The wonderful Ulster Hall re-opens tomorrow after two years' closure for refurbishment.
The opening programme will have something for everyone – from Stiff Little Fingers to the Ulster Orchestra – and seems designed to rekindle fond memories of 'the first time' for many Ulster Hall-goers of old.
My own first time – Paul Brady in 1987, after a pint in White's Tavern on the night before I started Uni – is due for a return appearance later this month. Class act then, class act now. I also see that my old pal Adam Turkington has devised a great fringe programme of events especially for the re-opening. And all free too! Can't be bad in these credit-crunched times.
But, of course, my fondest memory has to be time I brought His Holiness the Dalai Lama to the Ulster Hall. On behalf of Amnesty, that is.
Through AI Belfast Group stalwart Paul Hainsworth, we managed to secure the services of the spiritual leader to give the Amnesty International Annual Lecture in 2000. Looking for a big enough venue, and knowing of the hall's history as a scene of fiery political rallies, I thought it would be fun to bring the Tibetan man of peace to succeed Edward Carson, Ian Paisley and Gerry Adams as the headline act at Belfast's very own Ulster Hall!
Don't ask me to remember exactly what the Dalai Lama said that evening in his Amnesty lecture. I think it amounted to "love one another". Whether you think that message simple-minded or profound, it wasn't really what he said but more the way he said it, that meant people left the Ulster Hall that night with a smile on the face and some warmth in the soul (or, at least, somewhere deep inside).
In his own quiet way, the Dalai Lama rocked the Ulster Hall that night!
Still, he could have been a bit more out-spoken about China's treatment of his Tibetan compatriots. But maybe it was just me who felt like that…
Anyway, we'll have another great Amnesty International Annual Lecture later this year as part of the Belfast Festival at Queen's and I also expect Amnesty to be returning to the newly-restored Victorian splendour of the Ulster Hall for another event in 2009.
Watch this space!
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