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10th-Jan-2014 01:53 am - Loyalists line up to learn cúpla focail at language classes in heart of east Belfast

Classes run by sister-in-law of late PUP leader David Ervine at new language centre

Dan Keenan
Irish Times
9 Jan 2014

Development officer Linda Ervine and PUP founder member Sam Evans (left) with teacher Maitiú Ó hEachaidh at the new Irish language centre ‘Turas’ on the Newtownards Road in Belfast, which opened last night to cope with an increasing number of learners. (Photograph: Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker)

An Irish language centre has opened its doors, offering a sincere fáilte romhaibh to the people in loyalist east Belfast. It is on the Newtownards Road. That is Bóthar Nua na hArda.

In response to keen local demand, the Turas (journey) project offers conversation-style language classes to young and old, says development officer Linda Ervine, sister-in-law of the late David Ervine.

A former UVF prisoner, he was a significant voice at the peace talks which led to the Belfast Agreement of 1998 and leader of the loyalist Progressive Unionist Party (PUP).

“People ring me on a weekly, even daily basis,” said Ms Ervine. “All we are doing is opening the door.”

A former English teacher at the local Ashfield school for girls, Ms Ervine developed her love of the language which grew alongside her interest in what she calls the “hidden history” of her part of Belfast.

“I tell people Irish is all around us – it’s in our placenames, it’s everywhere,” she said. “There’s gaGaelic language here, in Scotland, in Wales and in Cornwall. It’s not just an Irish thing, it’s British as well.”

Three years ago, an Irish class began on the strongly loyalist Newtownards Road where the fada and fáinne are rarely seen. About 20 people turned up, and now there are eight classes at various levels. Provision has expanded into one of the local schools.

Housed in the Skainos centre, a community facility linked to the East Belfast Mission church, Turas offers classroom facilities, offices and a social space.


A large indoor mural depicts the twin cranes of Harland and Wolff casting their shadows over a map of the working class streets below. “The mural was painted by David’s son Mark, my nephew. There is no peace line on the map, no politics. There is no agenda.”

That’s a reference to the inclusion of the republican enclave of Short Strand and the main electoral base of local Sinn Féin councillor Niall Ó Donghaille, who attended the opening ceremony along with party colleague, bilingual Belfast Lord Mayor Máirtín Ó Muilleoir.

The opening honours went to Sam Evans, a founder member of the PUP, in the presence of unionists of all varieties and the Alliance Party.

Some 120 learners have signed up for the free courses which are supported by Foras na Gaeilge and the Stormont Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure.
2nd-Oct-2013 05:57 am - Liam Adams - brother of Sinn Fein's Gerry Adams - found guilty of raping his daughter
Belfast Telegraph
1 October 2013

Liam Adams, Gerry Adams' paedophile brother and former Sinn Fein community and child worker

Liam Adams - the younger brother of Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams - has been found guilty of a string of child sex abuse charges.

Liam Dominic Adams, 58, from Bernagh Drive in west Belfast, was convicted of raping and sexually assaulting his daughter, Aine, over a six-year period between 1977 and 1983 when she was aged between four and nine.

Bespectacled Adams, who was wearing a grey suit, cream shirt and blue tie, showed no emotion as the guilty verdicts were returned.

Remanding him in custody Judge Corinne Philpott said: "Take him down."

The jury of nine men and three women had heard more than two weeks of evidence at Belfast Crown Court.

They began deliberating at 11.05am this morning and took almost four hours to reach guilty verdicts with a majority of 11 to one.

Aine Adams has waived her right to anonymity.

There was complete silence as the jury foreman read out guilty verdicts on all of the 10 charges to the packed court.

Adams, who walks with the aid of a stick and used a court hearing aid to follow proceedings, stood between two prison officers in the dock with his hands clasped tightly.

Aine Adams, who was surrounded by family members, wept and clutched her younger sister Sinead for support.

On the other side of the public gallery, Adams's second wife Bronagh and their daughter Claire, who gave evidence in his defence, also cried.

Adams nodded to them as he was led to the cells.

During the trial Aine Adams gave graphic details of the abuse, which started when she was aged four.


The first time she recalled being raped was while her mother was in hospital giving birth to her younger brother Conor in 1977.

In another incident she was raped by her father at a flat on Belfast's Antrim Road while her brother was asleep in the bed beside her.

Adams, who was a heavy drinker, also forced his daughter to perform sex acts.

In a statement read out by a police officer outside the court, Ms Adams said she could finally begin to move on after a long and hard road to achieve justice.

"I do not see this verdict as a victory or a celebration as it has taken its toll and has caused hurt, heartache and anguish for all those involved.

"I can now begin my life at 40 and lay to rest the memory of the five-year-old girl who was abused," she said.

The allegations were first made public when Ms Adams took part in a television documentary in 2009.

A short time later, Gerry Adams revealed his father Gerry Snr, a veteran IRA man, had physically and sexually abused members of his family.


Within days of the sex abuse scandal hitting the headlines, Liam Adams fled to the Republic claiming he could not receive a fair trial in Northern Ireland. He handed himself in to police in Co Sligo but could not be detained because the Garda officers did not have the correct documentation.

He was eventually handed over to the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) at the border in November 2011 after losing a lengthy and expensive extradition battle.

The trial opened in April this year but collapsed due to legal reasons and the jury was discharged.

At that time, Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams was called as a prosecution witness. He told the court he confronted his brother about the allegations during a meeting in Buncrana, Co Donegal, in 1987 and Liam Adams had denied the abuse.

He then revealed his brother later confessed while they were out walking together in the rain in Dundalk, Co Louth, in 2000.

Gerry Adams was not called as a prosecution witness for the latest trial, which re-opened before a new jury panel last month.

In her statement given outside Laganside court complex, Ms Adams thanked the media for helping her to tell her story.

She said: "I would like to give all my family a special thanks. Without their love, support and understanding I would not be here today."

She also expressed gratitude to the PSNI's public protection unit and the Public Prosecution Service.

"I would now ask for some privacy for my family to reflect on recent trying times," she said.

Adams is due to be sentenced next month.

Vile paedophile behind caring mask

For almost four decades he led a double life.

Liam Adams - a younger brother of Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams - portrayed himself as a caring father, concerned community worker and ardent republican.

But the 58-year-old, who desperately tried to evade justice by going on the run, has now finally been unmasked as a vile predatory paedophile who exploited every opportunity to sneak into his four-year-old daughter's bedroom and rape her.

Born into a staunchly republican family revered in their west Belfast community as aristocrats of the movement, Liam Adams was one of 10 children.

His father, Gerry snr, had been an IRA stalwart from the 1930s and also subjected members of his family to a torrent of physical, mental and sexual abuse over many years.

He met Sarah (also known as Sally) Corrigan when they were both 16. A short time later, she fell pregnant with their daughter Aine and the couple wed - not out of love but, because they had to.

It was an unhappy union frequently filled with rows and violence. Sometimes the domestic abuse became so bad Sarah had to flee the family home, leaving evil Adams alone to molest their vulnerable young daughter.

The couple shared three different houses across west Belfast - at Westrock Drive; Dunglow Gardens in the Lenadoon estate and New Barnsley area of Ballymurphy but, it was an on-off relationship and they were often apart.


It was the height of the Troubles and Liam Adams, who according to friends was on the fringes of the IRA, would be absent for days at a time. Indeed he was in prison around the time Aine was born.

By the end of 1981 and after four children - Aine, Liam, Conor and Sinead - Liam Adams split from his wife permanently. He was kicked out of the house and moved into a bedsit flat on the Antrim Road in north Belfast.

He took little interest in his children save for a few access visits during which he sexually abused Aine including on one occasion while her younger brother Liam slept in the bed beside them.

Adams was also a heavy drinker. Aine recalled she would always smell alcohol on her father's breath when he forced himself on her.

He found it difficult to put down roots and his transient lifestyle led him to America, Canada, Donegal, Dublin and Dundalk.

During the early 1980s he struck up a new relationship with his second wife Bronagh - with whom he has two daughters - and who stood by him as harrowing details of child rape were revealed during his two-and-a-half week trial at Belfast Crown Court.

He spent up to four months at Lazarus House, a hostel in New York run by Fr Pat Moloney - a radical priest who is open about his support for the IRA.

Speaking from New York Fr Moloney said: "To me he wasn't hiding anything. He didn't conceal who he was. He had Bronagh with him and they were a lovely couple.

"But, he was not in the best of health. I don't know whether he left Ireland because he was an embarrassment to the ambitions of anybody else in the family but, it did seem that they did want him to take a vacation for what reasons, I never knew."


While in New York, Adams, who did not work, played on his famous family name and enjoyed minor celebrity status. He would be given free drinks in bars in Brooklyn and be invited to speak at republican fundraising events across the State.

And, when he returned to Ireland he continued to lie to friends and family.

Indeed, such was the level of his deception that he was trusted to work with children for almost 20 years after his daughter first went to police in 1987.

First, he was appointed youth worker at Clonard Monastery in the heart of his brother's West Belfast constituency, where the former MP attended Mass and was good friends with many of the priests - including Fr Alex Reid, who was a mediator between the IRA and British government during the fledgling peace process.

One former community worker, who met Liam Adams during his time at Clonard, said: "He was pleasant enough. He had a lot of ideas about what to do with the young people. People were impressed by him, I suppose.

"When the allegations emerged it shook the community and the fact that a lot of people had known about it but did nothing was also shocking. People are asking questions that if people knew about it, why did they do nothing."

Adams stayed at Clonard for about five years but in 2003 moved to Muirhevnamor Community Youth Project in Dundalk - the border town his brother now represents in the Irish parliament - where he worked with young people in their mid-teens.

A year later he returned north having secured a job the Beechmount Community Project, again in the heart of his brother's former power-base. Adams moved his new family to Andersonstown.


When Aine went public with the allegations in a television documentary aired in 2009, the sex abuse scandal hit the headlines. Adams immediately fled to the Republic and ignored repeated appeals, including from his older brother, to take responsibility for his sickening crimes and hand himself in.

His cowardly attempts to avoid prosecution were only thwarted after a lengthy and expensive extradition battle in Dublin's Four Courts. Adams was eventually handed over to the Police Service of Northern Ireland at the border in November 2011.

Securing the conviction was a long and complex journey. The protracted legal process was dogged by delays and difficulties which collapsed his first trial in April this year and loomed over the second case like a guillotine ready to drop.

Exposing Adams' sordid secrets has also had implications far beyond his family circle.

The revelations sent shock waves throughout the republican movement and sparked widespread anger among the Sinn Fein party faithful, particularly in west Belfast and Dundalk.

Gerry Adams

Gerry Adams faced tough questions about why he did not tell police about his paedophile brother and explain how he was able to work with children for so long.

When he appeared as a prosecution witness during the first trial in April, the Sinn Fein leader shifted uncomfortably in his seat when asked if had tried to "save his own political skin" by not revealing the truth until nine years after he learned his brother was a paedophile.

Gerry Adams told the court he warned a priest, who is now dead, about his brother's sinister past and the pair became estranged after the allegations emerged.

He also said he moved to expel Liam Adams from Sinn Fein in 1997 after becoming aware he was a potential election candidate in Co Louth.

However, Liam Adams continued to mix with the republican movement and in 2000 involved himself in local party work in Belfast.

Pictures of the Adams brothers smiling together at Liam's second wedding in 1987 and during an election canvass in Dundalk 10 years later, which were shown during the April case, contradicted claims the pair were not in touch.

Gerry Adams said the 1997 photograph was taken around the same time he found out that his father was an abuser and should be seen in the context of attempting to deal with that revelation as well as trying to make his brother face his responsibilities.

Timeline: Events leading to Liam Adams' conviction

1977 - Aine Adams, aged four, is indecently assaulted by her father Liam Adams at her home in Westrock Drive, west Belfast.

May 1978 - Aine Adams recalls being raped for the first time while her mother is in hospital giving birth to her younger brother, Conor.

December 1981 - Liam Adams splits from first wife Sarah.

June 1983 - Gerry Adams elected as West Belfast MP and becomes president of Sinn Fein.

December 1985 - Aine Adams discovers Liam Adams has another young daughter with whom he is living in Donegal.

December 1986 - Aine Adams, aged 13, reveals in a letter to her mother that she was repeatedly raped by her father Liam Adams from the age of four.

January 1987 - Aine Adams and her mother report catalogue of child sex abuse to detectives at Grosvenor Road RUC (Royal Ulster Constabulary) station.

February 1987 - Aine Adams and her mother retract statements about abuse over attempts to exploit them for intelligence gathering. A detective tells Aine Adams the file will be retained on record.

March 1987 - Gerry Adams confronts his brother Liam at a house in Buncrana, Co Donegal, and threatens to hit him with a hammer. Gerry Adams is driven to Donegal by his cousin, Kevin Hannaway. Aine Adams and her mother are also present.

1990 - Sarah Campbell moves her family to Scotland.

1991 - Aine Adams moves to Scotland.

1997 - Gerry Adams is pictured smiling with his brother during an election canvass in Dundalk, Co Louth.

1997 - Liam Adams is expelled from Sinn Fein after his brother Gerry learns of his intention to stand as an election candidate for Co Louth. He continues to carry out work for the party.

December 1999 - While Christmas shopping, Aine Adams tells her younger sister Sinead she was sexually abused as a child.

December 2002 - Liam Adams confesses abuse against Aine when confronted by Sinead, during a meeting in Twinbrook.

January 2006 - Aine Adams returns to Belfast and goes to PSNI to have case re-opened against her father.

November 2007 - Liam Adams is arrested by the PSNI and questioned about child sex abuse allegations. He denies all allegations.

March 2008 - Aine Adams makes complaint to the Police Ombudsman.

November 2008 - Liam Adams fails to turn up at court in Northern Ireland to face child abuse charges. He fled to the Republic over fears he would not receive a fair trial.

December 2009 - Aine Adams waives her right to anonymity and goes public about the abuse in a television documentary. Gerry Adams urges Liam to hand himself in.

December 2009 - Liam Adams presents himself to Gardai in Sligo but cannot be legally detained because the necessary European arrest warrant has not been issued by the PSNI.

December 2009 - Gerry Adams reveals in a television interview that his father had been abusive.

March 2010 - Liam Adams is arrested at a Dublin police station, under a European arrest warrant which was issued by the Serious Organised Crime Agency.

March 2010 - Liam Adams released on bail of 15,000 euros - half of which was put forward by his daughter Claire Smith after a hearing at Dublin High Court.

February 2011 - Gerry Adams wins seat as Co Louth TD.

July 2011 - Liam Adams launches a legal challenge against his extradition from the Irish Republic. His lawyers argue that he will not receive a fair trial in Northern Ireland because of publicity.

October 2011 - Liam Adams loses fight against extradition. Dublin High Court rules that he should be transferred to Northern Ireland to face child abuse charges.

October 2011 - Liam Adams instructs legal representatives to appeal against the extradition order.

October 2011 - Liam Adams loses bid to appeal against extradition at the Supreme Court in Dublin. He is taken to a jail in Dublin to await transfer to Northern Ireland.

November 2011 - Gardai hand Liam Adams over to PSNI officers at the Irish border.

November 2011 - Liam Adams is to stand trial accused of child sex abuse. A district judge grants a prosecution application for the case to progress to the next stage. Adams is remanded in custody.

December 2011 - Liam Adams is refused bail after appearing at Belfast Crown Court accused of child sex abuse. Belfast Recorder Judge Tom Burgess said he was concerned about a potential flight risk if bail was granted. He is later granted bail.

April 2013 - First trial against Liam Adams opens at Belfast Crown Court. Jury of six men and six women is sworn in.

April 22, 2013 - Gerry Adams takes the stand as a prosecution witness and denies claims he did not tell the authorities about his brother sooner because he was trying to save his political skin.

April 25, 2013 - Trial collapses because of legal issues and jury is discharged. Judge Corrine Philpott orders that a new trial be held in the autumn.

September 9, 2013 - New sex abuse trial against Liam Adams is due to open. Prosecution announced that Gerry Adams will not be called to give evidence in the new case. Proceedings are delayed because of further legal argument.

September 16, 2013 - Sex abuse trial for Liam Adams opens at Belfast Crown Court before Judge Corrine Philpott.

September 26, 2013 - Liam Adams takes the stand to defend himself and strongly denies abusing his daughter.

September 27, 2013 - Defence and prosecution legal teams complete their cases.

October 1, 2013 - Jury of nine men and three women take about four hours to return guilty verdicts in all 10 charges with a majority of 11 to one. Liam Adams is remanded in custody.
16th-Jun-2013 11:09 pm - For Belfast, keeping the peace means towering walls to block Catholic-Protestant conflict
Associated Press
Washington Post
16 June 2013

More pictures onsite

BELFAST, Northern Ireland — When President Obama comes to Belfast, he’s expected to praise a country at peace and call for walls that separate Irish Catholics and British Protestants to come tumbling down.

Barely a 10-minute walk from where the U.S. leader is speaking Monday, those walls have kept growing in size and number throughout two decades of slow-blooming peace. Residents today on both sides of so-called “peace lines” — barricades of brick, steel and barbed wire that divide neighborhoods, roads and even one Belfast playground — insist the physical divisions must stay to keep violence at bay.

Belfast’s first peace lines took shape in the opening salvos of Northern Ireland’s conflict in 1969, when impoverished parts of the city suffered an explosion of sectarian mayhem and most Catholics living in chiefly Protestant areas were forced to flee. The British Army, deployed as peacekeepers, erected the first makeshift barricades and naively predicted the barriers would be taken down in months.

Instead, the soldiers’ role supporting the mostly Protestant police soon inspired the rise of a ruthless new outlawed group, the Provisional Irish Republican Army, committed to forcing Northern Ireland out of the United Kingdom and into the Republic of Ireland.

For all the unlikely triumphs of Northern Ireland diplomacy since the U.S.-brokered 1998 Good Friday peace deal — a Catholic-Protestant government, troop withdrawals, police reform, and disarmament of the IRA and outlawed Protestant groups responsible for most of the 3,700 death toll — tearing down Belfast’s nearly 100 “peace lines” still seems too dangerous a step to take.

“I’d love to see that wall taken down and I could say hi to my neighbors, but it isn’t going to happen. There’d be cold-blooded murder and I’d have to move out,” said Donna Turley, 48, smoking a cigarette at her patio table in the Short Strand, the sole Irish Catholic enclave in otherwise Protestant east Belfast.

Right behind Turley’s backyard refuge towers a 50-foot (15-meter) wall. It starts as brick, transitions into fences of corrugated iron, and is topped by more steel mesh fence. Each layer marks the history of communal riots like the growth rings of a tree. Higher still, two batteries of rotating police surveillance cameras monitor Turley and her Catholic neighbors, as well as the Protestant strangers living, audibly but invisibly, on the far side.

“It’s terrible looking. But I wouldn’t feel safe if it wasn’t there. I couldn’t imagine that wall being torn down. Nobody here can,” said Tammy Currie, 21, who is Turley’s nearest Protestant neighbor, standing in her own small cement patio backed by the wall. Her 3-year-old son jumps on a trampoline that a few months ago had to be cleared of shattered beer bottles thrown from the other side.

Both families rent state-subsidized homes provided by the Northern Ireland Housing Executive, which is responsible for making their homes as safe as possible from the risk of further rioting. That means both have triple-layered Perspex windows that are foggy-looking and unbreakable, and metal-tiled roofs that can’t be set on fire.

It was a lesson hard learned. The Protestants of Cluan Place and the Catholics of Clandeboye Drive used to be able to look, from upper floors, into each other’s back yards until 2002, when militants on both sides sought to drive each other out with homemade grenades, Molotov cocktails and even acid-filled bottles. An IRA gunman shot five Protestants, none fatally, while standing atop what was then only a brick wall. Most homes in the area were burned, abandoned and rebuilt, and British Army engineers doubled the height of the wall in 2003. Nobody’s been shot there since, even though both sides continue to host illegal paramilitary groups billing themselves as community defenders.

This stretch of wall connects with other security lines that date back to the early days of the modern Northern Ireland conflict in 1970, when IRA men in Short Strand shot to death three Protestants allegedly involved in attacking the district’s lone Catholic church. To make it less of an eyesore, Belfast City Council has funded imaginative art works all along that stretch, but it still leaves Short Strand looking a bit like Fort Apache.

Last month, the Catholic and Protestant leaders of Northern Ireland’s unity government announced a bold but detail-free plan to dismantle all peace lines by 2023. British Prime Minister David Cameron formally backed the goal Friday. Obama is expected to do the same Monday.

The politician working closest to the Cluan-Clandeboye wall, Michael Copeland, says both G-8 leaders are out of touch.

“Removing the walls would be a catastrophic decision,” said Copeland, a former British soldier and a Protestant member of the Northern Ireland Assembly, who keeps his office just around the corner from Cluan Place.

“The biggest walls to be addressed are in the minds of the people. And what people in here remember is being shot at, being bombed, having their street burned,” Copeland said while sitting on a Cluan Place bench outside one resident’s home. He knows everyone living in all 23 homes on the Protestant side and, in fact, helped get many of them get their housing assignment.

“The walls will come down when the people who live in the shadow of these walls, and look to those walls for a sense of security, can feel secure without them. Memories will have to fade. It will take another generation at least,” he said.

The two sides mark their cultural divide in ways petty and profound. Each morning, two sets of children depart in different directions, wearing different uniforms, as Catholics head for their own church-run schools, the Protestants for state-run ones. At night, the two sides usually order fast-food deliveries from their own areas, fearful that someone from “the other side” might spit in their food. They use separate taxi companies and favor different newspapers.

Short Strand’s community association has erected house numbers bearing each family’s name in Gaelic, the little-used native tongue of Ireland that is loathed by most Protestants.

Reflecting their anxiety that the faster-growing Catholic community wants to push them out, the Protestants of Cluan Place have painted the gable end of one house with a mural featuring a massive Union Jack and a list of attacks on their street since 2002. “Still loyalist, always British, no surrender,” it says.

The house opposite Currie’s, belonging to an aunt, has a dog strutting about sporting a Union Jack collar, and Ulster loyalist music blaring loudly enough from a stereo to carry to Catholic ears beyond the wall.

Across the divide, 56-year-old Maggie McDowell cocks an ear at the sectarian tune. “Och, him again,” she said, identifying her Protestant neighbor not by a name or face she’s never known, but by his musical taste. Unlike most living on both sides of this wall, she was here for the 2002 rioting — and credits the wall’s extension with ensuring no repeat.

She and her husband, James, keep a collection of the most interesting objects that have crashed into their house or back garden, including one smooth stone used as a doorstop. He points out holes in their home’s brick wall marking strikes from past violence. Golf balls, a favored weapon for both sides, she collects by the bucket to give every so often to her golf-enthusiast brother.

When asked if she’d like the wall to come down, Maggie McDowell said, “It’s a terrible thing to say, but I wish they could make it higher.”
13th-May-2012 08:25 am - The Ulster Hall: Belfast's window on the world
11 May 2012

The Ulster Hall is 150 years old

For 150 years, the Ulster Hall has been at the heart of Belfast's cultural life.

It has witnessed the changes across Northern Ireland and the world, since 1862. The Grand Dame, as it is fondly known, has housed protest speeches and peace gatherings, rock legends, boxing matches and classical concertos.

Over the years it has played host to a diverse range of personalities: from the son of an American slave to the Dalai Lama and from Charles Dickens on his early literary tours to Led Zeppelin and their first-ever performance of Stairway to Heaven.

Robert Heslip, heritage officer for Belfast City Council said the Ulster Hall was "a window to the wider world for people in Belfast; it was the TV of its age".

"It was designed as much for working class labourers as it was for wealthy socialites," he said.

The Belfast Newsletter on 13 May 1862 described it as a place "the rich and the poor, the manufacturer and the sons and daughters of toil, may meet together beneath the arched roof of the new hall, to listen to sweeter sounds and more melodious strains than machinery can produce".

Victorian trailblazers

Charles Dickens, who brought literature to the masses on his pioneering literary world tours, had entertained a small crowd in Belfast in 1858, but the newly built Ulster Hall allowed him to perform for a much larger audience - and in the process, sell many more tickets.

In 1867 he read from David Copperfield and A Christmas Carol, and he returned again in 1869.

The great storyteller noted that Belfast was a "fine place with a rough people" and "a better audience on the whole than Dublin".
illustration of Charles Dickens Charles Dickens noted that Belfast was a "fine place with a rough people"

Historian John Gray said that one reason for the Ulster Hall show was that Dickens "really enjoyed performing, and was, rather unusually for an author, a great performer, but also - he desperately needed the money".

In 1874, The Ulster Hall hosted a controversial speech which, according to historian of science Frank Turner, sparked "perhaps the most intense debate of the Victorian conflict of science and religion."

It was delivered by physicist John Tyndall - the man who would later explain why the sky is blue - to the British Science Association.

Tyndall claimed that matter could create life on its own and that cosmology (the study of the universe) was the domain of science not religion.

The speech came to be known as The Belfast Address and would incur the wrath of religious leaders.

Locked out

The Ulster Hall is not just famous for those who performed within its walls, but also for those who were barred from entry.

In February 1912, Winston Churchill, who was due to talk in the Ulster Hall in favour of Irish Home Rule, found himself locked out.

Unionists, who favoured direct rule by Westminster, filled it wall to wall and refused to move. To add to the humiliation, the men who locked him out had been inspired by Churchill's own father.

Performers at the Ulster Hall

Red Hot Chilli Peppers
Green Day
Led Zeppelin
Rolling Stones
Fleetwood Mac
Johnny Cash
The Pixies
The Ramones

Twenty-six years previously, Randolph Churchill had rallied supporters against Home Rule in the very same hall.

He had urged unionists not to let Home Rule come upon them "like a thief in the night" and famously told his supporters that "Ulster will fight, and Ulster will be right".

The hall's place at the heart of Unionism is epitomised by the Ulster Day rally on 28 September 1912.

Unionists gathered here before marching to City Hall to sign the Ulster covenant - a petition to oppose Home Rule, which contained almost half-a-million signatures.

At the height of the Troubles in 1977, another lock-out would bring more change to Northern Ireland.

Punk band The Clash were due to play, but when insurance was cancelled for the gig, hundreds of disappointed fans were left outside the Ulster Hall with nothing to do and nowhere to go. They were soon met by riot police and violence erupted.

Terri Hooley, whose Good Vibrations record label galvanised the Northern Irish punk music scene and would later launch local band The Undertones to a worldwide audience said it may have been "the only riot of the Troubles where Catholics and Protestants were fighting on the same side".

"This was a time when the IRA were blowing the city apart and loyalist gangs were killing Catholics - punk was a very united force against that - to be a punk was to be different from the past. The kids were fed up with the Troubles for the first time and the Ulster Hall would have played a big part in that," said Terri.

Winston Churchill and The Clash were both locked out of the Ulster Hall Winston Churchill and The Clash were both locked out of the Ulster Hall

Many believe that what became known as the Battle of Bedford Street kickstarted the punk movement in Belfast.

Led Zeppelin debuted Stairway to Heaven at the Ulster Hall. Although the nonplussed audience were presumably unaware of the moment of history they were watching. John Paul Jones, the band's bassist, recalled that the crowd were "all bored to tears waiting to hear something they knew".

The Rolling Stones only managed to play around 13 minutes of their set before hysterical fans broke up the show. The hall was so packed that fainting girls had to be passed overhead and onto the stage, before being removed from the hall - some of them strapped to stretchers to contain their excitement.

A changing world

On Easter Tuesday 1941, Irish singer Delia Murphy was performing in the Grand Dame when Belfast was blitzed by German bombs.

As the city turned to an apocalyptic scene outside, Murphy played on, entertaining the crowd who could do nothing but wait to see what morning would bring. Around 900 people were killed that night, and more than half of the homes in Belfast were destroyed.

During World War II, Belfast was the first port for American soldiers before the battlefields of Europe. The Grand Dame was an important centre for entertaining the troops.

They jitterbugged the nights away with such enthusiasm, that on one occasion the floor gave way. So important was that dance floor to the morale of the troops the American Embassy paid for a new solid oak replacement.

Rinty Monaghan and Barry McGuigan Rinty Monaghan and Barry McGuigan both won titles at the Ulster Hall

Unfortunately, the American floor was not quite strong enough to match the dancing force of the fans that flocked to support Dexy's Midnight Runners in 1980.

The floor again collapsed as the crowd danced to Come on Eileen, but they simply moved to the back of the hall and kept the show going.

The Ulster Hall hosted many high profile boxing bouts including Rinty Monaghan winning his Ulster title there - he would later become flyweight champion of the world.

The promoter of many of his fights in the hall was Clara "Ma" Copely.

This 22 stone woman from a circus family was awarded a silver fruit bowl by the patrons of the Ulster Hall "for services rendered to the sport of boxing."

Rinty Monaghan paved the way for another slight but powerful boxer: Barry McGuigan, who won his first Ulster, British and European titles in the Ulster Hall in 1983 and 1984.

The Grand Dame of Bedford Street has stood for 150 years, and watched the changes in Ireland, Britain and the world.

Just like its founders said "it will stand without a compeer, at least till the generations now living will all have passed away. This building has been well named The Ulster Hall."

The Ulster Hall: A select chronology.

Led Zeppelin debuted Stairway to Heaven at the Ulster Hall

• Built in 1862 - making it older than the Royal Albert Hall, London

• Dickens read there in 1867 and 1869.

• 1874 - John Tyndall's 'Belfast Address'

• 1886 - Randolph Churchill's speech against Home Rule

• 1909 - James Joyce tries to buy the Ulster Hall for use as a cinema

• February 1912 - Winston Churchill is locked out by unionists

• September 1912 - 'Ulster Day' rally is held in the hall before Unionists marched to City Hall to sign the Ulster covenant

• 1936 - Paul Robeson, singer of 'Ol Man River' performed, the son of an American slave, turned civil rights activist said at his concert "I've been made to feel you people understand me, the warmth of your welcome has gone to my heart".

• 1942 - The dance floor gives way during the war

• 1964 - The Rolling Stones played, but it was too much for many young girls who fainted during the concert

• March 1971 - Led Zeppelin played Stairway To Heaven for the first time

• 1977 - The Clash gig was cancelled, kick starting Belfast's 'Punk era'

• July 1980 - Dexy's Midnight Runners fans broke the solid oak dance floor, bought by the American embassy during the war

• 2000 - The Dali Lama gave a guest lecture for Amnesty International
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