Belfast Festival at Queen's Celebrates 50 Years

As the 2012 programme launches, Queen's graduate Seamus Heaney recalls his favourite festival moments

Van Morrison, Kate Mosse, Buena Vista Social Club and Dara Ó Briain are just some of the internationally acclaimed artists set to appear at the 50th Ulster Bank Belfast Festival at Queen’s.

The full line-up for this year’s festival was revealed at a launch event in Belfast City Hall, which featured extracts from an exclusive Culture Northern Ireland video interview with poet Seamus Heaney, recalling his involvement with the festival in years gone by.

'[The Belfast Festival at Queen's] is central to Queen's mission,' remarks the Nobel Prize-winning poet and Queen's University graduate. 'To be a kind of centre that transmits values that are part of the civilised life... It's actually a ritual that says we value this kind of thing, so that's important.'

In partnership with Heritage Lottery Fund, the festival is coordinating a project entitled Belfast Festival Anthology, which will capture the key moments from the festival over the last five decades and present these via a website, an exhibition and a red plaque tour of key locations throughout the city.

The festival is asking members of the public – as well as artists and others who have been previously involved with the festival – to email festival anecdotes to in the run up to the launch of the anthology website on October 10. 

Starting as a small campus based event in 1961, the festival has featured names such as Jimmy Hendrix, Michael Palin, Billy Connolly, Dizzie Gillespie, Kylie Minogue and Rowan Atkinson. The 2012 programme is similarly ecletic.

Running between October 19 and November 4, 2012, the 50th festival has been billed as a celebration for the entire city, featuring both home-grown and international artists, authors and performers taking part in 185 events across the city.

Encouraging everyone to get involved with the 50th celebrations, this year’s festival will include 60 free events, whilst two thirds of shows will cost less than £15. Speaking at the launch, festival director Shan McAnena looked forward to the festival opening.

'There is music in shopping centres, churches and museums, comedy at the heart of Queen’s University, theatre in offices, public baths and bars, and art in the open air. From hip-hop to opera, hunting for fairies to ghosts in the dark, from international super-stars to local heroes, we are proud to present to the city of Belfast the largest arts festival in Ireland.'

Theatrically, the 50th festival plays host to a number of firsts, such as the acclaimed National Theatre Company of Scotland’s production Enquirer, based on interviews with leading figures in the newspaper industry, whilst the Tron Theatre Company’s brilliant re-imagining of Joyce’s Ulysses will also make an Ireland debut at festival.

This year’s festival will also boast performances by leading soprano Lesley Garrett and others, and talks including appearances by Peter Hain, Jonathan Miller and Ian Rankin.

Showcasing the very best of local theatre talent, on stage in Belfast’s world-class theatre spaces will be a number of UK and world premieres including Paisley & Me by Belfast-born, Emmy Award-winning writer Ron Hutchinson at The Grand Opera House; Macbeth directed by Lynne Parker at The Lyric and The Huzzies at The Mac, a collaboration between Tinderbox Theatre Company and award-winning playwright Stacey Gregg.

Roisin McDonough, chief executive of the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, said she recognised the vital role the festival played for the arts sector. 'As a platform for our local artists and performers the Belfast Festival at Queen’s has helped nurture the development of our rich emerging arts scene over the last five decades. We are delighted to have been a patron of this important festival throughout its rich and colourful history.'

Visit the Belfast Festival at Queen's website to browse the full programme, or call the Festival Box Office on 028 9097 1197.