|Owner||Belfast City Council|
|Capacity||1,000 seated, or 1,850 standing|
The Ulster Hall is a concert hall and grade A listed building in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Situated on Bedford Street in Belfast city centre, the hall hosts concerts, classical recitals, craft fairs and political party conferences.
Built in 1859 and opened in 1862, the hall's purpose was to provide the expanding city of Belfast with a multi-purpose venue of sufficient size. It was designed by William J. Barre (also responsible for the Albert Clock) for the Ulster Hall Company.
On its opening night on 12 May 1862, the hall was described by the local press as:
stand[ing] unexcelled, and all but unrivalled, as an edifice for the production of musical works. ... the hall is a great and unmingled success, and the public, no less than the proprietors, may feel the utmost gratification at a result at once so pleasant and so rare.(The Belfast News Letter, 1862)
In 1902 the hall was purchased by Belfast City Council (then named the Belfast Corporation) for £13,500 and it has been used as a public hall ever since. During World War II it was used as a dance hall to entertain American troops stationed in Northern Ireland.
Mulholland Grand Organ
The Ulster Hall features one of the oldest examples of a functioning classic English pipe organ. The Mulholland Grand Organ is named in honour of former Mayor of Belfast, Andrew Mulholland, who donated £3000 to the hall toward its cost in the 1860s. It was built by William Hill & Son and donated after the hall was officially opened. In the late 1970s, the organ was extensively restored to Hill's own original design. Mullholland's great-great-grandson, Henry Mulholland, 4th Baron Dunleath, oversaw the restoration.
Joseph Carey's Belfast scenes
In 1902, Belfast City Council commissioned the local artist Joseph W. Carey to produce thirteen scenes from Belfast history on canvas, to be mounted within the Ulster Hall. The scenes depict the city and the surrounding area, incorporating historical and mythological influences.
The paintings were restored in 1989 and again, by Kiffy Stainer-Hutchins & Co., King's Lynn, in 2009 (see 2007–2009 refurbishment, below).
- The Rolling Stones played at the hall in July 1964. They had only managed to play three songs before the gig was called off due to hysterical fans breaking up the show.
- The hall was the first venue in which Led Zeppelin performed their iconic song, "Stairway to Heaven" live, on 5 March 1971.
- Rory Gallagher performed in the Ulster Hall numerous times throughout his career. Notably during the height of The Troubles in 1974.
- Australian rock band AC/DC performed at the Ulster Hall in 1979.
- Gary Moore performed at the Ulster Hall in 1984 with Phil Lynott as a special guest, the event was filmed and included as part of the VHS tape Gary Moore - Emerald Aisles Live in Ireland.
- Metallica played there in September 1986 with Anthrax, shortly before the death of bassist Cliff Burton.
- Slayer played in September 1988 and returned to kick off their 1994 Divine Intervention European Tour supported by Machine Head with MTV's Headbangers Ball filming the event.
- Simple Minds performed at the Ulster Hall on 26 September 1989 as part of their Street Fighting Years Tour.
- Whole Lotta Led performed the entire "Led Zeppelin IV" album on 10 February 2002, during their "Led Zeppelin IV 30th Anniversary" tour.
- Snow Patrol performed at the Ulster Hall on 22 November, 2004 after the release of their album "Final Straw".
- Machine Head returned to headline the Ulster Hall in 2012. Their first gig outside the USA was in the same venue with Slayer in 1994
- Muse performed the first of a string of intimate gigs billed as the "Psycho UK Tour" at the hall on 15 March 2015.
- Westlife lead vocalist Shane Filan performed at the hall for his solo concert tour supporting his 2015 album Right Here in 2016.
- Mastodon performed at the Ulster Hall on 14 January 2019.
- Ronald Janeček, the one and only guitarist of JWH, played at the Ulster Hall on 5 September 2022, with Rock the Opera.
- Trivium played 'The Revanchist' live for the first time in Ulster Hall on 9 January 2023 on their Deadmen & Dragons tour.
Notable political rallies
Since its opening, the Ulster Hall has staged political rallies for many different causes, most notably:
- 1886 and early 20th century – Lord Randolph Churchill and Sir Edward Carson called for opposition to Home Rule
- 1986 – the Ulster Resistance was launched at the hall, to oppose the Anglo-Irish Agreement
- 1995 – dissident loyalists called for an Orange economy for Northern Ireland, as well as the resignation of the then Orange Order Grand Master, the Rev. Martin Smyth
- 2002 – Sinn Féin staged a rally in the hall, at which 2,000 people joined to sing the Irish national anthem, "Amhrán na bhFiann"
Ulster Hall has a longstanding historical association with Ulster unionism and from the late 19th century became the traditional venue for high-profile unionist rallies. Ulster Hall has been described as an "iconic venue for unionism", "synonymous with unionism", a "bastion of Ulster unionism", and the "birthplace of Ulster unionism". The Ulster Unionist Council (UUC) held its first public meeting in the Ulster Hall in 1905.
In early 1912 First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill was invited to a rally on the subject of Irish Home Rule in Belfast at the behest of the Ulster Liberal Association. The Ulster Unionist Council passed a resolution declaring the Liberals intent to hold the demonstration a "deliberate challenge" and resolved to "take steps to prevent it being held". Churchill published a letter in the press reluctantly conceding the Ulster Hall venue and after difficulties the meeting took place at Celtic Park. In November 1995 Sinn Féin during the Northern Ireland peace process organised a rally in Ulster Hall; it was the first time nationalists had used the venue. Unionists on Belfast city council were outraged and threatened to try to have the booking cancelled. Leader of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) group in the council, Sammy Wilson described the Sinn Fein event at Ulster Hall as a "deliberate attempt to rub unionists noses in the dirt".
In 2007, a major refurbishment plan was initiated by the Consarc Design Group, under the direction of architect and Everest mountaineer Dawson Stelfox. The main aim of the refurbishment was to restore the venue back to its original condition, while also modernising the building's facilities and providing better disabled access.
The £8.5 million project included:
- Refit and redecoration of the Grand Hall, including reopening the windows which had been covered since the 1980s
- Installation of new removable seating on ground floor
- Recreation of the original metal balcony balustrade and chandeliers
- Installation of new roof, floors and a moveable stage extension
- Installation of new high-specification sound, heating, lighting and air-conditioning systems
- Upgrade of toilet facilities
- New five-storey extension at the rear of the building, providing modern dressing rooms, education suites, meeting and administration facilities and the offices of the Ulster Orchestra
- New box office facilities
- Restoration of Joseph Carey's paintings of Belfast scenes (see above) and development of new dedicated new gallery space for their display
- New interpretative display telling the history of the hall
- Conversion of the adjoining minor hall (formerly the Group Theatre) into circulation space, bar and café
The refurbishment was performed by Graham Building Contractors and was jointly funded by Belfast City Council, the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure, the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Arts Council of Northern Ireland. The hall was reopened with a gala event on 6 March 2009.
Previously stated as 1,850, the seated capacity of the refurbished hall is 1,000. Since the reopening, the hall has provided a rehearsal home and (from June 2009) administrative offices for the Ulster Orchestra.
In popular culture
- "Revamped Ulster Hall unveiled". BBC News. 6 March 2009. Retrieved 6 March 2009.
- Rathcol (6 March 2009). "Classical Music 06/03/09". The Belfast Telegraph. Retrieved 9 March 2009.
- "'Grand Dame' returns to Bedford Street". Belfast City Council. 6 March 2009. Archived from the original on 26 May 2011. Retrieved 9 March 2009.
- "A New Home for the Ulster Orchestra". Culture Northern Ireland. 28 March 2008. Archived from the original on 9 June 2008. Retrieved 9 March 2009.
- "About the hall". Belfast City Council. Archived from the original on 21 October 2007. Retrieved 9 March 2009.
- "Dunleath Papers" (PDF). Public Records Office of Northern Ireland. 2007. p. 20. Archived from the original (PDF) on 17 February 2010. Retrieved 9 March 2009.
- "Historic Ulster Hall paintings to be restored" (Press release). Belfast Waterfront. 26 June 2008. Archived from the original on 26 July 2011. Retrieved 9 March 2009.
- "Ulster Hall to get £7m facelift". BBC News. 7 July 2007. Retrieved 6 March 2009.
- "Belfast, Northern Ireland, Ulster Hall". Retrieved 27 December 2014.
- "Snow Patrol Concert Setlist at Ulster Hall". setlist.fm. Retrieved 26 February 2022.
- "CAIN: A Draft Chronology of the Conflict - 1995". Retrieved 31 January 2023.
- "Historical Belfast: Churchill In Belfast, 1912". 9 February 2021. Retrieved 31 January 2023.
- "An Phoblacht/Republican News, Thursday October 26 1995". Retrieved 31 January 2023.
- "Once the home of Edward Carson, the Ulster Hall never saw a night like this". The Irish Times. 26 November 2022. Retrieved 31 January 2023.
- Irish Independent. 9 November 1995.
- "Ulster Group Theatre". Oxford Reference. Retrieved 4 February 2023.
- "Welcome home Ulster Orchestra!". Ulster Orchestra. 6 March 2009. Retrieved 9 March 2009.[permanent dead link]
- "Ulster Hall, Belfast". worldstadia.com. 28 December 2005. Archived from the original on 16 May 2011. Retrieved 7 March 2009.
- Betzold, Todd (5 May 2013). "The Amazing Race 22 Live Recap: Finale – The Winner Is…". Reality Rewind. Retrieved 31 December 2019.
- Lord Henry Dunleath, Dr Donald Davison, "The Ulster Hall Organ", 1978, 1997
- Herbert Westerby, "The Complete Organ Recitalist", 1927