IT’S seen everything from boxing to ballroom dancing, politics to punk rock – and the 150th anniversary of Belfast’s Ulster Hall is now set to be marked by its own celebratory festival.
Since opening its doors in 1862, the Bedford Street venue has striven to fulfil one of its original aims – that even the “humblest artisan” might go there to be educated and entertained. And, in that spirit, many of the month-long May festival events are free.
At the festival launch, Alderman Christopher Stalford, chairman of Belfast City Council’s development committee, highlighted the great spread of the Ulster Hall’s history.
“Handel’s Messiah was sung here on May 12, 1862, the Rolling Stones played two concerts here, and of course Led Zeppelin famously gave their very first live performance of Stairway to Heaven here. Johnny Cash and Jim Reeves have been on this stage, as well as Charles Dickens and James Joyce.
“Boxers Rinty Monaghan and Barry McGuigan have fought here and of course Lord Carson was here on Ulster Day. Winston and Randolph Churchill both spoke here.”
Alderman Stalford noted that the hall was designed by Newry-based architect William Barr, who also worked on the adjoining Bryson House and the Albert clock.
Mr Stalford also outlined a relatively unknown fact about one of the great political gatherings at the Ulster Hall.
“It was an occasion when women were ‘allowed’ in to sign the Ulster Covenant here. And in fact, that resulted in a remarkable statistic – that more women than men eventually signed the covenant.”
The Ulster Hall has also helped to make legends of numerous home-grown performers down through the years, propelling Northern Ireland talent onto the national and international stage. Musicians like Ruby Murray, Van Morrison, The Undertones, Stiff Little Fingers, Ash and Snow Patrol all cut their teeth at this famous old venue.
The festival includes a concert celebrating 150 years of the Mulholland organ, as well as the world premiere of the Good Vibrations film which charts the career of Belfast punk music supremo Terri Hooley.
For more information, call 9033 4455 or visit www.ulsterhall.co.uk.