Belfast Telegraph

Ulster Hall hosts epic 150th birthday line-up

By Patrice Dougan

Over the last 150 years the Ulster Hall has played a pivotal role in shaping Belfast’s culture and politics, hosting an eclectic mix of rabble-rousing rallies, classical concerts, literary legends, boxing bouts and punk gigs.

Now a jam-packed six-week schedule of events is planned to mark the big birthday of the Grand Dame of Bedford Street which has played such a huge part in the city’s musical, literary, sporting and political history since it opened in 1862.

The acts lined up for the festival will be walking in the footsteps of The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, The Undertones, Johnny Cash, Rory Gallagher and Ruby Murray, as well as recent stars like Red Hot Chili Peppers (right), Snow Patrol and Amy Winehouse.

The venue is also famous for hosting international boxing matches, political speeches and literary readings — Sir Edward Carson and Lord Randolph Churchill both addressed crowds there, and literary greats James Joyce and Charles Dickens entertained audiences at the hall. Even Buddhist spiritual leader the Dalai Lama has given a lecture there.

Speaking at a launch event at the city centre venue yesterday, John McGrillen, director of development with Belfast City Council, said: “The Ulster Hall has played a key role in shaping the city of Belfast.

“It’s played a part in local and international politics, sporting achievements, musical history, arts, literature and industry, and it’s only appropriate that the celebration reflects that history.

“The festival promises to be an amazing few weeks of celebrating the incredible impact the Ulster Hall has on our city. It will also showcase fresh emerging talent coming from our city.”

A variety of music and literary events, as well as talks, exhibitions and film screenings will make up the festival programme.

Mr McGrillen said “great pains” have been taken to keep ticket prices low, and many events will be free of charge.

“The Ulster Hall really belonged to the people of Belfast and that continues to be the case.

“We hope that everyone has an opportunity to join in these celebrations.” The Northern Ireland-produced movie Good Vibrations — which charts the life of local music champion Terri Hooley and his record shop of the same name which pioneered punk music in the 1970s and 1980s — will have its premiere as part of the festival.

The man himself said that it was “absolutely brilliant” that the city will get its first glimpse of the film at the historic venue.

“It’s brilliant because 33 years ago the city fathers tried to ban our concerts here,” Mr Hooley said.

“When the IRA were blowing up the city and loyalist murder gangs were killing Catholics, they saw punk as some sort of threat, but it was very much a uniting force, bringing Protestants and Catholics together, so it’s absolutely brilliant to have the premiere here in the Ulster Hall.

“I’ve always said the Ulster Hall is my favourite venue in Belfast for years; I love it, and I still love to come to concerts here.

“There’s a great variety of things for the 150th anniversary and it’s not just for old folks like me, but for the young as well.”

  • The Ulster Hall: Celebrating 150 years festival runs from May 1 until June 9. For a full list of events visit www.ulsterhall.co.uk

Background

Built in 1862, the Ulster Hall quickly became a popular venue in Belfast for music, concerts and dances. Nicknamed The Grand Dame of Bedford Street, over the years it has played host to some of the biggest names in music, literature, politics and sports — from The Rolling Stones to Charles Dickens. It has also nurtured local talent such as Ash and Snow Patrol.

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