Friday was my last official day working at the Ulster Hall and today my heart is a little bit sad.
I’ll still be popping in and out of the building for the next few months, finishing up projects and running those events which are scheduled into the calendar, but I‘ve already begun my transition into another department within the Council and am actually pretty excited to get involved in new projects and be part of a new team. Many of you know that the decision to leave the Ulster Hall wasn’t exactly my choice. I was in the extremely fortunate position of having my ideal job and I’d hoped it might have lasted a little longer. It’s been a pretty tough six months journeying through the implications of this transition and this isn’t the proper forum for discussing the details.
However, the last five and a half years at the Ulster Hall have been some of the best years of my life and I do believe that it’s entirely appropriate to stop and celebrate that which is coming to an end before you begin a new chapter. So, here’s what I’d like to say to the building which has become a kind of second, (or sometimes first), home to me. I’ve heard that once you’re an Ulster Hall person, you’re an Ulster Hall person for life. I can’t think of any better reassurance right now.
Dear Ulster Hall,
There are things they did not tell me in the job interview, such as the very particular kind of force required to open the door closest to Donegal Square, and the way the area around security would come to smell a little like German sausage; the various bits of you which are held together with duct tape and the importance of avoiding the angry pigeons defending your recycling bins. Neither did they foresee the day a man would come in from the cold clutching a giant letter L so, for almost a week, the sign above your door would read ULSTER HAL and we would not love you any less for it. They did not warn me that the Carpenters, and other contemporary hits, should not be played on your pipe organ for fear of offending its delicate Bach-loving sensibilities. Nor did they tell me that the rain would come in and your lift would sometimes stick and the upright piano would dull on every third note but, even then, a room full of old and wonderful people could still raise their voices against the tune and make magic go swirling round your ceilings every Monday morning. At the time they did not think to tell me that the name for all this was “bocketty,” or that I would soon come to learn that “bocketty” was not a thing to kick against but rather something to keep us always leaning on each other.
Which is to say there’s been a lot of people worth leaning upon. All the people who came in and out of your doors: singing and dancing and making weird crap out of polystyrene cups, carpeting your floors with babies and glitter, spilt beer, chocolate buttons and slow-shuffling Zimmer frames. All the people who were just names and then became faces, then conversations and projects, and finally a kind of roughly hewn community of very generous, leaning people. So many, many people smiling me, storying me, occasionally crying me, pinning me up against the wall when the tea ran out, thanking me, kinding me, pushing me forwards, holding me together after fourteen hours in heels, coming back the next day to say ‘thank you’ and’ can we have some more please?’ until it was all but obvious that this was the right place to be and the right thing to be doing. This could not have happened in other sharper buildings with doors which close easily and often. Thank you for teaching me that doors are meant to be open. Thank you for teaching me that everyone is meant to come inside. These are the kind of learnings worth carrying into the next chapter.
Also I have thanks for your people, the saints who actually live here, too many to name names, though their faces come instantly to mind and stick. Brave and funny people, (mostly dressed in black, though not exclusively), who can run for fifteen hours on a single cup of coffee and still be smiling when the gig gets out. These people are jugglers of tickets and radios, dressing rooms and accessible seats, VIPs and people who are actually important. They remember birthdays and hospital appointments and which day the canteen does curly fries. They can turn a simple discussion about seat kills into the Gettysburg Address and understand that the empire will float or possibly drown on the back of a well-stocked stationary cupboard. They are first in, last out, close the door behind them people. They laugh a lot. They cry frequently. They also drink. They appreciate the importance of a well-placed power ballad. They have taught me everything I could possibly need to know about teams. They are family now. They would take a bullet for you or anyone who calls you home. You should hold on to them for as long as you can. They’re such good people.
Mostly I am thankful to have been here. I am six short years now in a story which is over one hundred and fifty years rich. What a memory you must have: Joyce and Dickens, Cash and Costello, hundreds of thousand of Belfast souls who’ve tramped your boards and drunk at your bars and turned their ears towards your stage, disappearing into the music. Six years seems hardly long enough to leave even the tiniest mark on your dance floor and think of all those dancing years to come. I won’t be leaving anything behind. I’m far too selfish for that. Instead, I’m leaving marked by everything you’ve taught me. I am an older person than I was six years ago, a humbler person and yet more driven, a person shot through with so many stories and hungry for more, a person who cannot believe her own good luck. I am a person who can now see the potential in a wide open door. I have you to thank for all of this. Ulster Hall for life.