The Grand Dame Returns

BELFAST 2009 and the reopening of the Ulster Hall. Click Play Audio for a podcast with Free Fringe progammer Adam Turkington

The re-opening of the Ulster Hall will mark the start of a momentous year for Belfast – when a number of landmark buildings throughout the city will open their doors to the public again following exciting refurbishments and new developments.

As well as the City Hall (due to re-open in August), the Ulster Museum, Queen’s University Library and St Anne’s Square are all in the pipeline for 2009. 'Belfast is well and truly open for business and what an exciting year this will be,' enthused Lord Mayor, councillor Tom Hartley, 'a momentous year for our city with more available for visitors and locals than ever before.'

On Friday, March 6 the Ulster Hall, which has been part of the life blood of Belfast for almost 150 years, will reopen with much fanfare. The Ulster Hall Reopening Celebrations herald a new era for the venue following two years of closure for refurbishment and renovation work.

The celebrations get underway on March 6 with a special Civic Reopening Concert. As part of the programme a specially commissioned work by local composer Brian Irvine celebrating the venue’s past and its performers will be performed for the first time. Must see shows also include Jackson Browne (March 21), Ardal O`Hanlon (March 10), Paul Brady (March 29) and Courtney Pine (March 31).

Already sold out, Do You Remember the First Time? (March 9) features the best of Northern Ireland’s contemporary artists playing a song from the set list of a band they themselves saw at the Ulster Hall. More events paying homage to the Ulster Hall’s rock ‘n’ roll heritage include Stiff Little Fingers (March 16) and Sham-Rock (March 17) - a unique St Patrick’s Night celebration with a tribute to the greats of Irish rock who have played the Ulster Hall. 

International percussion sensation Noise Ensemble will also make their Irish début at the Ulster Hall on March 8, blending epic beats and a soaring score by acclaimed British composer Ethan Lewis Maltby. This event comes after a free open access percussion workshop at 2.30pm. Those interested in taking part should email Róisín Whyte, education and outreach officer at the Ulster Hall, on

Ulster Hall Free Fringe

'I'm a programmer who thinks, 'what's the least I can charge to actually make this happen and get away with it?''

Adam Turkington, trans co-ordinator and Ulster Hall Free Fringe programmer, is a man who likes to take a chance. When he and his colleagues at trans pitched for funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund to progamme a series of free events to mark the re-opening of the iconic Belfast venue, no doubt they held their breath.

In the end, however, Turkington's ambitious gamble paid off - and Belfast in 2009 is sure to benefit greatly from his efforts. A programme of Fringe events is also taking place throughout March. Ulster Hall Free Fringe celebrates the return of Northern Ireland’s most celebrated rock venue with over 30 free events programmed by trans to celebrate Belfast’s alternative culture.

Taking place from March 7-28, Ulster Hall Free Fringe includes music showcases hosted by some of Belfast’s finest independent record labels, community arts seminars, live literature events and innovative lunchtime recitals. The ever resourceful Turkington played a central role in putting the programme of events together.

'In this case, because of the generosity of the Heritage Lottery Fund, we were able to put the whole lot on free of cost. It's about opening up the Ulster Hall. The Hall itself, to the untrained eye, won't look that different, I don't think. But the front of house areas, and certainly the back of house areas, are completely transformed. 

'We're really excited about using those areas for new types of events. We're dipping our toe in the water and seeing what we can do with the space. Maybe other promoters will pick up the batton whenever we're finished the Fringe.'

Ulster Hall Free Fringe is part of Anti: Belfast’s contribution to Portrait of a Nation - the biggest youth project of its kind in the UK. Anti, conceived and run through the trans programme, showcases twelve iconic Belfast ‘subjects’, from local bands to people and venues that have served to influence, shape and inspire lives.

Tim Husbands, managing director of Ulster Hall commented: 'Free Fringe is much more than just a celebration of our musical heritage. Many of the events will help us start to build an archive that demonstrates the pivotal role the Ulster Hall plays in shaping Belfast’s alternative heritage.' 

Full details of all events taking place as part of Free Fringe are listed in the Ulster Hall Free Fringe programme on the trans website: and at The programme is also available from Belfast Waterfront. Telephone: 028 9033 4455.