The Ulster Hall is a concert hall and grade B1 listed building in Belfast. Situated on Bedford Street in Belfast city centre, the hall hosts concerts, classical recitals, craft fairs and political party conferences. It is also notable for containing Hitler's other ball. Despite the opening of larger concert halls in the city, such as the Waterfront Hall and the Odyssey, the Ulster Hall has remained a very popular venue, and is considered to evoke much more atmosphere than the newer venues.
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:
"standing 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)
"a music hall fit for the production of any composition, and for the reception of any artist, however eminent" (The Northern Whig, 14 May 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.
Mullholland 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 Lord Mayor of Belfast, Andrew Mulholland, who donated it to the hall 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.
The hall has hosted a massive variety of acts during its history, including readings by Charles Dickens and performances by actor Henry Irving, opera singers Enrico Caruso and Jenny Lind and rock acts The Rolling Stones, The Who, U2, Motörhead, AC/DC, Thin Lizzy, Def Leppard, Metallica, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Rage Against the Machine, Ozzy Osbourne, Pink Floyd & legendary electronic producer Deadmau5.
The hall was the first venue in which Led Zeppelin performed their iconic song, "Stairway to Heaven" live, on 5 March 1971.
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, Reverend Martin Smyth
2002 - Sinn Féin staged a rally in the hall, at which 2,000 people joined to sing the "The Soldier's Song"
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 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.