiles, most of which were restored from the main building. Of special interest are the original tiles surrounding the main bar, which were found in a bathroom in the building and are identical to the tiles used for Titanic’s swimming pool.
Kerrie Sweeney, ceo Titanic Foundation Ltd said: “We are nearing completion on this exciting heritage project and it is fantastic to see the historic and the new come together.
“The funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund has been vital in ensuring those small features that tell hugely historical stories are restored and give the local community and visitors from around the world a genuine piece of our shipbuilding history.”
When open, Titanic Hotel Belfast will also host public-access tours of the main Drawing Offices starting with a six-week free exhibition that will tell the story of the building.
Half a dozen key heritage rooms within the hotel, including Lord Pirrie’s Office and the Presentation Room, will be open to the public tours displaying artefacts and details of the restoration works and history weaved into the décor.
The hotel will also have seven private event spaces making use of the offices of Thomas Andrews, Lord Pirrie and Mr Charles Payne, some of the most influential figures of Harland & Wolff and the design of Titanic.