Business

Manager of Titanic Belfast Hotel reveals the tricks used to blend old and new

Adrian McNally, manager of the new £28 million Titanic Hotel Belfast
Gail Bell

HE has shaken hands with presidents and film stars. But Adrian McNally, manager of Belfast's newest luxury hotel, is more transfixed by a 'star' closer to home – the White Star Line and its ill-fated liner, The Titanic.

Ahead of the new £28 million Titanic Hotel Belfast opening in the former headquarters of Belfast shipbuilders, Harland & Wolff, the experienced manager and history buff is in meticulous preparation mode and delighted to be at the helm of the refurbished building in the Titanic drawing offices at Queen's Island – "where the dream first came alive".

"It is not quite a museum, but this is so much more than a hotel," McNally stresses.

"It is a unique guest experience and a journey into how the building would have looked when the Titanic designers sat here, working in the drawing offices – one of which is now a ballroom and the other a restaurant and bar.

"There is a lot of emotion in the fixtures and fittings because this is where the Titanic journey first began."

On a quick tour of the accessible parts of the building a month or so before the official opening this weekend, there is an unmistakable reverence hanging in the dusty air; a warm appreciation of the past lodged deep within the walls and hovering over the high ceilings of Belfast's 'new' heritage hotel.

It can be felt from the moment you step into the (original) revolving door which gently spins guests out the other side and into the spacious lobby – and almost directly opposite the historic telegram office which has been kept in situ (complete with chipped tiles) as a special guest feature.

Although aimed at the 'luxury' market, you won't find any 21st century thick-pile carpet in the lobby here; the flooring is all Victorian-style pattern tiles which, along with interior walls, lighting and doors, remains as closely to the original styling as possible.

One of the Titanic-themed suites in the new hotel opening this week

The iron staircase, with flax flower, is original and the same as the motif used widely by Belfast Harbour Commission to reflect the crucial role of the linen industry in the rise of the Belfast economy during the mid 19th century.

This fine balance between nostalgia and modern-day service has been the main challenge for the affable new manager who has worked for top hotels in America, China, Kenya and London, before managing the Lough Erne Resort outside Enniskillen and, latterly, the Culloden at Cultra.

"There has been a little bit of creativeness and ingenuity required," he admits. "For instance, the frosted globe chandeliers hide modern, low-energy light bulbs, while the existence of television screens and wi-fi is cleverly disguised to suit both purposes.

"I think a sympathetic balancing of old and new has been the main challenge but I believe we have got the magic just right."

The stunning Titanic Drawing Offices have been preserved and restored thanks to a £5 million grant by the Heritage Lottery Fund’s Enterprise Fund

There are 119 guest rooms in the building which also features five impressive 'heritage rooms', one of which houses chief Titanic designer, Thomas Andrews' original coat cupboard – an original clerk's desk donated by his family is situated in the foyer – but the highlight must be the drawing offices themselves.

With their high, perfectly arched ceilings, specifically designed to harness the maximum amount of light needed for the fine work carried out by Harland & Wolff architects and draughtsmen in the early 1900s, they are spectacular even when empty.

"The island bar in the drawing office which has been converted into a restaurant is decorated with the original batch of Villeroy and Boch tiles that were on the swimming pool of the Titanic," McNally reveals.

"These are the touches of which I'm most proud, as well as the desire by everyone involved to keep in step with the past, right to keeping the original fire door hanging in the main hallway as a decorative nod to the past.

"Obviously, to comply with modern health and safety and safety regulations, we had to have new ones fitted, but we just couldn't part with the old wooden one, so it hangs uselessly, but beautifully, in the main 'corridor of power' on the ground floor.

"It is a another link with the past and people like Harland & Wolff chairman, Lord Pirrie, who helped make Belfast, at that time, the shipbuilding capital of the world."

The Titanic Belfast Hotel – sister hotel to the award-winning Titanic Hotel Liverpool – has been restored by owners, Harcourt Developments, with a £5m investment from the Heritage Lottery Fund secured by the Titanic Foundation.

It is set to bring 75 new jobs to the city and will also host public access tours and a free six-week exhibition to mark its historic opening after extensive refurbishment work began just over a year and-a-half ago.

"I can't wait for the doors to finally open and for members of the public to come in and see the detail in the work for themselves," McNally concludes. "Already, occupancy is strong and we have even confirmed our first wedding.

"The bride and groom were forced to visit in hard hats and hi-vis jackets but they were still happy to give their big day over to us. I think that is the kind of belief everyone has in this building and the magnetism it holds for all who step inside."

:: Titanic Hotel Belfast opens next Sunday. For bookings and information visit www.titanichotelbelfast.com

The Directors’ Entrance on Queen’s Road has been restored and will be a guest entrance for events

Adrian McNally, manager of the new £28 million Titanic Hotel Belfast

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