William Joseph Barre (1830 – 1867) was a prolific Irish architect who was responsible for many well known buildings in Belfast.* By the time he was thirty he had beaten numerous rivals to win the task of designing the Ulster Hall in Bedford Street, Belfast. It is a two-story painted stone building with a stucco front. It was opened in 1862 and at that time was one of the largest music halls in the British Isles, seating a maximum audience of 2000 people and facilitating as many as 250 performers.
It contains many items of historical interest, including the famous Mulholland Organ, the Ulster Hall’s centerpiece feature, which was presented to the people of Belfast by Andrew Mulholland, a wealthy industrialist and former Lord Mayor of Belfast in the 1860s.
The building was sold to the Belfast Corporation (now Belfast City Council) in 1902 for £13,500. By way of celebration Belfast Corporation commissioned a series of 13 oil paintings from J W Carey, in 1902.
During World War II, the hall was used extensively as a dance hall, providing entertainment for the US troops based in the province.
The Ulster Hall has played host to a wide variety of famous figures over the years; they range from Jenny Lind and Caruso to Charles Dickens and John McCormack, from Henry Irving, Randolph Churchill, Lord Carson and the Dalai Lama. In more recent years the names included: Billy Connolly, the Rolling Stones, Christy Moore and Led Zeppelin & Barry McGuigan.
The main hall is designed with wonderful acoustics in mind, giving the perfect platform to deliver keynote speeches or that special acoustic performance.
Finally after two years of renovation work the doors opened once more to Joe Public a week ago. The work involved cost a total of £7.43 million. The restoration included:
- new roof and floors
- internal redecoration
- new removable downstairs seating
- installation of new high-specification sound, heating, lighting and air-conditioning systems
- refurbished artist dressing rooms which will double up as education suites for schools and community groups
- up-graded toilet facilities.
The 13 large scale canvases by JW Carey, dealing with the history and mythology of the Belfast region are on display in new dedicated gallery space within the refurbished hall.
Yesterday I had the opportunity to tour the building with the Belfast Flickr Group.
Special thanks must go to Andy for organising the day and to Adam for his patience in taking us to every nook and cranny and answering all our questions.
In the main hall a sound and lighting rehearsal was in progress on stage for the event of the evening. Withlights flashing and dry ice rising at all angles, my attempts to capture some images were a FAIL! The Mulholland Organ was well hidden by a large screen. The boys with the big guns cameras no doubt did better than I did. Phil from iced coffee was there a few days ago and seemed to have the place all to himself. He has some lovely photos on his blog.
It was good to meet friends old and new, mull over the events of the day with a pint (for the non drivers) and a meal as we planned our next outing.
Ceiling renovation of St. George’s Church, Belfast