Major changes on cards for Derry’s ‘palace of abstinence’
With one of Derry’s premier halls set to become a nightclub and restaurant after its new owner was granted planning permission for the development, the ‘Sunday Journal’ takes a look back at the proud and varied history of St Columb’s Hall.
St Columb’s Hall - located at Newmarket Street in the heart of Derry’s city centre - was bought from the Catholic Church last year.
The Garvan O’Doherty group has now been given the go-ahead to convert the basement into a nightclub, put a restaurant on the second level and carry out refurbishment work on the existing auditorium and cinema.
The planning application was submitted in November of last year and was recently granted approval.
The historic building began life as a temperance hall in 1888 - a ‘palace of abstinence’ as one commentator called it.
According to historian Brian Lacy, it was constructed by “a buoyant Catholic community as its chief gathering and entertainment place, to some extent in opposition to the ‘Protestant’ Corporation Hall and the recently constructed Apprentice Boys’ Memmorial Hall.
Until recently, the hall, which is a classical Victorian public building, contained a number of arts and cultural facilities including a large theatre/assembly hall, a small cinema and the Orchard Gallery - a distinguished contemporary visual arts venue operated by Derry City Council.
Despite being crowned by a statue of the figure of Temperance - along with Erin and Vulcan - for years the building housed a fully licensed public house.
In its heyday, St Columb’s Hall was one of the key entertainment venues in Derry but in recent years it remained largely unused except as a parochial hall for the Long Tower parish.
Many top acts played the venue in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. Comedian Frank Carson often remarked that his career began at St Columb’s Hall.
Among those who recall the glory days of the hall are the retired Bishop of Derry, Dr. Edward Daly, who, in the 1960s - among his many other duties as a busy curate - was tasked with organising entertainment at the city centre venue.
In ‘Mister, Are You a Priest?’ - the first instalment of his autobiography - Bishop Daly recalls that organising functions at St Columb’s gave “an added dimension of enjoyment to my years in Derry.”
“The activities there afforded a welcome counter-balance to the often harsh realities of pastoral ministry in the Bogside,” he says.
He also recalls: “At the very first concert in October 1962, Phil Coulter, a young Derry pianist, appeared down the bill as a supporting act.
“It was one of his first ever concert appearances. Dana also performed on several occasions as a child and teenager in the Sunday night concerts.
“There were fifteen to twenty of these concerts each winter in the season between October and Easter.
“After the first series, season tickets were introduced and more than 700 season tickets were made available and sold for each of the subsequent series.
“Scarcely any of the concerts played to an empty seat in the 1,000 seat auditorium. Almost without exception, the concerts and various stage shows in St Columb’s Hall in the 1960s were sold out.”
Bishop Daly says these concert years at St Columb’s Hall “provided me with some of the most enjoyable experiences of my career and life-long friendships.”
“At many times, happy though I was as a priest, I was tempted to dream of being a full-time impresario!
“There is a great thrill and satisfaction to be derived from staging and presenting successful shows. I found it particularly exhilirating to stand on a theatre stage just before curtain-up, listening to the buzz of excited anticipation from a lacked audience. Indeed, there is no business like show-business!”
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Saturday 18 May 2013
Temperature: 10 C to 12 C
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